Inquiry into CIA interrogation tapes' destruction begins
On Saturday, the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency’s internal watchdog launched a joint inquiry into the spy agency’s destruction of videotapes showing interrogations of top Al Qaeda operatives.
According to the New York Times, “Investigators will gather facts to determine whether a full inquiry is warranted. If it is ultimately determined that any agency employee broke the law, the standard procedure would be for [CIA inspector general John] Helgerson to issue a criminal referral to the Justice Department.”
Both the Senate and House intelligence committees have already begun their own investigations into the destruction of the tapes. Texas Democrat Rep. Silvestre P. Reyes, the House intelligence committee chairman, said in a statement Saturday that the inquiry would be an "important first test" for Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to demonstrate his independence. “I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer as to why Congress was kept in the day about this matter,” he said.
The agency member who ordered the destruction of the tapes two years ago was Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the CIA’s national clandestine service. A government official who had recently talked to Rodriguez said that Rodriguez believes he received approval from lawyers inside the service to destroy the evidence.
Officials inside the CIA understand that the destruction of evidence, such as videotaped interrogations, could raise concerns about whether the CIA was seeking to hide evidence of coercion.
The destruction of the tapes has also intensified the focus on detainee Abu Zubaydah, captured in March 2002 and suspected to be the chief planner of the 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer Cole. “As one of the first close associates of Osama bin Laden to be caught after the 9/11 attacks,” reports the Times, “Abu Zubaydah became a test case on which the CIA built and then adjusted its program of aggressive interrogations and overseas secret jails in the years that followed.”
Further, Zubaydah’s case exemplifies a broader debate about the Bush administration’s interrogation tactics. Since confirming the existence of the interrogation program last September, President Bush has contended that Zubaydah’s case “proved the value of harsh interrogation methods because Abu Zubaydah yielded valuable intelligence about the 9/11 plot only after tough tactics were employed.”
But government officials have long been suspicious about aspects of the CIA’s version of events, instead claiming that a cooperative Zubaydah transformed when CIA interrogators took over the questioning from the civil FBI in April or May of 2002, relying instead on the use of aggressive methods.
Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly, who reviewed various reports about the treatment of Zubaydah, thinks that the tapes would have shown "not just that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative, but that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative who was (a) unimportant and low-ranking, (b) mentally unstable, (c) had no useful information, and (d) eventually spewed out an endless series of worthless, fantastical 'confessions' under duress."
In a statement released on Saturday, CIA Director General Hayden said he welcomed the inquiry and that the “CIA will cooperate fully.”
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