The Justice Department said Thursday that it would not file charges in connection with the deaths of two prisoners held in CIA custody a decade ago, closing the last active criminal investigation into the agency’s treatment of prisoners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The decision marks the culmination of a criminal probe that took nearly five years, examined the treatment of about 100 prisoners and branched out far beyond its initial scope — but ultimately produced no charges against any CIA officer.
In a statement, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. signaled that the decision had more to do with the difficulties of assembling evidence — from incidents that had happened years earlier in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq — than with a conclusion that no crime had occurred.
The department has “declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt,” Holder said.
Nevertheless, the news was welcomed by the CIA as a long-awaited opportunity to move past a period in the agency’s history that had put dozens of officers in legal jeopardy.
“Today’s announcement brings the two remaining cases to a close,” CIA Director David H. Petraeus said in a statement to agency employees. He said the agency’s cooperation with the investigation was “important” despite an inclination “to look ahead to the challenges of the future rather than backwards at those of the past.”
One of the cases involved the death of an Afghan, Gul Rahman, who was being held at a CIA facility known as the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was allegedly doused with water and left out in frigid overnight weather to die.
The second involved an Iraqi, Maadel al-Jamadi, who was apprehended by U.S. special operations troops before being interrogated by CIA officers at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison compound in Iraq in 2003.
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the decision as “yet another entry in what is already a shameful record” of the Justice Department.
“That the Justice Department will hold no one accountable for the killing of prisoners in CIA custody is nothing short of a scandal,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement. “The Justice Department has declined to bring charges against the officials who authorized torture, the lawyers who sought to legitimate it, and the interrogators who used it.”
The identities of the CIA officers involved in the cases have not been publicly disclosed.
The investigation of the deaths was led by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham, who had expanded the scope of a probe begun in 2008 of the CIA’s destruction of interrogation videotapes. The tapes inquiry was also closed with no criminal charges.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.