Leading GOP lawmakers cautioned U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday against opening an investigation into alleged CIA interrogation abuses, saying that such an inquiry could have serious national security repercussions.
"It is well past time for the Obama administration to lift the cloud that has been placed over those in the intelligence community and let them return to the job of saving American lives," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Holder signed by nine Republican senators. An investigation that distracts the CIA, the lawmakers said, "could leave us more vulnerable to attack."
Among those who signed the letter were Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the minority whip; Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee; and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the judiciary committee.
The letter underscored the political dynamic surrounding Holder's deliberations over launching a criminal inquiry into whether CIA interrogators exceeded guidelines from the Justice Department on how far they could go to get prisoners to talk.
The letter cited an Aug. 9 report in the Los Angeles Times that said Holder was poised to appoint a criminal prosecutor who would have latitude to examine cases in which prisoners died in CIA custody or were repeatedly subjected to harsh methods, including waterboarding.
Justice Department officials have said that Holder was outraged by abuses described in a CIA inspector general's report completed in 2004. The internal inquiry found that key suspected Al Qaeda prisoners had been waterboarded hundreds of times, despite Justice Department warnings that repetition of the simulated-drowning technique should "not be substantial."
The report described other alleged abuses, including a case in which a CIA interrogator brandished a gun against a detainee, and others in which prisoners' lives or families were threatened. An unclassified version of the CIA report is expected to be publicly released Monday, adding to the pressure on Holder to open an inquiry or be prepared to explain why the Justice Department had not sought criminal prosecutions of the alleged abuses described in the document.
In their letter, the GOP lawmakers emphasized that the Justice Department had had the CIA report for more than five years, and that career prosecutors who previously reviewed the cases concluded that there was not enough evidence to warrant criminal prosecutions.
"It is difficult to understand what rationale could drive the Justice Department to now reverse course, reopen a 5-year-old matter, and tarnish the careers, reputations and lives of intelligence community professionals," the letter said.
A Justice Department official said the letter was being reviewed and that "no decision has been made" on whether to appoint a prosecutor. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deliberations.