WASHINGTON - No criminal charges will be filed against US intelligence officials accused of destroying videotapes showing CIA interrogations of terror suspects, the US Justice Department announced.
In a statement, the department said that after an "exhaustive investigation" an official heading the probe decided that he "will not pursue criminal charges" for the destruction of the interrogation tapes filmed at secret prisons.
CIA Director Leon Panetta said "we welcome the decision."
He said his agency had been cooperating with the probe from the beginning and would continue to do so, "but we are pleased that the decision was made not to charge any Agency officers for the destruction of the tapes."
In January 2008, then-US attorney general Michael Mukasey opened the inquiry after the revelation that the CIA three years earlier had destroyed tapes showing harsh interrogations of two Al-Qaeda suspects.
Federal prosecutor John Durham was tapped to lead the FBI probe in possible crimes after the CIA acknowledged that it had destroyed 92 interrogation videos.
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The probe was launched to examine whether intelligence officials broke the law by destroying the videos of the interrogations, which were conducted in the months following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
At the time the probe was launched, then-CIA director Michael Hayden said the tapes had been destroyed to protect the identities of intelligence agents tasked with interrogating the terror suspects.
But some US lawmakers and international rights campaigners dismissed the explanation, charging that the destruction of the tapes was meant to cover up alleged detainee torture.
US news reports have said that the videos showed 2002 interrogations of two terror suspects: alleged Al-Qaeda financier Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi suspected of involvement in the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
US officials said they would not rule out possible criminal charges into a parallel probe ordered last year by Attorney General Eric Holder into methods used by interrogators while questioning the detainees.
"That investigation continues," Durham's spokesman Tom Carson told AFP.