U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., seen in July, said Thursday that an investigation… (Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will not file criminal charges for the alleged CIA mistreatment of detainees during the George W. Bush administration, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday, closing the last two investigations and ending a legal chapter that sparked criticism across the political spectrum.
The final investigations had focused on the deaths of two men during CIA interrogations overseas.
The first was Gul Rahman, a suspected member of Al Qaeda who died in November 2002 after he was shackled in a freezing room in a then-secret CIA prison, known as the Salt Pit, near Bagram air base in Afghanistan.
The other was Manadel Jamadi, who died in 2003 at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq after he was beaten while being questioned by a CIA interrogator. A military autopsy had ruled Jamadi's death a homicide.
Assistant U.S. Atty. John Durham of Connecticut, who was appointed to investigate the two deaths, "declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt," Holder said in a statement.
CIA Director David H. Petraeus thanked agency employees for cooperating with the investigation.
"As intelligence officers, our inclination, of course, is to look ahead to the challenges of the future rather than backward at those of the past," he said. "Nonetheless, it was very important that we supported fully the Justice Department in its efforts."
Other intelligence officials welcomed Holder's decision to remove the threat of prosecution for what the CIA had called "enhanced interrogation techniques" used in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Many current and former CIA officials were angered by the investigation. They argued that federal prosecutors who had previously examined the allegations had opted not to file charges.
"I am sorry that CIA officers had to go through yet another review of their activities," said Michael Hayden, who was CIA director from 2006 to 2009. "I am heartened by this decision."
Critics of the CIA's interrogation program said they were disappointed that prosecutors did not examine possible culpability by members of the Bush White House and other senior officials who approved techniques that critics called torture.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called Holder's announcement "yet another entry in what is already a shameful record" by the government.
"The Justice Department has declined to bring charges against the officials who authorized torture, the lawyers who sought to legitimate it, or the interrogators who used it," he said.
Durham was originally appointed in January 2008 to conduct a criminal investigation into the CIA's destruction of videotapes of detainees as they were subjected to waterboarding, a technique that critics called torture.
A senior CIA official, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., said he had ordered the tapes destroyed in November 2005 to protect the identities of CIA officers shown in the tapes, and to get "rid of some ugly visuals."
Rodriguez, now retired, was not charged, but he wrote in his recent memoir that he was reprimanded by the CIA.
"Today's announcement is welcome news for some former colleagues and their families who can now get on with their lives without the specter of a possible ill-advised prosecution hanging over their heads," Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday.
In August 2009, Holder ordered Durham to expand his mandate to investigate allegations of CIA detention and interrogation of 101 detainees overseas. Durham determined that a number of the detainees were never in CIA custody. All the cases have now been closed without charges.