As first detailed by Adam Zagorin on Battleland two weeks ago, the Justice Department has launched a full criminal probe into the death of the “Ice Man” at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison in 2003.
The department issued a statement in Attorney General Eric Holder’s name Thursday saying he has accepted U.S. Attorney John Durham’s recommendation “to conduct a full criminal investigation regarding the death in custody of two individuals.” While the statement did not name them, people familiar with the case say the two are the “Ice Man” — Manadel al-Jamadial — and Gul Rahman, who died at a CIA prison in Afghanistan in 2002.
The move is sure to re-ignite partisan battles over the extent and propriety of so-called “harsh” interrogation techniques that U.S. agents used in the wake of 9/11 to try to wring “actionable intelligence” from detainees gathered up from around the world. Democrats have tended to suggest that the interrogators went too far and should be investigated and possibly prosecuted. Republicans maintain the interrogators were fulfilling their responsibility to try to protect the nation from additional terror attacks.
The statement said Holder made his decision following a grand jury probe led by the Republican-appointed Durham. It reviewed “both information and matters that had never previously been examined by the Department.” Durham’s charter “examined primarily whether any unauthorized interrogation techniques were used by CIA interrogators, and if so, whether such techniques could constitute violations of the torture statute or any other applicable statute.” While praising the work of the CIA, Holder added that he felt it necessary that “the Department needed to thoroughly examine the detainee treatment issue.”
The American Civil Liberties Union wasn’t impressed. “While we welcome the announcement that the Justice Department will conduct a full criminal investigation into the deaths of two prisoners in CIA custody, it is difficult to understand the prosecutor’s conclusion that only those two deaths warrant further investigation,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director. “For a period of several years, and with the approval of the Bush administration’s most senior officials, the CIA operated an interrogation program that subjected prisoners to unimaginable cruelty and violated both international and domestic law. The narrow investigation that Attorney General Holder announced today is not proportionate to the scale and scope of the wrongdoing.”