White House announces interrogation unit

August 24, 2009 8:12:01 AM PDT
President Barack Obama has approved creation of a new, special terrorism-era interrogation unit to be supervised by the White House, a top aide said Monday, further distancing his administration from Bush administration detainee policies. 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 Obama at Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

Burton said the unit will include "all these different elements under one group," and it said that it will be situated at the FBI headquarters in Washington. The 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 directly supervised by the White House.

Separately, Burton said that a recommendation now before Attorney General Eric Holder to reopen and pursue prisoner abuse cases is a decision solely for Holder to make without any intervention from the president.

Obama campaigned vigorously against President George W. Bush's interrogation policies in his successful run for the presidency. He has said more recently he didn't particularly favor prosecuting Bush administration officials in connection with instances of prisoner abuse. Obama still believes "we should be looking forward, not backward," Burton said Monday.

Nonetheless, the spokesman added, Obama believes the attorney general should be fully independent from the White House and he has full faith in Holder to make the decision on whether to reopen several such cases with an eye toward possible criminal prosecution. "He ultimately is going to make the decisions," Burton said of Holder.

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