The Justice Department has opened a torture and war crimes grand jury investigation into the interrogation and death of a prisoner at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a person close to the investigation said Tuesday.
The death has been known to the public for years and has been investigated repeatedly. The grand jury in northern Virginia is a sign that the Justice Department is still not ready to close the book on the 2003 homicide of prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi.
The investigations is also certain to prompt criticism from Republicans who want all matters about the CIA's interrogation program put to rest, especially after the CIA located Osama bin Laden and oversaw the raid that killed him last month.
"The CIA has a vigorous process for ensuring that any allegation of misconduct is thoroughly investigated," CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said. "The CIA, as it has previously, will continue to cooperate closely with Department of Justice reviews."
The grand jury investigation into al-Jamadi's death was first reported by Time magazine.
Much of the attention surrounding al-Jamadi's death has focused on the actions of interrogator Mark Swanner, who questioned al-Jamadi in a prison shower room before he died. Al-Jamadi's head was covered by a hood. His arms were shackled behind his back and bound to a barred window. That way, he could stand without pain but if he tried to lower himself, his arms would be painfully stretched above and behind him.
A military autopsy declared al-Jamadi's death a homicide but an internal CIA investigation found that Swanner never abused al-Jamadi, according to a former senior intelligence official familiar with the findings. A second CIA officer at the prison, however, was later sanctioned for not having a doctor examine al-Jamadi when he arrived at the prison badly injured from a struggle with Navy SEALs.
That officer, whom The Associated Press is identifying only as Steve because he worked undercover, was a focus of the CIA's internal investigation. Steve ran the detainee exploitation cell at Abu Ghraib and had done similar work with the agency in Afghanistan. Steve later retired from the CIA.
Prosecutor John Durham is leading a grand jury investigation in northern Virginia and has looked at approximately a dozen cases that the CIA referred to the Justice Department. Among the more well-known ones, Durham is investigating the death of an Iraqi general who died at a forward operating base in 2003 near the Syrian border at the hands of an agency paramilitary unit and an Afghan who froze to death inside a secret CIA prison.
As recently as early last month, the CIA's inspector general was also asking questions about a botched operation in which the agency mistook a vacationing German citizen for a terrorist, then captured him and held him for months in a secret prison, according to a second person close to the matter. The wrongful capture of Khaled el-Masri in 2003 was a black eye for the agency and a diplomatic embarrassment for the U.S.
A U.S. intelligence official said Tuesday, however, that the internal investigation into the el-Masri rendition was closed and the inspector general was not asking questions about the case. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. The Justice Department closed its books on the el-Masri case in late 2010.