Roberts shut down attempts at greater oversight of enhanced interrogation, memo shows

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts is disputing a CIA memo that says he approved the destruction of videotape showing the CIA waterboarding Al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah.

In documents released by the federal government Monday, CIA congressional liaison Stanley M. Moskowitz describes a meeting with Sen. Roberts, then the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in which the senator was informed of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" being used on Zubaydah, particularly waterboarding, as well as the existence of videotape documenting the interrogation sessions.

A CIA lawyer "indicated that it was our intention to destroy these tapes, which were created in any case as but an aide to the interrogations," the memo states. "Senator Roberts listened carefully and gave his consent.”

An aide for Sen. Roberts disputes that claim.

"At no time did Senator Roberts assent to the destruction of any videotapes," spokeswoman Sarah Little said, as quoted at Politico. "Sen. Roberts today called on the Justice Department to release all the memoranda that exist regarding briefings for all members of Congress."

The CIA destroyed 92 tapes of interrogations of Zubaydah and another terror suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, in November 2005, reports the New York Times. Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether any laws were broken in the destruction of the tape.

The special prosecutor will also look into whether any of the CIA's enhanced interrogations exceeded the arguably liberal standards set out by the Bush administration, and whether those incidents can be prosecuted.

The CIA memo was released as part of a years-long effort by three groups -- Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice -- to lift the veil of secrecy over the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques. The documents were released under a freedom-of-information request.

The documents obtained by the groups can be found here.

In a press release, the groups allege that Sen. Roberts "discontinued efforts by previous chair Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) to implement greater oversight of these programs, thus abdicating the role of Congress in overseeing the CIA rendition, secret detention, and torture programs."

The CIA memo notes that, when CIA liaisons argued against Sen. Graham's earlier suggestion that Congress “undertake its own ‘assessment’ of the enhanced interrogation,” Sen. Roberts "interjected that he saw no reason for the committee to pursue such a request and could think of ‘10 reasons right off why it is a terrible idea.'"

Blogger Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake opines: "And so it was that Pat Roberts, in one of his first actions as SSCI Chair, squelched an effort that might have prevented the torture program from metastasizing across our counter-terrorist (and Iraqi) efforts."

It would later emerge that Zubaydah was waterboarded 183 times in a one-month period in US custody, and was waterboarded before the technique was approved by the Bush administration.

And while many defenders of the Bush administration's interrogation techniques have argued that Zubaydah's interrogation yielded plenty of useful information, it emerged last year that investigators had decided that Zubaydah wasn't nearly as important to Al Qaeda as they had originally thought, and may not even have officially been a member of the organization.

In 2005, Roberts was one of only nine US senators to vote against the Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners and requires investigators to follow the Army Field Manual in carrying out interrogations.