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GOP Senators Drop Out of Panel Inquiry Into CIA Program

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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said Friday that they will no longer participate in an investigation into the Bush administration's interrogation policies, arguing that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s decision to reexamine allegations of detainee abuse by the CIA would hobble any inquiry.

The intelligence committee launched a review in March of CIA interrogations of high-value detainees such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who describes himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Senate staffers are poring over hundreds of thousands of classified documents to probe the history and effectiveness of the CIA program, as well as congressional oversight of agency practices.

Last month, Holder appointed a career prosecutor to review allegations of detainee abuse by CIA operatives, but he stressed that neither the review nor any full investigation, should it follow, means that criminal charges are inevitable.

"Had Mr. Holder honored the pledge made by the President to look forward, not backwards, we would still be active participants in the Committee's review," the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said in a statement. "What current or former CIA employee would be willing to gamble his freedom by answering the Committee's questions? Indeed, forcing these terror fighters to make this choice is neither fair nor just."

The Justice Department, as is its practice, asked the committee not to provide immunity to any witnesses, according to a source on Capitol Hill who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

No witnesses have yet appeared before the committee, and another official said the issue of immunity was a red herring because the panel has not offered immunity to anyone in many years.

Bond's announcement was first reported by CQ.com, the Web site of Congressional Quarterly. A spokeswoman said that Bond's decision was conveyed to other Republican members of the committee and that none has objected.

The Republicans' decision is a blow to the goal of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, to produce a bipartisan report that cannot be described as a political attack on Bush-era policies.

After Holder's announcement last month, Feinstein had also expressed qualms about it.

"Candidly, I wish that the attorney general had waited," she said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "A lot of things are being said -- 'Well, you know, torturing people is something that we did, but on the other hand it produced all kinds of incredible information.' It did produce some information. But there is a great discrepancy and, I think, a good deal of error out there in what people are saying it did produce. And we need to straighten that out. And the only thing that's going to straighten it out is a very comprehensive look at it."

Feinstein expressed regret Friday at the Republican withdrawal but said she would not be deterred. "That study and investigation is being pursued, additional staff are being hired, and the committee is continuing the work with all due diligence," she said in a statement.

The Justice Department said Friday that Holder considered a preliminary review appropriate following a recommendation from the Office of Professional Responsibility and other information.

"His decision was made in line with his duty to examine the facts and to follow the law," said spokesman Matthew Miller. The department "will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees."

Staff writer Carrie Johnson and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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