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Veteran prosecutor tapped by Justice Department to oversee CIA tapes investigation
CIA Videotapes WX10 5141738
John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, speaks to reporters on the steps of U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn. in this April 25, 2006 file photo. Durham has been chosen by Attorney General Michael Mukasey to oversee the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes case. - photo by Associated Press
    WASHINGTON — For the high-profile, politically charged investigation into the destruction of CIA interrogation videos, the Justice Department is turning to a low-profile, politically independent prosecutor.
    Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed John Durham, a veteran federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to oversee a full criminal investigation that could further challenge the Bush administration’s handling of terrorism suspects.
    The CIA acknowledged last month that in 2005 it destroyed videos of officers using tough interrogation methods on two al-Qaida suspects. The revelation touched off a congressional inquiry and a preliminary investigation by the Justice Department into whether the CIA violated any laws or obstructed congressional inquiries such as the one led by the Sept. 11 Commission.
    Durham, who has served with the Justice Department for 25 years, has a reputation as one of the nation’s most relentless prosecutors. He was appointed to investigate the FBI’s use of mob informants in Boston, a probe that sent former FBI agent John Connolly to prison.
    ‘‘Nobody in this country is above the law, an FBI agent or otherwise,’’ Durham said in 2002 after Connolly’s conviction, a rare public statement for a prosecutor who usually avoids reporters.
    Prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia, which includes the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va., had removed themselves from the case. CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson, who worked with the Justice Department on the preliminary inquiry, also removed himself.
    ‘‘The CIA will of course cooperate fully with this investigation as it has with the others into this matter,’’ agency spokesman Mark Mansfield said.
    Durham will serve as acting U.S. attorney on the case, a designation the Justice Department frequently makes when top prosecutors take themselves off a case. He will not serve as a special prosecutor like Patrick Fitzgerald, who acted autonomously while investigating the 2003 leak of a CIA operative’s identity.
    ‘‘The Justice Department went out and got somebody with complete independence and integrity,’’ said former Connecticut U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy, who worked with Durham. ‘‘No politics whatsoever. It’s going to be completely by the book and he’s going to let the chips fall where they may.’’
    Durham gained national prominence following the 1989 murder of Mafia underboss William Grasso, which led to one of the biggest mob takedowns in U.S history. He then turned to Connecticut street gangs, winning dozens of convictions and putting some gang leaders in jail for life. Former Attorney General Janet Reno hand-picked Durham to lead the investigation into the FBI’s use of mob informants in Boston.
    Durham, a Republican, has shown no tolerance for corruption in either party. He supervised the corruption investigation that sent former Republican Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland and several members of his administration to prison.
    ‘‘He’ll suck the political air right out of the investigation and just go after the facts,’’ said Mike Clark, a retired FBI agent who investigated Rowland. ‘‘He’s going to do it his way and just keep digging.’’
    The CIA already had agreed to open its files to congressional investigators, who have begun reviewing documents at the agency’s Virginia headquarters. The House Intelligence Committee has ordered Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who directed the tapes be destroyed, to appear at a hearing Jan. 16.
    In June 2005, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy ordered the Bush administration to safeguard ‘‘all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.’’ Kennedy was overseeing a case in which U.S.-held terror suspects challenged their detention.
    Five months later, the CIA destroyed the interrogation videos. The recordings involved suspected terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The Justice Department has argued to Kennedy that the videos weren’t covered by his order because the two men were being held in secret CIA prisons overseas.
    In an opinion piece in Wednesday’s New York Times, Sept. 11 commission chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton accused the CIA of obstruction for failing to respond to requests for information about the 9/11 plot. The CIA has asserted that the panel had not been specific enough in its requests.

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