The Justice Department will end a wide-ranging probe into the CIA's past interrogation, rendition, and detention activities, but it will launch a formal criminal investigation into agency officials involved in the deaths of two detainees, Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Thursday.
"The department has determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted," Holder said in a statement.
Holder said he accepted the recommendation of longtime federal prosecutor John Durham to proceed with a criminal investigation into the deaths of the two detainees, adding that Durham's team "reviewed a tremendous volume of information pertaining to the detainees" that included "both information and matters that had never previously been examined by the department."
the attorney general tapped Durham in 2009 to review cases of alleged detainee mistreatment and death at the hands of CIA interrogators and contractors under the George W. Bush administration.
The probe has been hanging over the CIA, and Holder's decision to end it was immediately welcomed by key officials.
Notably, Holder made his announcement only minutes before the Senate voted 94-0 to confirm Gen. David Petraeus as the next CIA director. The announcement was also made on the last day for current CIA Director Leon Panetta, who is heading to the Pentagon as the next Defense secretary.
"After extensive examination of more than 100 instances in which CIA had contact or was alleged to have had contact with terrorist detainees, [Durham] has determined that no further law enforcement action is appropriate in all but two discrete cases," Panetta said in a message to CIA employees.
"No decision has been made to bring criminal charges," added Panetta, who fiercely defended CIA agents during his tenure. "Both cases were previously reviewed by career federal prosecutors who subsequently declined prosecution. The agency will, of course, continue to cooperate fully in the remaining investigations."
The Justice Department did not identify the two detainees who died while in CIA custody, but sources said they believed the two were Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who died at a U.S. base in al-Qaim, Iraq, in 2005, and Manadel al-Jamadi who died at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003.
During his confirmation hearing to lead the CIA, Petraeus said "it is time to take the rearview mirrors off the bus with respect to certain actions out there." Petraeus did not specifically mention Durham's investigation, but he referred to CIA practices conducted in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We do not any longer truly, I think, appreciate the context of the post-9/11 period and some actions that were taking place under direction," Petraeus told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "And I, for one, again, as the potential leader of the agency, would like to see us focus forward and indeed put some of these actions behind us once and for all and put our workforce at rest with respect to that."
House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., also praised Holder's decision.
"I hope that this decision will allow our intelligence professionals to move forward with their critical work free from the chilling effect of further investigation and with the deserved full confidence of the American people," Rogers said.
"Similarly, I expect that the criminal investigation announced today will be continued in a manner fully consistent with the principle reaffirmed by the attorney general that we will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal advice."
Yochi Dreazen contributed to this report.