WASHINGTON, DC – JEFFREY BROWN: The Justice Department has closed the door on bringing any criminal charges in connection with interrogations of terror suspects by the CIA.
Margaret Warner has the story.
MARGARET WARNER: Late yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced no one would be prosecuted in the last two outstanding cases involving the deaths of CIA detainees after 9/11.
His statement said, “The admissible evidence wouldn’t be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Three years ago, Holder launched a probe into whether any CIA personnel in secret overseas prisons exceeded the harsh interrogation techniques approved by the Justice Department in 2002 and in 2005.
The final two cases involved the 2002 death in Afghanistan of a suspected al-Qaida figure in an agency prison near Bagram Air Base and the 2003 death in Iraq of an Abu Ghraib prisoner during interrogation by CIA officers. A military autopsy ruled that a homicide.
The American Civil Liberties Union called Holder’s decision nothing short of a scandal. Holder noted the larger issues around torture still aren’t resolved, saying, “Our inquiry doesn’t resolve broader questions regarding the propriety of the examined conduct.”
And, for more, we turn to Ken Dilanian, who covers national security for The Los Angeles Times.
And, Ken, welcome to the program.
KEN DILANIAN, The Los Angeles Times: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: So what’s behind this decision on Eric Holder’s part?
KEN DILANIAN: Well, a lot about this remains secret. This is a secret investigation of a classified operation.
But what we know is that the Justice Department is saying they just couldn’t make a case here. They’re not say no crime was committed. And the other thing that it’s important to understand about this is that these cases were not part of the enhanced interrogation technique program that the CIA carried out.
That conduct had already been investigated. No charges were filed. And Holder had decided he wasn’t going to hold anyone accountable for things they did pursuant to Justice Department legal opinions.
So these were two cases in war zones where the allegations were the conduct exceeded the boundaries of what was permissible.
MARGARET WARNER: Even under those harsh interrogation techniques about which we heard and debated so much back when they came to light.
So when he said the evidence wasn’t admissible or there wasn’t enough admissible evidence to sustain a conviction, what does he mean? I mean, what was wrong with the evidence they had?
KEN DILANIAN: Well, there’s a lot of — you can read between the lines of the statement. He talked about jurisdictional issues, statute of limitations. He said these crimes occurred nine or 10 years ago or these — there were no crimes — alleged crimes.
There is also — in the case of Jamadi, who died at Abu Ghraib in 2003, for example, in that case, it is alleged that Navy SEALs beat him first before he was transferred to the custody of a CIA interrogator. And it’s alleged — and the reporting is that that interrogator may not have actually beaten him, but he was strung up in a way with broken ribs that causes death.
And there’s a lot of question about who had custody when, and they just weren’t able to make the case.
MARGARET WARNER: So you mean even — that is the case in which the military autopsy said it was a homicide, but you are saying when you are prosecutor and you are trying to make the case, it was hard to know who was really responsible for the fatal injuries?
KEN DILANIAN: That appears to be how it shook out.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, how did these two cases — well, first of all, does this close the book? Are these the last of the cases that the Justice Department was looking at?
KEN DILANIAN: It does.
It closes the book on the criminal investigation. Now, Senate Democrats have done an investigation of the interrogation program that remains classified. There may be something, a release on that some time this year.
That looks at the larger program and the techniques, including water-boarding and stress positions. But in terms of criminal culpability, this ends it.
MARGARET WARNER: And what was it about these two particular cases that made them survive all the other vetting and reviews that had gone on?
KEN DILANIAN: Well, I mean, there were deaths. In the one case, the death was ruled a homicide. You know, there were just so many obvious things that cried out for investigation here.
There was no legal authorization for what took place with these two men. So, I think that explains why. And the cases had been examined previously by previous Justice Department prosecutors and no evidence was found to charge a crime in that case either.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, does the CIA still have an interrogation program?
KEN DILANIAN: No.
In fact, the CIA will tell you they are out of the interrogation and detention business. And very few terrorism suspects are held who are not captured on the battlefield these days. There was one case of a person who was held on a Navy ship for a few months and then transferred to charge criminally in court in New York.
But in a case where there is going to be end up being a federal criminal charge, they really don’t have a place to put people since they’re not going to put people in Guantanamo prison.
MARGARET WARNER: So, for instance, if they capture somebody in, say, Afghanistan, where the U.S. is still in an active theater, who — and they want to interrogate him — who does the interrogation?
KEN DILANIAN: Well, in that case, it’s the military. And they go to Bagram in cooperation with the Afghans. So that’s not an issue.
But in terms of capturing someone in Yemen or Somalia, that is where the problem lies. And I think what is happening largely is that the Yemeni government is capturing and interrogating suspects that we’re interested in.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, what has been the reaction in the intelligence community and from the agency?
KEN DILANIAN: You know, a lot of satisfaction expressed.
People were very frustrated that these investigations went forward under the Obama administration. There was a feeling that this stuff had already been investigated, we were acting pursuant to trying to protect the American people, so a lot of gratification expressed that no charges were filed.
MARGARET WARNER: And Petraeus issued a statement, did he not?
KEN DILANIAN: It was a pretty careful statement, I thought.
But Panetta was actually more forward-leaning, Leon Panetta, the previous CIA director…
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, now defense secretary.
KEN DILANIAN: … in announcing the last — that no charges were filed last year in the other 100 cases.
Petraeus praised people for cooperating with the investigation.
MARGARET WARNER: And left it at that.
KEN DILANIAN: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Ken Dilanian from The Los Angeles Times, thank you.
KEN DILANIAN: Thanks for having me.