- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Justice Department began a criminal investigation into the destruction by the CIA of interrogation videotapes and named a special prosecutor to handle the probe, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said yesterday.

The investigation follows the completion of a three-week preliminary inquiry by the department’s National Security Division and the CIA’s Office of Inspector General into the destruction of tapes, which reportedly show harsh CIA interrogation techniques involving two terrorism suspects. The tapes were destroyed in 2005.

“The department”s National Security Division has recommended and I have concluded that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation,” Mr. Mukasey said in naming John Durham, first-assistant U.S. attorney in Connecticut, as the special prosecutor.

“Mr. Durham is a widely respected and experienced career prosecutor who has supervised a wide range of complex investigations in the past, and I am grateful to him for his willingness to serve in this capacity,” he said. “I have also directed the FBI to conduct the investigation under Mr. Durham”s supervision.”

In 1998, Mr. Durham was handpicked by Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate accusations of mob and FBI corruption in Boston, and he successfully prosecuted FBI agents and their mob informants. He was appointed in 1990 to a joint federal, state and local gang task force and won several convictions against gang members in Connecticut.

Earlier yesterday, the Justice Department provided notice of the investigation to CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and the leadership of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees in the House and Senate.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the agency will “cooperate fully with this investigation, as it has with the others into this matter.”

CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson said his office worked with the Justice Department in conducting the preliminary inquiry but now that the department will undertake a full investigation, he said he recused himself from any involvement with the new probe.

“Personnel from the Office of Inspector General reviewed the tapes at issue some years ago as part of the office’s review of CIA’s detention and interrogation activities. I was personally involved in the preparation and approval of the subsequent Office of Inspector General report and in discussions of the issues raised in that report with U.S. government officials,” Mr. Helgerson said.

“It is important to avoid the conflict of interest, or even the appearance of conflict of interest, that surely would arise if I were also involved in the ongoing investigation,” he said.

The preliminary inquiry began Dec. 8 after the disclosure by Gen. Hayden that the tapes were destroyed. A preliminary inquiry is a procedure the Justice Department uses to determine whether there is sufficient information to warrant a criminal investigation of a potential felony or misdemeanor violation.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Mukasey’s decision to name an outside prosecutor “shows that many of us were right to be concerned with possible obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress.

An investigation focused on the CIA ordinarily would be conducted under the supervision of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia, the district in which the agency is located. But Mr. Mukasey said that office recused itself “to avoid any possible appearance of a conflict with other matters” it handles.

Gen. Hayden, who was not at the CIA in 2005 when the tapes were destroyed, briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence behind closed doors on the spy agency’s 2005 decision to destroy two videotapes of terrorist suspects being subjected to harsh questioning techniques.

He said the agency destroyed the tapes to protect the identities of the interrogators, who could be subject to retribution by terrorists.

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