White House pulls nomination for top CIA lawyer

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WASHINGTON, Sep 26 (Reuters) The White House withdrew the nomination of John Rizzo to be the CIA's top attorney after months of controversy over his role in the agency's interrogation policy.

Rizzo, a career CIA lawyer, had drawn fire from Democrats and human rights groups because of his support for Bush administration legal doctrines permitting ''enhanced interrogation'' of terrorism detainees in CIA custody.

Rizzo sent a letter to US President George W Bush yesterday withdrawing his nomination to be general counsel of the CIA, White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said.

''The president accepted his decision,'' Lawrimore said. ''He believes Mr Rizzo would have done a wonderful job in this position.'' A senior US official said Rizzo told Bush he had decided to withdraw after concluding that the nomination would not succeed and that drawing out the process would not be helpful.

Rizzo remains the senior attorney at the CIA, the official said.

The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the panel's senior Republican both said Rizzo did not have enough support and was unlikely to be confirmed.

''The president and Mr Rizzo made the correct decision in withdrawing this nomination,'' committee chairman Jay Rockefeller said in a statement. ''The confirmation process highlighted Mr Rizzo's 31 years of dedicated service, but it also raised serious questions about whether he was the right person for this job.'' During his confirmation hearing in June, Rizzo told the Senate committee he issued a legal opinion in 2002 stipulating that CIA detainee practices were lawful under international treaties against torture, including the Geneva Conventions.

But Rizzo also said he did not oppose an August 2002 Justice Department memo that said torture would not occur unless the detainee experienced pain serious enough to accompany organ failure or death.

''I did not certainly object to the memo,'' Rizzo said at the hearing. ''My reaction was that it was an aggressive, expansive reading.'' A coalition of human rights organizations wrote to the Senate intelligence committee this month urging members to reject Rizzo's nomination for CIA general counsel, citing his testimony.

They said confirming Rizzo would send ''an extraordinarily negative message to the world.'' Reuters KK VP0745

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