Los Angeles: The US Attorney General is set to order an inquiry into alleged abuses committed by CIA during the interrogation of terrorism suspects.
Democrats and opponents of the Bush administration have been demanding a probe into the methods used by the agency against terror suspects, particularly at Guantanamo Bay.
President Barack Obama has not ruled out the investigation but he has been reluctant to commit himself, fearing it will open divisions.
But quoting government officials, the Los Angeles Times said on Sunday that Attorney General Eric Holder Jr is now poised to appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate alleged CIA abuses against terrorism suspects during their interrogation.
The newspaper said the inquiry will focus on "whether people went beyond the techniques that were authorised".
It said cases of criminal abuse that have not previously been disclosed also include an instance in which a CIA operative brought a gun into an interrogation booth to force a detainee to talk.
Other potentially criminal abuses have already come to light, including the waterboarding of prisoners in excess of Justice Department guidelines, and the deaths of detainees in CIA custody in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003, according to the newspaper.
It said the attorney general has asked his staff to prepare a list to pick a special prosecutor who would examine cases that are at least five years old.
The special prosecutor will also look at cases that were reviewed by career prosecutors who concluded that they could not be pursued.
Bracing for the worst, a number of CIA officials have put off plans to retire or leave the agency so that they can maintain their access to classified files and be in a better position to defend themselves, the newspaper said.
"Once you`re out, it gets a lot harder," the newspaper quoted a retired CIA official as saying.
But it will also be difficult to gain criminal convictions because the quality of evidence is poor and the legal underpinnings have never been tested, the Los Angeles Times said, quoting officials with first-hand knowledge of the interrogation files.
"I don`t blame them for wanting to look into it. But if they appoint a special prosecutor, it would ultimately be unsuccessful, and it would go on forever and cause enormous collateral damage on the way to getting that unsuccessful result," the paper quoted a retired high-ranking Justice Department official as saying.
Further, any inquiry would also drive a fresh wedge between the CIA and the Justice Department, agencies with a fractious history that have struggled to work more closely together since 9/11, the newspaper said.