Seven former CIA directors have called on US President Barack Obama to end a probe into claims the agency abused terror suspects, warning it will cause "serious damage" to intelligence operations.
The former intelligence chiefs, appointed by both Democrat and Republican presidents, in a letter to Obama called on him to end the Justice Department inquiry, warning it would make agents more reticent to act for fear of prosecution.
"This approach will seriously damage the willingness of many other intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country," the group stated.
Warning of "endless criminal investigations," the seven said allegations of detainee abuse had already been probed, with the supervision of federal prosecutors.
"Attorney General (Eric) Holder's decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute," the letter read.
The signatories warned that the investigation could jeopardize relations with other nations that had co-operated with investigations, on the proviso of secrecy.
The former directors said the CIA had investigated at least 20 cases in which operatives had "appeared to have acted beyond their existing legal authorities."
Those probes led to the 2007 conviction of David Passaro, a CIA contractor, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for beating an Afghan detainee. The other cases were dismissed.
In August, Holder announced he was naming a career prosecutor, John Durham, to re-examine certain cases to see if operatives did go beyond the techniques permitted by the administration of George W. Bush.
Holder's decision led to withering attacks from Republicans, who warned it would have a "chilling effect" on the work of the intelligence agencies.
The probe is also opposed by current CIA director Leon Panetta, although he did not sign Friday's letter to the White House.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a rights group, accused the former CIA directors of attempting to "derail" the Justice Department's investigation, and said it would be "profoundly inappropriate" for Obama to halt it.
"Where there is evidence of criminal conduct, the attorney general has not just the authority but the duty to investigate," the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer said.
The group also called on Holder to expand the scope of the investigation, which according to a Saturday report by The Washington Post will be limited to a small number of cases of alleged detainee abuse.
The former CIA directors who signed the letter were Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, John Deutch, James Woolsey, William Webster and James Schlesinger. - AFP