Attorney General Eric Holder will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate cases in which CIA members and contractors may have broken anti-torture laws during the interrogations of suspected terrorists, the Justice Department announced this afternoon.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John H. Durham, a 20-year veteran of the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office, was tapped for the job. Read a Washington Post profile of Durham here. Durham is already investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes that allegedly showed the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods. He was tapped by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey to oversee that probe.
In a statement, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said:
The President has said repeatedly that he wants to look forward, not back, and the President agrees with the Attorney General that those who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance should not be prosecuted. Ultimately, determinations about whether someone broke the law are made independently by the Attorney General.
Durham will determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant a full investigation into CIA officials who may have violated the law in their handling of suspected terrorists, according to the news release.
The Attorney General’s decision comes on the heels of the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility recommendation released today that urged Holder to reopen nearly a dozen CIA prisoner-abuse cases.
“There are those who will use my decision to open a preliminary review as a means of broadly criticizing the work of our nation’s intelligence community,” Holder said in the news release. “I could not disagree more with that view.”
He added, “That is why I have made it clear in the past that 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.”
Congressional Democrats including Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-Mich.) and House Judiciary constitution, civil rights and civil liberties subcommittee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) applauded Holder’s decision. Leahy said he hopes this investigation will hold responsible the people who “undermined our values and our laws.”
“I recognize how difficult this decision has been for Attorney General Holder, and I am grateful that the Justice Department is finally being led by an independent Attorney General who is willing to begin investigating this dark chapter in our country’s history,” Leahy said in a statement. “I had no doubt that he would put the interests of the law ahead of politics, and he has demonstrated that.”
But they said that more must be done. Nadler said Holder’s decision was the “first step.”
“As I have said for many months, it is vital that this special counsel be given a broad mandate to investigate these abuses, to follow the evidence where it leads, and to prosecute where warranted,” Nadler said in a statement. “This must be a robust mission to gather any and all evidence without predetermination of where it may lead. Seeking out only the low-level actors in a conspiracy to torture detainees will bring neither justice nor restored standing to our nation.”