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Probe of Alleged Torture Weighed

Holder has secured support for the idea from at least some key players, one of the sources said. If he does name a prosecutor to conduct an investigation, he will probably select a career prosecutor from inside the Justice Department rather than a lawyer from outside, the sources said.

Holder's inclination to appoint a prosecutor to investigate torture allegations was first reported yesterday on the Web site of Newsweek magazine.

His predecessor, Michael B. Mukasey, followed a similar path by reaching out to veteran federal prosecutors from Connecticut to investigate some of the most sensitive allegations in the Bush years.

Those prosecutors continue to examine the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 and the destruction of CIA videotapes that depicted waterboarding of terrorism suspects. The latter investigation is proceeding in the Eastern District of Virginia under the guidance of Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham. A source said Durham may be under consideration for an expanded mandate, given that he already has reviewed hundreds of sensitive CIA cables and other documents related to treatment of detainees.

Other challenges an inquiry into alleged torture might face could include the difficulty of gathering evidence of improper conduct in war zones and questions about the reliability of witnesses who may have been held by the U.S. government for years, legal analysts said yesterday. The actions of higher-level Bush policymakers are not under consideration for possible investigation.

"As the attorney general has stated on numerous occasions, the Department of Justice will follow the facts and the law with respect to any matter," spokesman Matthew Miller said. "We have made no decisions on investigations or prosecutions, including whether to appoint a prosecutor to conduct further inquiry. As the attorney general has made clear, it would be unfair to prosecute any official who acted in good faith based on legal guidance from the Justice Department."

Benjamin LaBolt, a White House spokesman, declined to comment on the prospect of a prosecutor investigating alleged torture.

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