Durham Targeting More Contractors?

Time reports that John Durham has sent out recent subpoenas for grand jury testimony pertaining to torture and war crimes, specifically as it relates to Manadel al-Jamadi, the dead Iraqi depicted in one of the most graphic Abu Ghraib photo.

It has been nearly a decade since an Iraqi prisoner known as “the Iceman” — for the bumbled attempt to cool his body and make him look less dead — perished in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib prison. But now there are rumbles in Washington that other alleged CIA abuses as well as the notorious case could be coming back to haunt the agency. TIME has learned that a prosecutor tasked with probing the CIA — John Durham, a respected Republican-appointed U.S. attorney from Connecticut — recently began calling witnesses before a secret federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., looking into, among other things, the lurid Nov. 4, 2003, “homicide,” documented by the magazine in 2005.

TIME has obtained a copy of a subpoena signed by Durham that points to his grand jury’s broader mandate, which could involve the charging of additional CIA officers and contract employees in other cases. The subpoena says that “the grand jury is conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving War Crimes (18 USC/2441), Torture (18 USC 243OA) and related federal offenses.”

As Time points out, the likely target of any inquiry focusing on al-Jamadi’s death would be Mark Swanner, a contract CIA interrogator.

Perhaps most importantly, according to someone familiar with the investigation, Durham and FBI agents have said the probe’s focus involves “a specific civilian person.” Durham didn’t name names, but those close to the case believe that person is Mark Swanner, a non-covert CIA interrogator and polygraph expert who questioned Jamadi immediately before his death.

Don’t get me wrong, I would lose no sleep if someone–Swanner–actually paid a legal price for al-Jamadi’s death. But it does seem remarkable that the only criminal torturers our government can find are either low-level people like Lynndie England or contractors like David Passaro. The apparent immunity of everyone else involved in our torture system sure leads to cynicism, as if the only reason to go after a contractor whose role has been discussed for years was just to show a scalp to the international community.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. scribe says:

    I’ll believe it when I see charges and perp walks.

    Until then, it’s all show to keep the foreign courts from doing anything.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      Agreed. Odd that this would become public right when ObamaLLP is needing support from the left for Obama’s re-election.

      Boxturtle (But I’m sure that’s just a co-incidence)

  2. tjbs says:

    The thing about “Iceman’s” there’s no statute of limitations on murder. That would leave 107 more homicide prosecutions to go not counting the three’ suicides” at Gitmo

    I would hope this Durham fellow follows the trail to the top desk,hope I said cause that’s all that’s left.

    9-11 sure put our moral compass on ice though .

  3. bmaz says:

    Oh goody, another big Durham investigation. Always very rewarding efforts.

    Say, whatever happened to that commenter who relentlessly bet me $200 that Durham would indict one or more of the Bush/Cheney Administration principals?

    • BoxTurtle says:

      He’s holding out for a rewrite of the Statute Of Limitations.

      But if you’re tired of waiting, I’ll bet you a $200 donation to your local foodbank that no elected or appointed offical ever sees charges over enhanced interrogation.

      Boxturtle (I’m not limiting it, so if the Spanish courts come through you’d win. Interested? :-) )

        • Mary says:

          Yep – but if you wait until all statutes but homicide have run before you get going on a case where multiple parties all admittedly engaged in assault and battery on the guy and where evidence was destroyed left and right over time, then you really guarantee that most of the criminals are going to get to walk bc the statute has passed on their crimes, and you also guarantee any jurty the absolute murkiest of waters from which to determine who really did do the damage that caused the death.

          IOW – drag it out this long, make sure almost everyone can walk for any depravity they did commit. Let them all be witnesses available to admit to multiple beatings and abuses for which they can’t be charged now. Then smirk while selling the “beyond a reasonable doubt” case against one of the many abusers gets punched from all sides. And the worst that happens – a contractor who isn’t much use anyway bites it.

          Durham let everyone walk on the CIA torture – like a good little weasel. He can’t really walk any cats back to make up for his failures. He’s just another John Yoo – just another Eric HOlder, just another vehicle for Exec branch power to run down more victims.

  4. JTMinIA says:

    Maybe Durham will get angry enough to keep working his way up.

    And maybe that tulip tree in my front yard will leaf out in $100 bills.

    Edit: if the latter proves true, I’ll send the first two to Arizona, even though it wasn’t me.

