CIA Officer Disciplined for Alleged Gun Use in Interrogation: Bush Officials Filed No Charges Over Tactics in Terror Case

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has been reviewing a classified report to determine whether to investigate the CIA's tactics.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has been reviewing a classified report to determine whether to investigate the CIA's tactics. (By Susan Walsh -- Associated Press)
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By Joby Warrick and R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 23, 2009

A CIA officer who allegedly used a gun to intimidate a captured al-Qaeda suspect was formally disciplined for violating the agency's rules for conducting interrogations, but Bush administration Justice Department officials ultimately declined to file charges against him, according to two former intelligence officials familiar with the case.

The officer, who has not been identified, was immediately called back to CIA headquarters to face an internal accountability board and was "reprimanded and reassigned" for committing acts outside the CIA's legal guidelines for interrogating terrorism suspects. At the time of the 2002 incident, the guidelines permitted the use of sleep deprivation and waterboarding -- simulated drowning -- on some suspects, according to a former senior intelligence official who closely followed the events.

The CIA officer eventually resigned, two former agency officials confirmed Saturday.

In a separate incident, interrogators reportedly used an electric drill to intimidate the same detainee, al-Qaeda commander Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the group's former chief in the Persian Gulf and the alleged mastermind of the deadly USS Cole suicide bombing in 2000.

"The agency, where appropriate, took its own disciplinary action when the Department of Justice declined prosecution," CIA spokesman George Little said Saturday.

A spokesman for the agency declined to comment on details of the episodes, but current and former government officials said the use of the gun is described in a classified CIA inspector general's report, which is slated to be released in declassified form on Monday.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the contents of the report Saturday.

The CIA disciplinary panel was convened within weeks of the officer allegedly bringing a handgun into an interrogation room at a secret detention facility in an apparent attempt to convince Nashiri he would be killed if he failed to cooperate, U.S. officials said.

The 2004 IG report describes both incidents. Some of its details, including the interrogators' alleged use of the gun and power drill, were made public in an article on Newsweek magazine's Web site late Friday. The magazine also reported that officers staged a mock execution by firing a gun in the cell next to Nashiri's to make him think another detainee had been executed.

A federal judge in New York ordered the release of the report in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has been reviewing the document in an effort to decide whether to launch an investigation into the CIA's coercive interrogation methods.

Some officials involved in the case viewed the use of a gun during interrogation as a possible violation of a U.S. law that prohibits threatening detainees with imminent death. But Justice Department lawyers reviewed the case and declined to file charges, according to several former and current intelligence officials who tracked the case. It was unclear why the lawyers took that position.

A. John Radsan, a former federal prosecutor who also served as assistant general counsel at the CIA, said such a case might be difficult to successfully prosecute.

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