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Specialized Unit May Be Created to Question High-Value Suspects of Terrorism

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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Justice Department-led task force reviewing interrogation policy is leaning toward the creation of a small, specialized unit drawing personnel from intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies to question without the use of coercion any future high-value terrorism suspects captured by the United States, according to administration officials.

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President Obama ordered an interagency review of interrogation policy in January. The task force, led by a federal prosecutor steeped in national security issues, was charged with determining whether interrogation guidelines in the Army Field Manual are sufficient for other agencies, such as the CIA, that may capture and question suspects outside the United States.

The task force is scheduled to present preliminary recommendations to the White House next week. An administration official said it has yet to be determined which specific interrogation techniques might be allowed and how new, non-coercive techniques might be developed. Administration officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the task force has not yet reported to the president and because its deliberations are private.

The Obama administration has already banned the use of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," such as waterboarding, that were an early cornerstone of the Bush administration's counterterrorism offensive after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The new interrogation unit would probably mine suspects for actionable intelligence rather than for evidence to be used against them in criminal cases, one official said. But the task force is nonetheless considering how to preserve the ability to prosecute in some circumstances, the official said. The Wall Street Journal first reported that the administration is considering the establishment of an interagency interrogation unit.

It is unclear who will lead the new unit and in which agency it will be housed, but an official familiar with the deliberations said that "based on where things stand now, the CIA isn't slated to be the lead on whatever plan is put into place."

George Little, a CIA spokesman, said, "The agency is working closely with its counterparts to produce a solution that honors the law and helps the United States obtain the intelligence it needs."


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