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CIA Abuse Investigator John Durham

4 minute read
Randy James

John Durham is a low-profile professional thrust into a decidedly high-profile assignment. The press-shy Connecticut prosecutor was tapped by Attorney General Eric Holder on Aug. 24 to investigate alleged mistreatment of terror suspects by CIA interrogators and contractors. His appointment came on the heels of a newly released Justice Department report indicating interrogators abused prisoners by, among other things, threatening to kill one man’s family and choking another man to the point of unconsciousness. Durham, 59, is no stranger to top-level governmental investigations. In 1999 he was selected by Attorney General Janet Reno to probe law-enforcement corruption in Boston. Last year he was named by Attorney General Michael Mukasey to head the ongoing investigation into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes. Colleagues say Durham is thorough and cautious in deciding whether a case deserves to be prosecuted. But once he fixes on a target, the veteran lawyer usually catches his prey.

(Read “Five Questions for the CIA IG’s Interrogation Report.”)

Fast Facts:

•Graduated from Colgate University in 1972 with a degree in political science. Earned a law degree from the University of Connecticut in 1975.

•Served as a Vista Volunteer on a Montana Indian reservation for two years after law school. Then returned to Connecticut to join the State’s Attorney’s office.

(Read “Officials Defend CIA’s Use of Contractors.”)

•Led a task force to go after Hartford street gangs in 1992. Also spearheaded mob prosecutions of the Gambino, Genovese and Patriarca crime families.

•Led numerous public corruption investigations in Connecticut, including that of former Governor John Rowland, who resigned in 2004 and pleaded guilty to accepting gifts and vacations from contractors doing business with the state. He served a year in prison.

(Read “The U.S. Prison for Iraq’s Worst.”)

•At the request of then-Attorney General Reno, investigated whether notorious Boston mobsters James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi had corrupted the FBI agents whom they served as informants. That probe led to the conviction of retired FBI agent John Connolly Jr., sentenced to 10 years in prison for helping the two avoid prosecution. The investigation helped inspire the Martin Scorsese film The Departed.

• In 2000 he uncovered FBI documents showing four convicted murderers had been framed by agents in the 1960s. Two of the men were released, and later won a $100 million civil judgment against the government. The other two had died in prison.

• A registered Republican, though he’s worked under both parties and associates say he keeps politics out of his work.

• Married with four sons, one of whom is a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y.

• Described by the Hartford Courant as frequently appearing “impatient, distracted and… privately amused” in court. An observant Catholic and avid Red Sox fan.

Quotes by:

“You know, I’m not the only person working on this case. Why don’t you write about the others. They deserve credit.”
— Responding to a reporter’s inquiry about the Boston mafia probe. (Hartford Courant, January 28, 2001)

“Nobody in this country is above the law, an FBI agent or otherwise, and ultimately the ends do not justify the means.”
— Unusual public remarks at press conference the day former FBI agent John Connolly was convicted in 2002. (Boston Globe, January 7, 2008)

Quotes about:

“He kind of has blinders on in the sense that he doesn’t worry about the politics and all the other stuff that might be swirling around, and I think that’s really what makes him so successful.”
—Warren T. Bamford, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office. (Boston Globe, January 7, 2008)

“He’s such a decent guy you can’t hate him. That can make it hard to get motivated.”
—Boston lawyer Anthony Cardinale, who has faced Durham in the courtroom. (Hartford Courant, January 28, 2001)

“He’s Fitzgerald with a sense of humor.”
— Hugh Keefe, a Connecticut defense lawyer, comparing Durham to Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the investigation into the leaked identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame (Washington Post, January 3, 2008)

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