WASHINGTON — President Obama has approved the creation of an elite team of interrogators to question key suspected terrorists, part of a broader effort to revamp U.S. policy on detention and interrogation, senior administration officials said on Sunday.
Obama signed off late last week on the new unit, named the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. Composed of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the interrogation unit will be housed at the FBI but will be overseen by the National Security Council — shifting the center of gravity away from the CIA and giving the White House direct oversight.
Seeking to signal a clean break from the Bush administration, Obama moved to overhaul interrogation and detention guidelines soon after taking office, including the creation of a task force on interrogation and transfer policies.
The task force, whose findings will be made public today, recommended the new interrogation unit, along with other changes regarding the way prisoners are transferred overseas.
A separate task force on detainees, which will determine the fate of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and future regulations about the duration and location of detentions of suspected terrorists, has not concluded its work.
Under the new guidelines, interrogators must stay within the parameters of the Army Field Manual when questioning suspects. The task force concluded — unanimously, officials said — that "the Army Field Manual provides appropriate guidance on interrogation for military interrogators and that no additional or different guidance was necessary for other agencies," according to a three-page summary of the findings. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters freely.
Using the Army Field Manual means certain techniques in the gray zone between torture and legal questioning — such as playing loud music or depriving prisoners of sleep — will not be allowed. Which tactics are acceptable was an issue "looked at thoroughly," one official said.
Obama had already banned certain severe measures that the Bush administration had permitted, such as waterboarding.
Still, the Obama task force advised that the group develop a "scientific research program for interrogation" to develop new techniques and study existing ones to see if they work. In essence, the unit would determine a set of best practices on interrogation and share them with other agencies that question prisoners.
New details of prisoner treatment are expected to be included in a long-awaited CIA inspector general's report being unveiled today about the spy agency's interrogation program.