WASHINGTON A prosecutor will conduct a full criminal investigation into the CIA's handling of two prisoners who died in U.S. custody, but about 100 other cases of alleged mistreatment by the CIA were closed, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Thursday.
Holder said he accepted the recommendations from Justice Department prosecutor John Durham, who has been conducting an inquiry into harsh CIA interrogation practices of terrorism suspects during George W. Bush's presidency.
Holder said Durham examined possible CIA prisoner abuses in the interrogation of 101 prisoners in U.S. custody after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and determined that only the two deaths required further criminal investigation.
Holder in his statement did not give details about the two individuals who died in U.S. custody.
But a U.S. official said one case involved the 2003 death of a prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, at the Abu Grab prison in Iraq while the other case involved the 2002 death of an Afghan, Gul Rahman, at a secret CIA prison, known as the Salt Pit, north of Kabul in Afghanistan. He froze to death.
The Bush administration came under widespread criticism from human rights groups, lawmakers and some U.S. allies for mistreatment and abuse of prisoners after September 11, including harsh interrogations and waterboarding of terrorism suspects.
Durham's inquiry involved CIA detentions and interrogations, along with the agency's program to secretly transfer terrorism suspects to third nations, where some were evidently tortured.
On his last day as CIA director, Leon Panetta said, "I welcomed the news that the broader inquiries are behind us. We are now finally about to close this chapter of our agency's history."
Panetta, who is to take over as defense secretary on Friday, said that no decision has been made on whether to bring criminal charges in the two cases.
"Both cases were previously reviewed by career federal prosecutors who subsequently declined prosecution," Panetta said, adding that the CIA will "cooperate fully."
A civil liberties group expressed disappointment there would not be broader investigation into CIA abuses, especially into top government officials who authorized harsh treatment.
Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union's deputy legal director, said, "The narrow investigation that Attorney General Holder announced today is not proportionate to the scale and scope of the wrongdoing."
Congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan and the House intelligence committee chairman, welcomed the decision as a "significant step forward" that lifts "an undeserved cloud or doubt and suspicion" that hung over CIA employees.
The prosecutor, Durham, decided in November that no CIA personnel would face criminal charges for destroying videotapes of harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects.
The CIA had in 2005 destroyed hundreds of hours of videotapes of the interrogations of terrorism suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Zubaydah was one of three suspects subjected to waterboarding, a procedure in which the person experiences simulated drowning. Zubaydah was waterboarded 183 times. It was believed the tapes included footage of the waterboarding.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Editing by Anthony Boadle)