Updated 5 p.m.
Career federal prosecutor John Durham, who is overseeing the investigation of the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes, was tapped today to explore potential violations of anti-torture laws rooted in the interrogation of certain detainees, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said in a statement this afternoon.
The Department of Justice internal watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility, submitted to Holder a report today that recommended the department re-examination earlier decisions, made under the Bush administration, to decline to prosecute apparent violations of anti-torture laws.
In reaching his decision to appoint a prosecutor, Holder also reviewed a 2004 report compiled by the CIA inspector general’s office. “As a result of my analysis of all of this material, I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations,” Holder said in a statement today.
Holder, in the statement announcing his intent to appoint a prosecutor to examine potential CIA abuses, said Durham “has gained great familiarity with much of the information that is relevant to the matter at hand” amid the investigation of the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes. Durham will report to Holder whether there is sufficient information to launch a full investigation in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.
“There are those who will use my decision to open a preliminary review as a means of broadly criticizing the work of our nation’s intelligence community. I could not disagree more with that view,” Holder said in the statement. Intelligence officers, he said, “deserve our respect and gratitude for the work they do. Further, they need to be protected from legal jeopardy when they act in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance.”
The Justice Department, Holder said, will not prosecute anyone who “acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance” given by the Office of Legal Counsel.
“I share the President’s conviction that as a nation, we must, to the extent possible, look forward and not backward when it comes to issues such as these,” Holder said. “While this Department will follow its obligation to take this preliminary step to examine possible violations of law, we will not allow our important work of keeping the American people safe to be sidetracked.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Holder in a statement, saying that the attorney general "has already demonstrated the independence that was lacking in the Justice Department during the last administration." Leahy said "the inadequate legal justifications offered by earlier officials of our own Justice Department for these interrogation practices showed a disregard for our laws and values."