CIA interrogator threatened to kill children of September 11 mastermind

A newly declassified report, released by the US justice department, said that one interrogator had said a colleague told the al-Qaeda terrorist that if any other attacks happened in the US, “We’re going to kill your children”.

Another interrogator allegedly tried to convince another detainee that his mother would be sexually assaulted in front of him. The interrogator later denied making the threat.

Details of the CIA report were made public on Monday.

President Barack Obama has meanwhile ordered the creation of a new White House unit for interrogating terror suspects, taking responsibility away from the agency.

The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group will be run by FBI officials and follow guidelines set by the US army’s field manual, which conforms to international law.

The Democratic president has already outlawed severe methods such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning, but now other techniques such as such as subjecting prisoners to loud music for long periods and sleep deprivation will also be a thing of the past.

It came as the US justice department picked a special prosecutor to investigate up to a dozen cases of alleged abuse by CIA officers or contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan that went beyond limits set by the Bush administration.

Mr Bush’s officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, have said torture was never used and have defended their interrogation practices as essential in defending the country.

The decision raised the prospect of a damaging political sideshow as Mr Obama faces the major challenge of pushing health care and climate change legislation through Congress.

Though the president has expressed a wish to avoid prosecutions and move on, Eric Holder, the Attorney General, reportedly reacted with disgust when he read accounts of prisoner abuse earlier this year in an internal report.

Mr Eric Holder on Monday picked the prosecutor John Durham to lead the investigation into the CIA’s mistreatment of terror suspects.

Mr Durham is already investigating the destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogations, and now will examine whether CIA officers or contractors broke laws in their rough handling of suspects.

The report by the justice department’s inspector general was made public after a legal petition by the American Council for Civil Liberties.

It is also reported to reveal how interrogators conducted mock executions and threatened a suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole with a gun and a power drill, in violation of American anti-torture laws.

So far only one CIA interrogator has been prosecuted in connection with interrogations carried out in the wake of the September 11 attacks. David Passaro, a contractor, was found guilty in 2007 of beating a prisoner to death in Afghanistan.

The new interrogation unit will be based at the FBI and “will draw on experienced interrogators from different departments, including the intelligence community and law enforcement,” said an administration official. “Their goal will be intelligence collection.”

FBI officers involved in early interrogations of prime al-Qaeda suspects have claimed their legal questioning methods garnered better results and more useful intelligence than the heavy-handed CIA approach.

An intelligence official said that the CIA welcomed the change, because the agency did not want to be in the long-term detention business.

Mr Obama has vowed to close the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by next year, hoping to free those prisoners against whom there is no case, to transfer others to the custody of other countries and to put others on trial in the US.

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