- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2009

The top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee has pulled out of the panel’s bipartisan review of Bush-era terrorist interrogation techniques, saying Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s criminal investigation into the CIA undermines the committee’s ability to interview witnesses.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond, the panel’s vice chairman, said Mr. Holders decision to ignore President Obamas pledge to look forward - not back - has hampered the panels effort.

The Department of Justice “sent a loud and clear message that previous decisions to decline prosecution mean nothing and old criminal charges can be brought anytime against anyone - against these odds, what current or former CIA employee would be willing to gamble his freedom by answering the committee’s questions?” the Missouri Republican said.

Since March, Mr. Bond had been working with Chairman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, on the committee’s review of U.S. detention and interrogation practices, including controversial techniques such as waterboarding. They have said their investigation was designed to evaluate the policies, not to punish interrogators.

Mrs. Feinstein said she regrets the decision by Mr. Bond to withdraw from the investigation, which is expected to conclude next spring.

“However, that study and investigation is being pursued, additional staff are being hired, and the committee is continuing to work with all due diligence,” she said.

The Department of Justice said it would not comment. Mr. Holder last month appointed a prosecutor to look into whether interrogators broke the law.

The committee’s other Republicans supported Mr. Bond’s decision to pull Republican staff from the investigation.

“This was a very appropriate decision made by the vice chairman,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican. “He made the decision to expend the committee’s Republican resources - time and staff - in a more fruitful manner that would not interfere with the Justice Department’s investigation or put additional CIA personnel in the line of fire.”

Mr. Bond’s announcement is the latest fallout in what is proving to be a contentious decision by the Obama administration to forge ahead with its criminal probe.

Earlier this month, seven former CIA directors issued a letter urging Mr. Obama to overrule Mr. Holder, saying his investigation could harm U.S. intelligence gathering by causing agents to doubt whether they can follow legal guidance.

Mrs. Feinstein has said she wished Mr. Holder would have allowed the committee to conclude its review before proceeding.

In announcing his decision to appoint a prosecutor, Mr. Holder last month said he realized the move would be controversial but that he had no choice.

“As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law. In this case, given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take,” he said.

Mr. Obama signed an executive order days after his inauguration that ended the use of harsh interrogation tactics, deeming them torture. Months later, his release of Bush-era legal memos justifying the tactics set off a political firestorm.

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