Published August 24, 2009
The Obama administration on Monday unveiled its latest takeover of a troubled industry -- this one the interrogation sector.
The White House announced that President Obama has approved the creation of a specialized interrogation unit that would focus on key terror suspects and report to the White House-based National Security Council.
The decision, which comes as the CIA faces fresh scrutiny about interrogations it conducted under the Bush administration, paves the way for the president to appoint a de facto interrogation czar -- to join the ranks of White House-based directors for health care reform, the auto industry overhaul, energy and other issues.
The new unit would be led by an FBI official, with a deputy director from somewhere in the government's vast intelligence apparatus, and members from across agencies. It will be housed at FBI headquarters in Washington.
But the new unit does not mean the CIA is now out of the interrogation business, deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton told reporters covering the vacationing president at Oak Bluffs, Mass.
Burton said the unit will include "all these different elements under one group."
Senior administration officials said the CIA will still be a "key player" and that the unit's agency bosses will make operational decisions -- not the White House.
"The White House is not going to be involved in any of the tactical decisions being made," one official said.
The structure of the new unit the White House is creating would depart significantly from such work under the previous administration, when the CIA had the lead and sometimes exclusive role in questioning Al Qaeda suspects.
One senior U.S. official told FOX News that the CIA did not want to house the new initiative.
"They're glad to be out of the long-term detention business," the official said.
The announcement was made the same day the Department of Justice released a 2004 CIA inspector general report detailing alleged prisoner abuse, and the same day Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would launch an initial probe into those allegations.
The new interrogation unit was recommended by a special task force that reviewed interrogation policies.
It would be called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. According to the task force's recommendations, it would coordinate the deployment of teams of experienced interrogators, analysts and linguists to conduct the interrogations of high-value terrorists.
According to senior administration officials, the administration has also decided that all U.S. interrogators will follow the rules for detainees laid out by the Army Field Manual.
The manual, last updated in September 2006, authorizes 19 interrogation methods used to question prisoners, including one allowing a detainee to be isolated from other inmates in some cases.
The manual prohibits forcing detainees to be naked, threatening them with military dogs, exposing them to extreme heat or cold, conducting mock executions, depriving them of food, water, or medical care, and waterboarding.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.