White House Announces New Interrogation Team

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Brennan Linsley / Pool / Getty

It could hardly be a coincidence that the White House chose to announce new procedures for the interrogation and transfer of suspected terrorists on Monday morning, just hours before embarrassing new revelations were expected about what the CIA did to detainees during the Bush years. If the release of the declassified 2004 CIA inspector general's report fills people with disgust at the use of power drills and mock executions in secret prisons, the Obama Administration wants them to know that Americans need no longer be embarrassed by how their government treats detainees.

It also wants everybody to know that the CIA has received a sharp rap on its knuckles.

The President has approved new recommendations for the interrogation and transfer of suspected terrorists, which were created by a task force he set up shortly after taking office. The big headline is the creation of an interagency team of interrogators, which will be known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG). It will be placed administratively within the FBI, but the National Security Council (NSC) will provide what senior officials described as "strategic policy guidance." Although the officials were at some pains to state that the CIA will "be a key player in this effort," the reporting structure of the HIG seems designed to limit the role of the agency.

It's not clear who will head the new group or how many people it will employ — those are decisions for the coming days.

One immediate area of concern is the extent to which the White House will have a direct say in the HIG's affairs. Those who criticized the Bush Administration for interfering in the functioning of the intelligence agencies — especially the CIA — will worry that allowing the NSC (which is essentially a White House arm) to have oversight of the HIG might give Obama and future Presidents too much control over the interrogation process. But the officials who briefed journalists on Aug. 24 insisted that the White House would "not be involved in the tactical and operational decisions" of the HIG.

The task force also recommended that interrogators stick to the techniques described in the Army field manual, stating that "no other guidance is needed" on the subject. There had been some expectation that the task force would suggest some additional interrogation methods beyond those outlined in the Army's interrogation guidebook. It did leave the door open for future additions by requiring the HIG to conduct scientific research into evolving interrogation techniques and "best practices" in the field.

The task force's other recommendations concern the transfer or rendition of detainees to other countries. They require the Obama Administration to create a monitoring mechanism to ensure that detainees are not subjected to torture after they have been handed over.