Seven former CIA directors have asked President Barack Obama to quash a criminal probe of harsh interrogations of terror suspects during the Bush administration.
The CIA directors, who served both Democratic and Republican presidents and include three who worked under President George W Bush, made their request in a letter yesterday to the White House.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced last month that he was appointing an independent counsel to investigate possible incidents of abuse by CIA personnel during interrogations that went beyond guidelines imposed by the Bush administration.
The incidents were referred by the CIA inspector general to the Justice Department during the Bush administration, but Justice officials at the time prosecuted only one case.
"If criminal investigations closed by career prosecutors during one administration can so easily be reopened at the direction of political appointees in the next, declinations of prosecution will be rendered meaningless," wrote the former directors.
The Washington Post reported on its website last night that the Justice Department will focus on only two or three cases for possible indictment.
One of them, said the newspaper, involved an Afghan prisoner who died after being beaten and chained on a cold night to a concrete floor without blankets. The report cited unidentified officials.
The seven former CIA directors included Michael Hayden, Porter Goss and George Tenet, who served under Mr Bush; John Deutch and James Woolsey, who worked for President Bill Clinton; William Webster, who served under President Bush senior; and James Schlesinger, who ran the agency under President Richard Nixon. Tenet also served under Mr Clinton.
They urged Mr Obama to reverse Mr Holder's August 24 decision to reopen the investigation of interrogations following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the agency is co-operating with the Justice Department review "in part to see that they move as expeditiously as possible".
In their letter, the former directors warned that the investigations could discourage CIA officers from doing the kind of aggressive intelligence work needed to counter terrorism and may inhibit foreign governments from working with the US.
Matthew Miller, Mr Holder's spokesman, said Mr Holder does not believe his probe will affect CIA employees' commitment to their work.
"The attorney general's decision to order a preliminary review into this matter was made in line with his duty to examine the facts and to follow the law. As he has made clear, the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees," he said in a written statement.
The letter said the CIA referred fewer than 20 incidents to Bush administration prosecutors, including the case of CIA contractor David Passaro.
He was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to eight years for beating an Afghan detainee in 2007. The detainee later died.