CIA unlikely to face charges

For most part, agency to escape accusations in deaths of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan

October 23, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Despite indications of CIA involvement in the deaths of at least four prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, CIA employees appear likely to escape criminal charges in all but one of those incidents, according to current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Federal prosecutors reviewing cases of possible misconduct by CIA employees have notified lawyers that they do not intend to bring criminal charges in several cases involving the handling of terrorism suspects and Iraqi insurgents, the officials said. Some of the cases are technically under review by the Justice Department, but the intelligence and law enforcement officials said they had been told that the department was not preparing charges against CIA employees in those cases.

The Justice Department has charged only one person linked to the CIA with wrongdoing in any of the cases: David A. Passaro, who was a contract worker, not a CIA officer. The details of the CIA cases remain classified, as do the Justice Department reviews.

But the prosecutors' decisions appear to reflect judgments that the CIA was far less culpable in the mistreatment of prisoners than was the military, where dozens of soldiers have been convicted or accepted administrative punishment for their actions in cases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cases became public in April 2004, with reports about abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and have led to the convictions of Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr., Pfc. Lynndie R. England and other soldiers implicated in those episodes.

The decisions are based on reviews of eight dossiers referred to the Justice Department by the CIA's inspector general, describing possible misconduct by a half-dozen to a dozen CIA employees in the deaths and other cases.

A case technically under review by the Justice Department, the officials said, involves a high-profile episode in which a CIA officer has been linked to mistreatment of prisoners, in a case involving an Iraqi who died under CIA interrogation in a shower room at Abu Ghraib. But in another case, involving the hypothermia death of an Afghan at a CIA-run detention center called the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in November 2002, the Justice Department has signaled that it does not intend to bring charges.

A third episode studied within the CIA involves a former Iraqi general who died of asphyxiation after being stuffed head-first into a sleeping bag at an American base in Al Asad, in western Iraq, on Nov. 26, 2003, after several days of interrogation. The questioning involved beatings by a group that included at least one CIA contract worker. One official said that case was never referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Passaro is awaiting trial in North Carolina in connection with his role in a fourth case, involving the death of a prisoner in Afghanistan in June 2003.

It was not previously known that the CIA had sent eight dossiers to the Justice Department. An article by The New York Times in February said only that the CIA inspector general had made at least two such referrals, asking that the Justice Department review the cases for possible prosecution.

All of the cases have been reviewed by the CIA inspector general, and in at least two of the cases - the deaths at the Salt Pit and Abu Ghraib - the individuals could face punishment by internal accountability review boards, which could be convened at the discretion of Porter J. Goss, director of the agency.

CIA officials have expressed deep unease over the possibility that career officers could be prosecuted or punished administratively for their conduct during interrogations and detentions of terrorism suspects.

Most of the Justice Department reviews have been handled by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, law enforcement officials said. But they said officials at Justice Department headquarters in Washington had taken part in the decisions not to prosecute some of the cases.

The details remain classified, and the current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials who described the status of the cases declined to discuss them in detail. The officials came from several intelligence, law enforcement and military agencies.

They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to speak publicly about matters under investigation. They would not say exactly how many CIA employees were named in the reports or how many cases of possible abuse were described in the eight dossiers.

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