The second was Manadel al-Jamadi, who died in CIA custody in 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq after being beaten by Navy Seals and then hung crucifixion-style from a grated window with a sandbag on his head, resulting in his asphyxiation. His killing became widely known after a photograph of his corpse packed in ice and wrapped in plastic was released, together with the other images of torture at Abu Ghraib.
The Justice Department decided to focus on these two cases after previously restricting its investigation to so-called "rogue" CIA personnel, meaning only those whose brutality exceeded the guidelines set by the Bush administration's Justice Department, which sanctioned a whole range of torture techniques, including waterboarding, in which a prisoner is subjected to induced drowning.
Holder took over a federal probe already initiated under the Bush administration, in which organized crime prosecutor John Durham investigated the CIA's destruction of videotapes of the interrogation of a so-called "high-value detainee," Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times in just one month. Federal courts had previously issued orders for the government to preserve all records of the so-called "enhanced interrogation" sessions.
In 2005, at the direction of Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., the head of the CIA's clandestine service, personnel at a CIA clandestine prison in Thailand destroyed 92 videotapes of the torture session.
In November of 2010, the Obama administration allowed the statute of limitations for prosecuting this cover-up and destruction of evidence to expire without bringing any charges. Earlier this year Rodriguez published a book bragging about his role in the crime, while defending the agency's use of torture.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration Justice Department intervened repeatedly to quash lawsuits brought in connection with torture under its predecessor, invoking "state secrets."
The only CIA agent to be prosecuted by the Obama administration in connection with torture is John Kiriakou, a 14-year veteran of the intelligence agency, who was indicted under the Espionage Act for talking to journalists about Abu Zubaydah's waterboarding. In a television interview in 2007, he became the first CIA official to publicly confirm the use of waterboarding, describing it as torture.
In the meantime, the government, which previously described Zubaydah as Al Qaeda's chief of operations and one of the masterminds of the 9/11 plot, acknowledged last year that he had no advance knowledge of, or participation in September 11, and indeed had no affiliation with Al Qaeda. Nonetheless, it refuses to either release or try him, as there is no evidence to prosecute him and his case only exposes the crimes of the CIA itself.
Described by his attorneys as mentally and physically shattered by years of torture, Zubaydah is imprisoned at Guantanamo, selected by the Obama administration for indefinite detention without charges.
The New York Times observed in its report on Thursday's decision that Holder's announcement was designed to "remove a possible target for Republicans during the presidential election."
No doubt, the Obama administration has no intention of invoking opposition to torture as a campaign theme. Since taking office, Obama has continuously backpedaled from his condemnations of torture in 2008, insisting that he would "look forward, not backward" and declaring his opposition to any "witch-hunt," while reneging on his promise to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp.
More fundamentally, however, the decision to end the CIA probe and provide impunity for torturers is in line with the administration's own policies, which have gone beyond those of the Bush administration itself in their assault on core democratic and constitutional rights. These have included the Obama White House arrogating to itself the power to condemn alleged enemies of the state to indefinite military detention without charges, as well as the "right" of the president to order the assassination of American citizens alleged to be involved in "hostilities" towards the US government.
Crossposted at wsws.org