US Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the Justice Department will open “a full criminal investigation” into the deaths of Manadel al-Jamadi and Gul Rahman, both of whom died while being held as prisoners by the CIA. Holder added, though, that investigation of hundreds of other CIA interrogations “is not warranted” and will be not pursued.
The announcement comes after the conclusion of a preliminary investigation into CIA abuse by John Durham, a Connecticut prosecutor. Durham investigated charges that the CIA illegally destroyed videotapes of interrogations in 2008, and was more recently assigned by Holder to investigate allegations of CIA abuse of detainees. Durham did not investigate whether CIA interrogators tortured prisoners, but only whether they engaged in “unauthorized interrogation techniques” not approved by the Bush administration.
Civil-liberties groups such as the ACLU expressed concern that the investigation was too narrow, focusing only on extraordinary cases of abuse rather than the Bush administration’s systematic approval of torture. “We continue to believe that the scope of Mr. Durham’s mandate was far too narrow,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “The central problem was not with interrogators who disobeyed orders, but with senior officials who authorized a program of torture.”
In a statement released on his last day as Director of the CIA, Leon Panetta emphasized that the fear of a major Justice Department investigation was finally over. He informed the CIA of Durham’s conclusion “that no further law enforcement was necessary,” save for the small matter of “two discrete cases…each involving a detainee fatality.”
Many questions surround the deaths of Jamadi, who died while being interrogated by CIA officer Mark Swanner in Abu Ghraib, and Rahmann, who died of hypothermia in a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan.
Investigations by NPR and the New Yorker reveal that Jamadi was captured in Baghdad in 2003 by Navy SEALs, who transferred him to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. While being interrogated by Swanner in the prison, Jamadi had his arms stretched behind his back and shackled to a high window. During the interrogation, he was discovered to have died, possibly of asphyxiation due to the “crucifixion-like” position he had been placed in. Although medical examiners ruled the death a “homicide,” prosecutors in Virginia (home of the CIA) decided not to press charges.
Rahmann was captured in Islamabad, Pakistan, before being flown to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. While at the prison, he was stripped from the waist down and left inside a cold prison cell, where temperatures were reportedly as low as 36 degrees. He died of hypothermia during the night. An AP investigation found that the CIA officers responsible were never disciplined; in fact, the chief CIA officer in Kabul, Afghanistan later received three promotions. Until yesterday, there had been no criminal investigation of the death.