The Justice Department has closed an investigation into the deaths of two detainees in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan without bringing any criminal charges.
Attorney General Eric Holder said prosecutors had declined to proceed "because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt."
The decision brings to a close more than two years of investigation by veteran Connecticut prosecutor John Durham and a special team of federal agents who worked alongside him. Durham had initially been handpicked by President George W. Bush's final Attorney General to examine the destruction of CIA videotapes that depicted detainee mistreatment after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Holder expanded the prosecutor's mandate in 2009, to include possible violations of the anti torture statute by CIA interrogators and contractors.
The probe opened a rift between the Justice Department and the intelligence community, which protested that its operatives had acted well within the guidelines in place during the Bush years. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and other top Republicans blasted Holder for picking through the past.
But in his statement Thursday, Holder gave little ground. He pointed out that the investigation was "limited to a determination of whether prosecutable offenses were committed and was not intended to, and does not resolve, broader questions regarding the propriety" of the detainee treatment.
Update at 8:15 p.m. ET. Human Rights Groups Denounce Decision:
Calling the Justice Department's decision a "scandal" and "shocking," advocacy groups have issued statements in response.
Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director for the ACLU, said not filing charges "is yet another entry in what is already a shameful record":
"That the Justice Department will hold no one accountable for the killing of prisoners in CIA custody is nothing short of a scandal. 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. It has successfully shut down every legal suit meant to hold officials civilly liable."
Human Rights First, which conducted a report in 2006 on deaths of almost 100 detainees, also released a statement. Advocacy counsel Melina Milazzo said, in part:
"These cases deserved to be taken more seriously from the outset. When you don't take seriously the duty to investigate criminal acts at the beginning, resolution becomes even more difficult a decade later. It's shocking that the department's review of hundreds of instances of torture and abuse will fail to hold even one person accountable."
CIA director David Petraeus told agency employees in a note that the cases would be closed.
"As intelligence officers, our inclination, of course, is to look ahead to the challenges of the future rather than backwards at those of the past," he said. "Nonetheless, it was very important that we supported fully the Justice Department in its efforts."
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