By Alexander Bolton - 08/24/09 02:06 PM EDT
Sen. Kit Bond (Mo.), the senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, ripped the Obama administration Monday over its proposal to create an enforcement team to question suspected terrorists.
The program, known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), would operate out of the FBI under direct White House oversight. It will be overseen by the National Security Council.
Traditionally, the CIA has taken the lead interrogating suspected terrorists, but its practices have come under scrutiny because of allegations of widespread prisoner abuse.
“What does the White House have against Leon Panetta? This bizarre move is a vote of no confidence in not only the terror-fighters who have kept us safe since 9/11 but their very own CIA director,” Bond said in a statement.
“Chrysler and Citigroup apparently weren’t enough: Now the White House is taking over the CIA and how we interrogate Osama bin Laden.”
Bond called the move a dangerous power-grab.
The decision comes just as Attorney General Eric Holder is taking a closer look at prosecuting CIA employees and contractors who are alleged to have tortured and in some cases killed detainees.
The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reopening a dozen prisoner abuse cases, according to The New York Times.
Adding to the public scrutiny of the CIA, the Justice Department is expected on Monday to release a report on never-before-disclosed details of prisoner abuse gathered by the CIA’s inspector general.
The CIA’s inspector general submitted its findings to Justice for possible prosecution during former President George W. Bush’s administration. Bush-era officials declined to take up cases but Holder is now weighing the matter carefully.
Panetta told CIA employees Monday that the report contained information that was in “many ways an old story.” Although he said he “makes no judgments” about the accuracy of the 2004 report, he gave the CIA credit for obtaining intelligence from high-value detainees “when inside information on al Qaeda was in short supply.”
A Justice Department investigation and possible prosecution of CIA officials could complicate the intelligence agency’s handling of detainees, which may be a reason Obama has decided to set up a new unit at the FBI.
Interrogators in the new unit must follow the Army Field Manual, which is more restrictive than guidelines the CIA has operated under in recent years.
Bond, who has served as the senior Republican on the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence since early 2007, said creating an interrogation unit with direct White House oversight raised concerns about the politicization of intelligence collection.
“Even the Democrats' favorite bogeyman [former Vice President] Dick Cheney did not take over terrorist interrogations,” Bond said.
Susan Crabtree contributed to this article.