Federal Grand Jury Now Investigating CIA Agents for War Crimes

According to Time magazine, a special prosecutor tasked with investigating CIA personnel for torturing and murdering detainees during the Bush Administration has convened a grand jury and started issuing subpoenas.

The prosecutor, John Durham—a Republican U.S. attorney from Connecticut—had previously declined to file obstruction of justice charges against the CIA's top clandestine officer for destroying videotapes of CIA interrogators torturing detainees despite the fact that he plainly did so in an attempt to obstruct justice. So most observers figured he would continue the decades-long tradition of exempting the CIA from the criminal justice system.

But according to Time's Adam Zagorin, Durham is aggressively investigating the November 2003 homicide of Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi insurgent who died in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib, and who gained posthumous notoriety after photos of U.S. soldiers posing next to his corpse were released. And he's been focusing, Zagorin says, on the CIA agent who last interrogated al-Jamadi:

[Durham] is asking a lot of questions - like who took photographs of the body, and when. Durham, according to these sources, has also asked about civilian contractors at the site, mentioning one by name, and has probed the source of the multiple shoe prints apparently found on material used to wrap al-Jamadi's body.

Perhaps most important, 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 al-Jamadi immediately before his death.

A hamfisted cover-up was launched almost immediately after Al-Jamadi died (he was, according to Time, "hung on a wall before succumbing to asphyxiation and 'blunt force injuries'"). Army officers ordered that blood be mopped up from the floor, and a CIA officer removed a bloody hood from his head and destroyed it. U.S. personnel packed him in ice in an effort to delay decomposition so the death wouldn't be discovered, and transported his corpse out of Abu Ghraib with an IV in his arm to make it look like he was alive.

According to Time, the subpoenas Durham has been serving to gather evidence say "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."

The prospect of a CIA officer actually being indicted for war crimes and torture is exceedingly strange and wonderful. Things aren't supposed to work that way.