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U.S. Justice Dept advises pursuing CIA abuses-NYT
(Adds risks for Obama, paragraph 3)
WASHINGTON, Aug 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department has recommended reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, which could expose CIA employees and contractors to prosecution for their treatment of terrorism suspects, The New York Times reported on Monday.
The recommendation, reversing the Bush administration, came from the Justice Department's ethics office and has been presented to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
The development threatens to engulf Washington politics at a time when President Barack Obama is pushing to overhaul healthcare and climate change policy. Obama has said he seeks to look forward rather than launch time-consuming investigations into past events.
The Justice Department is due to disclose details on Monday of prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the CIA's inspector general but have never been released, according to the Times report, which cited an unnamed person officially briefed on the matter.
When the CIA first referred its inspector general's findings, it decided that none of the cases merited prosecution.
But when Holder took office as attorney general this year under Obama and saw the allegations included deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he reconsidered, the newspaper said.
"With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems for the CIA," the Times said.
The recommendation to review the cases centers mainly on allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In some examples of abuse made public at the weekend, the CIA report describes how its officers carried out mock executions and threatened at least one prisoner with a gun and a power drill -- possible violations of a federal torture statute.
The Times quoted a CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, as saying that the Justice Department recommendation to open the closed cases had not been sent to the intelligence agency.
"Decisions on whether or not to pursue action in court were made after careful consideration by career prosecutors at the Justice Department. The CIA itself brought these matters -- facts and allegations alike -- to the department's attention," he was quoted as saying.
"There has never been any public explanation of why the Justice Department under President George W. Bush decided not to bring charges in nearly two dozen abuse cases known to be referred to a team of federal prosecutors ... and in some instances not even details of the cases have been made public," the Times said. (Editing by Nick Macfie)
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