WASHINGTON, Aug 25 – The US attorney general named a prosecutor to investigate possible crimes in secret CIA interrogations amid disclosures of threats to kill suspects’ children and rape their female relatives.
The revelations came in a de-classified 2004 report by then-CIA inspector general John Helgerson which catalogued the harsh tactics used against prime terror suspects at secret overseas prisons.
Its release coincided with Attorney General Eric Holder naming a prosecutor to review the interrogations and report back to him on whether a full investigation into their legality was warranted.
"I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations," Holder said.
More than 100 pages of previously classified material provided a litany of evidence to pore over. Huge chunks of Helgerson’s review had been blacked out, but even the bits deemed appropriate for public consumption were shocking.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a suspect in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in which 17 US sailors were killed, was told his mother could be raped in front of him if he did not cough up information.
"We could get your mother in here," said the documents, quoting an interrogator and explaining that the underlying rape threat was understood. "We can bring your family in here," his inquisitor continued.
Another interrogator told September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, "if anything else happens in the United States, ‘We’re going to kill your children,’" according to the documents, the release of which had been ordered by a federal judge.
In another instance, a CIA interrogator showed Nashiri a gun to frighten him into thinking he would be shot. A power drill was also held near him and repeatedly turned on and off.
Nashiri, who was captured in November 2002 and held for four years in a secret CIA prison, was one of three leading Al-Qaeda figures to be later subjected to waterboarding, a form of near drowning widely regarded as torture.
Earlier documents have already revealed that Mohammed — believed to be the principal architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States — was waterboarded more than 180 times.
Helgerson’s 2004 report was damning about some of the interrogation techniques employed, saying several had not been approved by the CIA and stressing that the waterboarding was far more severe than permitted.
"Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques" were used and would be "referred to the department of justice for potential prosecution," it said.
The top secret report also contained testimony from one CIA operative expressing his fear of ending up on "some wanted list" and appearing before a court charged with war crimes because of what he was doing.
Another was quoted as saying, "Ten years from now we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this… (but) it has to be done."
Despite all this Helgerson’s report gave a cautious thumbs-up when appraising the effectiveness of the CIA’s so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs).
Their "interrogation has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists, warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world…
"In this regard, there is no doubt that the program has been effective. Measuring the effectiveness of the EITs, however, is a more subjective process and not without some concern."
President Barack Obama, whose administration has forged a clear break from the war-on-terror era of former president George W. Bush, set up Monday a new team of elite interrogators to grill terror suspects under White House supervision.
A White House statement said the president believed Holder should be left to make independent decisions on whether someone broke the law during the past CIA detentions.
Obama "has said repeatedly that he wants to look forward, not back, and the president agrees with the attorney general that those who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance should not be prosecuted," it said.
Holder’s appointee to look into the torture allegations, assistant attorney John Durham, has been conducting an investigation into the destruction of videotapes of detainee interrogations by the CIA.
"During the course of that investigation, Mr Durham has gained great familiarity with much of the information that is relevant to the matter at hand," Holder said.
"Accordingly, I have decided to expand his mandate to encompass this related review."