The Central Intelligence Agency has been implicated in the death of at least four detainees but the government has so far brought charges against only one low-level contract employee, possibly because modified policies under President George W Bush grant interrogators wide latitude, the New Yorker magazine wrote.
In the case of one Iraqi terrorist suspect, Manadel al-Jamadi, who died shortly after being taken into custody two years ago, the US Justice Department has yet to file charges against anyone even though the death was classified as a homicide.
Photos of grinning US soldiers crouching over Jamadi’s corpse were among the disturbing images that emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2004, prompting international outrage and internal US military investigations.
Jamadi, whose head had been covered by a plastic bag and was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose, died of asphyxiation, according to previous media reports.
The CIA agent who interrogated Jamadi has not been charged with a crime and continues to work for the agency, the New Yorker reported.
The magazine identified the CIA employee, who is not a covert agent, as Mark Swanner and said he and his lawyer declined to comment for the article.
An unnamed lawyer familiar with the case told the magazine that the case appears to be “lying kind of fallow”.
The Bush administration’s legal definition of torture and abuse make it extremely difficult to prosecute any CIA agent suspected of abusing a detainee, the magazine wrote.
Two classified memos written by the Justice Department in 2002 and 2003 allegedly grant “breath-taking” and “radical” latitude for the treatment of prisoners, dismissing domestic and international laws, anonymous sources were quoted as saying.
“These two memos sanction such extreme measures that, even if the agency wanted to discipline or prosecute agents who stray beyond its own comfort level, the legal tools to do so may no longer exist,” the magazine wrote.
The Bush administration has been widely criticized for its response to the Abu Ghraib scandal and other alleged abuses of detainees since the September 11 attacks against the United States in 2001.
The White House has said the government does not condone the use of torture but believes interrogators must have flexibility when questioning terrorist suspects plotting attacks.
Opposition Democrats in the US Senate have demanded the administration release the secret memos on detention and interrogation policies.
“We need to know what was authorised,” Senator Carl Levin of Michigan was quoted as saying. “The refusal to give us these documents is totally inexcusable.”
Mr Bush faces a revolt within his own party over the issue, with a majority of Republican senators backing a proposal explicitly outlawing torture and abuse of prisoners.
The Bush administration has lobbied for an exemption for the CIA.