Torture tapes to get outside prosecutor

TORTURE TAPES TO GET OUTSIDE PROSECUTOR….It looks like the CIA’s torture-tape scandal has hit the big time.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed an outside prosecutor Wednesday to lead a criminal investigation into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes.

The CIA acknowledged last month that it destroyed videos of officers using tough interrogation methods while questioning two al-Qaida suspects. The acknowledgment sparked a congressional inquiry and a preliminary investigation by Justice.

“The Department’s National Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation,” Mukasey said in a statement released Wednesday.

Overseeing the case will be John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, and a former colleague of Kevin O’Connor, the current #3 official in Mukasey’s Justice Department.

It’s often difficult to know for sure how independent a prosecutor is going to be, but the AP notes that Durham has “a reputation as one of the nation’s most relentless prosecutors,” which he earned “as an outside prosecutor overseeing an investigation into the FBI’s use of mob informants in Boston and helped send several Connecticut public officials to prison.”

That doesn’t appear to be p.r. spin; Paul Kiel posted his c.v. and it certainly looks like he’s a credible, veteran prosecutor.

Now, Durham will not, apparently, be a special counsel the way Patrick Fitzgerald was, but will instead serve as the acting U.S. Attorney from the Eastern District of Virginia. Marty Lederman has a helpful overview on this point.

The Bush administration didn’t exactly need yet another criminal investigation, and yet, it has one anyway. Stay tuned.