Ex-CIA chief cleared over tapes
The CIA's former top clandestine officer and others will not face any criminal charges for destroying videotapes that showed waterboarding of terror suspects.
But a special prosecutor will continue with a probe into whether the harsh questioning went beyond legal boundaries.
The decision not to prosecute anyone over the videotape destruction came five years to the day after the CIA destroyed its cache of 92 videos of two al Qaida operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri, being waterboarded, which evokes the sensation of drowning. The deadline for prosecuting someone under most federal laws is five years.
The part of the nearly three-year-old criminal investigation that examines whether US interrogators went beyond the legal guidance given them on the rough treatment of suspects would continue, a US Justice Department official said.
CIA director Leon Panetta said the agency welcomed the decision, and "we will continue, of course, to co-operate with the Department of Justice on any other aspects of the former programme that it reviews".
Approving the destruction, Jose Rodriguez, the CIA's then-top clandestine officer, feared the videos would be devastating to the agency if they ever surfaced. His order was at odds with years of directives from CIA lawyers and the White House.
Mr Rodriguez's lawyer, Robert Bennett, said the department made "the right decision because of the facts and the law" and called his client "a true patriot who only wanted to protect his people and his country".
In January 2008, then-president George Bush's last attorney general, Michael Mukasey, appointed assistant US attorney John Durham a special prosecutor to investigate the videotape destruction. Later, President Barack Obama's attorney general Eric Holder added the inquiry into the conduct of the harsh questioning.
A team of prosecutors and FBI agents led by Mr Durham had conducted an exhaustive investigation into the matter, said Matthew Miller, chief justice department spokesman. "As a result of that investigation, Mr Durham has concluded that he will not pursue criminal charges for the destruction of the interrogation videotapes," Mr Miller said.