The doubts about whether interrogators can employ coercive methods, the officials said Sunday, could create problems at the start of a critical summer period when counterterrorism officials fear that Al Qaeda might attack the United States. Interrogators are uncertain what rules are in effect and are worried that the legal safeguards that they believed protected them from internal sanctions or criminal liability may no longer exist.
Some intelligence officials involved in the CIA’s interrogation program have told colleagues that they are bitter because their superiors, after the September 2001 attacks, assured them that aggressive interrogation techniques were necessary and legal.
Other intelligence officials have said they felt from the early days in the war on terror that aggressive steps taken in an effort to protect the country from another attack would lead to criticism and internal investigations. The uncertainty follows the Bush administration’s decision to revise the legal basis on which interrogations of high-level Qaeda detainees have been conducted. A Justice Department memo in August 2002 approved tactics within federal and international law that stopped just short of a prisoner’s death.
Senior administration legal advisers said last week that the memo, signed by Jay Bybee, head of the Office of Legal Counsel, had been disavowed as being too broad and creating the false impression that the Bush administration condoned torture.
The CIA’s interrogation program has been troubled. A CIA contractor has been indicted in North Carolina in the death of a detainee in Afghanistan.