A Texas grand jury has charged US Vice-President **** Cheney for "organised criminal activity" related to alleged abuse of private prison inmates.
The indictment says Mr Cheney - who has invested $85m (£56m) in a company that holds shares in for-profit prisons - conspired to block an investigation.
The indictment has not been seen by a judge, who could dismiss it.
Mr Cheney's spokeswoman declined to comment, saying his office had not yet received a copy of the charges.
One Texas lawyer said the charges were politically motivated.
'Conflict of interest'
The indictment was overseen by county District Attorney Juan Guerra, an outgoing prosecutor at the end of his term of office.
He cites the case of Gregorio De La Rosa, who died on 26 April, 2001 inside a private prison in Willacy County, Texas.
The grand jury in Willacy County, near the US-Mexico border, accuses Mr Cheney of committing "at least misdemeanour assaults" of inmates by allowing other inmates to assault them.
It said there was a "direct conflict of interest" because Mr Cheney had influence over federal contracts awarded to prison companies.
US grand juries weigh evidence to decide whether a case is worthy of being sent for a full trial, before issuing formal charges known as indictments.
The three-page indictment also alleges that former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "used his position...to stop the investigations as to the wrong doings."
The grand jury wrote that it made its decision "with great sadness," but said they had no other choice but to indict Mr Cheney and Mr Gonzales "because we love our country."
Several other related indictments were brought against a host of public officials in what one lawyer called a circus act by the outgoing prosecutor, Mr Guerra, who he said was seeking revenge in his final weeks in office.