New Attorney General stonewalls Senate over CIA tapes
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said Friday he is disappointed at the Justice Department for its outright refusal to hand over any information about the interrogation videotapes destroyed by the CIA two years ago.
Leahy, and the Judiciary Committee's top Republican Arlen Specter, wrote to Attorney General Michael Mukasey after news broke last week that the CIA destroyed several hundred hours of recordings depicting harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists.
“I am disappointed that the Department of Justice declined to provide us, either publicly or in a classified setting, with any of the information Senator Specter and I have requested," Leahy said in a statement released Friday. "The Judiciary Committee has an important role in the oversight of the Department of Justice. Oversight fosters accountability. This Committee needs to fully understand whether the government used cruel interrogation techniques and torture, contrary to our basic values."
The Vermont Democrat warned he is not giving up on his quest for information on the tapes' destruction, and he implied the Bush administration's stonewalling could hamper its efforts to get new appointees confirmed by the Senate.
“I will ask Attorney General Mukasey -- in public and on the record -- more about the Department’s knowledge of and role in the existence and destruction of these videotapes at the Committee’s next oversight hearing, which I intend to call early next year. The Committee will also look forward to hearing from Deputy Attorney General nominee Mark Filip about this matter at his confirmation hearing on December 19.”
The full letter from Mukasey is reprinted below.
Dear Mr. Chairman and Senator Specter:
Thank you for your letter of December 10,2007, regarding your concerns about the reported destruction by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of videotapes showing interrogations of detainees and the Department's review of this matter.
As you note, the Department's National Security Division is conducting a preliminary inquiry in conjunction with the CIA'S Office of Inspector General. Enclosed please find a letter from Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein to CIA Acting General Counsel John A. hzzo which provides some further detail regarding this inquiry, and which was released to the public on December 8th.
As to your remaining questions, the Department has a long-standing policy of declining to provide non-public information about pending matters. This policy is based in part on our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence. Accordingly, I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter, but appreciate the Committee's interests in this matter. At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice. Consistent with that testimony, the facts will be followed wherever they lead in this inquiry, and the relevant law applied.
Finally, with regard to the suggestion that I appoint a special counsel, I am aware of no facts at present to suggest that Department attorneys cannot conduct this inquiry in an impartial manner. If I become aware of information that leads me to a different conclusion, I will act on it.
I hope that this information is helpful.
Michael B. Mukasey