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Justice Department Probe of CIA Interrogations Fuels Debate

  • Jela Franceschi

The U.S. Justice Department's decision to launch a criminal probe of the CIA's interrogation methods has caused a stir in Washington. Most Democrats back the investigation, while most Republicans oppose it. The American public is evenly divided.

CIA interrogations of terror suspects during the Bush administration included harsh techniques, like simulated drowning, that many have called torture. But the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to open a criminal investigation has been criticized by many Republicans.

The most prominent critic is former Vice President Dick Cheney. He said on Fox News TV that Holder has gone too far.

"I think it is an outrageous political act that will do great damage, long-term, to our capacity to be able to have people to take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions, without having to worry about what the next administration is going to say," Cheney said.

President Obama, unlike many Democrats, has said he would rather look forward than back. He has also said that interrogators who followed Bush-era guidelines should not be prosecuted.

"I have no interest in spending all of our time re-litigating the policies of the last eight years," Mr. Obama said.

Holder launched the investigation in late August. He was prompted by a newly declassified report written by the agency's internal watchdog in 2004.

The report said CIA interrogations included, besides simulated drowning, threats of choking and shooting.

A US interrogator told detainee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that his children would be killed if there were new attacks on the U.S. Mohammed is the self proclaimed mastermind of the September 11 attacks and is now awaiting trial at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

The former vice president says the CIA interrogations produced useful information. Those interrogations were involved in the arrest of nearly all the al-Qaida members that we were able to bring to justice.

Benjamin Wittes at the Brookings Institution studies legal issues surrounding detention practices.

"The consequences of not having gotten as much information as you could from the detainees -- if that had led to attacks in which large number of people had to die - that would be horrible as well," Wittes said.

Tom Malinowski served on the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration and is at Human Rights Watch now.

He says enhanced interrogations do not work because detainees will say anything to stop the pain. He says the U.S. is hurt by these interrogations.

"They made it easier for al Qaida to sustain itself by recruiting more angry young men to its ranks," he noted. "If the goal is diminishing the number of people out there who want to be at war with the United States, the United States has to live up to its own values and fight this war in a smart way."

Malinowski says senior Bush administration officials who decided that enhanced interrogations were legal should also be investigated. It is unclear if the investigation will lead to trials.

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