by Sari Horwitz

and Jerry Markon

The Justice Department’s ­investigation into the deaths of two detainees in CIA custody, including one who died at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, is winding down, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. signaled Thursday.

In testimony before a House committee, Holder said the controversial probe “has run its course. We are at a point where we are about to close those investigations.’’ He did not say whether CIA operatives would face criminal charges, and ­Justice Department officials declined to elaborate.

Prosecutors often use such terminology to describe investigations that are not expected to yield charges. If the probe is indeed ended, it would close the book on inquiries that examined the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects and related matters — one of the George W. Bush administration’s most fraught legacies.

Holder announced in late June that the department had opened a full criminal investigation into the deaths of two detainees. He did not cite the cases, but U.S. officials said they involved an Afghan, Gul Rahman, who died in 2002 at a prison known as the Salt Pit in Afghanistan, and an Iraqi, Manadel al-
Jamadi, who was questioned by three CIA officers at Abu Ghraib in 2003.

A federal grand jury in Alexandria had been hearing testimony since at least July concerning three agency employees linked to the cases, people familiar with the probe said. Two of the men are employed by the CIA; another is retired from the agency but works under contract, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is not public.

Even as Holder made his announcement in June, the Justice Department said a federal prosecutor had declined to pursue criminal charges in 99 other cases in which CIA officers and contractors interrogated suspected terrorists in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The interrogation techniques — including, in three cases, ­waterboarding, which simulates drowning — provoked divisive national debate, with some calling the methods necessary and others saying they were government-sanctioned torture.

Holder in 2009 ordered a preliminary review by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham of whether unauthorized interrogation techniques were used at overseas locations. At the time, Durham was investigating the destruction of videotapes of the interviews of high-value detainees at overseas sites, which yielded no criminal charges.

Holder’s expansion of Durham’s mandate to include the treatment of detainees sparked rancorous debate.

He defended that decision before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday, saying things “were done during the course of those interrogations that were antithetical to American values.’’

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.