Congress probes interrogation methods

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. The Pentagon has been preparing to release more than 40 photographs that reportedly show the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photos have not been seen in public but now President Obama wants to block that release. Today the White House said the President has decided that publicizing the images now could inflame tensions and put American troops in danger. The World's Matthew Bell has our story.

MATTHEW BELL: The photos of alleged detainee abuse by U.S. personnel are the subject of a legal case stemming from a Freedom of Information Request. Last month, the Obama Administration appeared to be prepared to let the Pentagon release the photos to the public. But today the White House announced that the President has concerns about doing so at this time. Spokesman Robert Gibbs explained the President's thinking this way.

ROBERT GIBBS: The release of these photos could pose a threat to the men and women we have in harm's ways in Iraq and Afghanistan, and doesn't believe that the government made the strongest case possible to the court and asked the legal team to go make that case.

BELL: The ACLU is pressing for a release of the photos. Its lawyers say this decisions amounts to a surprising reversal that goes against Mr. Obama's promises to be transparent. They argue that the photos will help prove there was systemic abuse of detainees by U.S. personnel during the previous administration. The Pentagon has expressed concern that the release of photos showing the kind of abuse that took place at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq would only increase the threat to American troops. Those concerns are said to have led Mr. Obama to decide to try to at least delay the release of the images. The treatment of detainees in U.S. custody during the Bush Administration was also addressed at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today. The hearing was titled, "What Went Wrong?" And among those testifying was former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan. He spoke from behind a screen to keep his identity hidden. Soufan led the questioning of one of the first high value Al-Qaeda suspects captured by the U.S. That was Abu Zubaydah. Soufan said his team got a treasure trove of actionable intelligence from Zubaydah by using what he called "smart interrogation methods," not harsher so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques approved by the Bush Administration.

ALI SOUFAN: These techniques from an operational perspective are slow, ineffective, unreliable, and harmful to our efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda.

BELL: Soufan said Zubaydah was water-boarded more than 80 times and that such treatment is counter productive when it comes to getting solid intelligence from Al Qaeda extremists.

SOUFAN: They are ideologically motivated, they are expecting a lot to happen to them when they get caught. And the best way to deal with them is to be smart and to engage with them. And that's what provided a lot of actionable intelligence before 9/11 and after 9/11.

BELL: Democrats on the Senate Committee highlighted that point. They argued that harsh interrogation methods approved by Bush Administration officials amounted to torture. They broke the law and in the end they didn't work. That's why Democrats say they're pushing for an investigation into the way the previous administration developed its interrogation policies. The leading Republican at today's hearing, Lindsey Graham, said he agreed that the Bush Administration crossed a line it should not have when it approved techniques like water-boarding. But Graham said calls for an investigation amounted to a political stunt, and that the Democrats should be careful because members of their party in Congress were briefed on these techniques. At the White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked again if the President supports an investigation into this issue.

GIBBS: The President believes a lot of this is being investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee, that that's an avenue and a venue that possesses, because of clearances and such, a broad ability to conduct an investigation. He thinks that's an appropriate place for it to be.

BELL: What's clear though is that the issue isn't fading away any time soon. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.