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    Well, even the Time story ends with a deep note of pessimism:

    In January, Durham himself announced that a former top CIA counterterrorism official would not be prosecuted for ordering the destruction of videotapes documenting harsh CIA interrogations — material that a federal court had ordered the agency to turn over in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Given those decisions, even if there is sufficient evidence to warrant indictments, the case of the Iceman and other possible CIA-linked prosecutions could remain forever frozen in time.

    Read more: http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2011/06/13/haunted-by-homicide-federal-grand-jury-investigates-war-crimes-and-torture-in-death-of-the-ice-man-at-abu-ghraib-and-other-alleged-cia-abuses/#ixzz1PB7G878X

    Meanwhile, don’t forget (as I wrote here at FDL) the connection to the U.S. letter rogatory to the Spanish court last April, explaining that there were “pending federal investigations by the United States Attorneys’ Office for the Eastern District of Virginia” on “various allegations of abuse of detainees.” (p. 3-4 of letter) In addition the letter referred to “pending status and legal restrictions on the disclosure of investigative information, including rules of grand jury secrecy.”

    When I asked DOJ to comment more, they essentially declined. Since we did not know then of the further investigation around al-Jamadi’s case, I speculated (without really believing it) that there could be some new grand jury investigation. But this appears to be a continuation of the original referrals of CIA crimes Holder gave to Durham after the CIA IG report came out.

    I totally agree that going after the contractors and exempting government intelligence agents and their superior officers involved is ridiculous. But in the atmosphere of D.C., where the IC is considered immune from real investigation, even this timid foray is seen as intolerable.

    Of course, from my point of view, it’s a win-win for DOJ, in that they can assure the timid liberals they are doing their job (ha!), fend off the international legal contingent with a fig-leaf of investigation, and smooth salve over IC professionals because no actual agents are being prosecuted, or even, apparently, investigated.

    But a win-win for DOJ doesn’t mean much for us. In other words, more kabuki, even if the family of al-Jamadi might actually get some justice for the murder of the Iraqi prisoner.

  6. rosalind says:

    ot: The former LATimes reporter out with the book claiming Bruce Ivins is responsible for the Anthrax mailings, David Willman, has been re-hired by the Times to work in their D.C. bureau. From the burueau chief’s memo announcing the hire:

    “In-depth, path-breaking investigative reporting, work that uncovers new facts on matters of important public interest, has long been a central element of what this bureau does. Willman’s hiring is a significant step toward strengthening and expanding that capability.”

    with apologies to Inigo Montoya: “In-depth, path-breaking investigative reporting”…I don’t think this means what you think it means.

  7. Garrett says:

    Mark Swanner, a non-covert CIA interrogator and polygraph expert who questioned Jamadi immediately before his death.

    Immediately after his death, too.

    After al-Jamadi was dead, Mark Swanner kept on questioning him.

    “If the detainee is already dead, you are doing it wrong.”

  8. alinaustex says:

    [email protected]
    Have had elder care issues and working longer hours due to a marked slow down in ground transportation business to contend with bmaz – so not much time to spend with you all. But I will honor our bet – if you think that the time has passed completely that no Bush Cheney principals will ever be indicted by Durham . I myself still believe that an indictment could happen . The Durham grand jury is still convened yes ?

    • bmaz says:

      Heh, yes, I suppose the grand jury is “still out” as they say. I mean, it ain’t gonna happen, but technically that is true. Anyway, I was just joking a little; I never intended to collect that bet anyway, and still do not. I do, however, heartily salute you for showing up and saying that. That said, very sorry to hear about the elder care issues; I have been through it, and it really sucks (as does the economic slowdown I might add).

  9. alinaustex says:

    bmaz @ 15
    Thank you for your kind words .
    I do not whelch on bets -once the grand jury is completely over and even irrational hope for Principals being indicted is totally dashed – pls then tell me where to send the two hundred dollars

  10. bobschacht says:

    I hope, that after Durham decides he can’t or won’t charge anyone for anything, that he is required to write and publish a full report on who did what and when, so that all their lies and misdeeds can be exposed. Unfortunately, however, there’s the Ollie North example.

    Bob in AZ

    • bmaz says:

      There is no such requirement and, in fact, since Durham was specially assigned, as opposed to being formally a “Special Prosecutor” it is a normal course DOJ investigation where standard practice is to not discuss.

    • bmaz says:

      Soldz is a nice guy, and I am sure means well, but this is nuts. John Durham is not going to do diddly squat. The most he will ever do, and I doubt even this very much, is hang the one single line level contractor, Spanner, out to dry like they did David Passaro. The Durham Investigation is a sick joke.

      • harpie says:

        Agreed. I think it keeps other countries from beginning their own investigations about it, though.