Posted by Brad @ 7:23 pm on August 24th 2009

…And Moving Forward

Today, President Obama made a very positive step towards re-calibrating our interrogation policies. He’s approved the creation of a special task for to interrogate high value detainees, which will be housed in the FBI. This is almost exactly right.

US President Barack Obama has approved a new elite team to question key terror suspects, the White House has said.

The unit will be housed at the FBI headquarters in Washington and be overseen by the White House.

The announcement came hours before the publication of fuller details of the CIA’s treatment of terrorism suspects.

Also on Monday US media said the justice department was to reopen about a dozen prisoner abuse cases that could lead to prosecution of CIA employees.

The BBC’s Daniel Sandford in Washington says there has been strong concern that interrogation has been carried out by different groups including the CIA, the military and the FBI.

Mr Obama wants to bring the elements together and have a properly regulated way of interrogating suspects, our correspondent says.[…]

Decisions on coercion and the way interrogation is carried out will now be made centrally, he says.

Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton confirmed the new interrogation team would bring “all the different elements under one group” but stressed that the CIA was not leaving the interrogation business altogether.

The new team will be called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group and will be composed of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The group will be housed at the FBI, but will be overseen by the National Security Council, giving the White House direct oversight.

Essentially, as reported, what the White House is doing is picking out actual interrogation experts—be they in the military, CIA, FBI, or whatever—bringing them to a central team overseen by a federal agency that’s actually accountable, and strictly adhering to the Army Field Manual.

My only quibble with this long-overdue overhaul is, as originally conceived, rather than the White House be in charge, the group would have answered to the Attorney General, which would have been much better, though reporting to the National Security Council is certainly defensible.

It’s also nice that the White House and AG’s office more or less directly signaled that it’s going to re-investigate a dozen or so of the worst cases of torture, and Holder may well appoint a special prosecutor. I am less enthusiastic about that, only because I have no faith in the process anymore, for all the reasons Greenwald mentions and then some.

Still, both of these moves, particularly finally bringing interrogation of high value suspects out of the darkness and into the hands of professionals is a big step forward any way you slice it (and by the way, people actually schooled in the art of interrogations tend towards psychology and relationship-building rather than, say, punching people in the nuts, the sort of interrogation most likely to be done by rank amateurs and armchair cowboys).

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