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Holder Hires Prosecutor to Look Into Alleged CIA Interrogation Abuses

John Durham
John Durham (Bob Child - AP)
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Hugh Keefe, a longtime Connecticut defense lawyer who has often squared off against Durham in court, called the prosecutor "the go-to guy for Justice whenever they get a hot case."

Durham risked unpopularity a decade ago when he untangled questionable relationships among FBI agents, Massachusetts police and Boston mob kingpins. Ultimately, he turned over evidence that prompted a federal judge to dismiss several murder cases and he won a conviction against a longtime federal agent who had grown too close to organized crime figures. The investigation later attracted a mass audience in the Academy Award-winning film "The Departed."

Holder selected Durham for the inquiry announced Monday in part because of his role as prosecutor in an ongoing investigation of the destruction of CIA videotapes in late 2005, expanding his mandate to cover additional agency conduct. Durham has appeared in Alexandria's federal courthouse about once a month to present evidence to a grand jury that is probing the incident. The tapes allegedly depicted brutal scenes of waterboarding involving high-value al-Qaeda suspects. That investigation is in its 19th month, though lawyers following the case have cast doubt on whether criminal charges will be filed.

A similar concern could emerge in the detainee mistreatment inquiry. Many of the cases have been subject to review by two sets of prosecutors: counterterrorism lawyers at Justice Department headquarters in Washington as well as a special team from the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of Virginia. Lawyers involved in the Bush-era reviews sought and won an indictment in one of nearly 20 cases, after concluding that they were hampered by such problems as unreliable witnesses, scanty forensic work and even missing bodies of prisoners who had died in detention.

In all, more than 100 detainees died in U.S. care, most of them under military custody, according to previous government reports and congressional inquiries. It is not known how many of the cases in the new review by Durham involve detainee deaths.

Mark Califano, a former prosecutor in Connecticut, described Durham's approach as "clinical." He said Durham "very rarely" has walked away from a case without bringing criminal charges.

"He likes to make cases when there is evidence there," said Califano, the son of former Heath, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. "You've got to balance whether that kind of information exists. . . . You can't move forward if you don't have the evidence."

Keefe, who reached out to Durham several years ago to negotiate a possible settlement in a case involving fugitive financier Martin Frankel, praised the prosecutor for his sense of "perspective."

"The thing about the U.S. attorney's office in Connecticut is that they take the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt seriously in deciding whether to indict," Keefe said. "If Durham can't make a case beyond a reasonable doubt, he won't indict."

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