House Judiciary witness: Destroyed CIA tapes are 'ultimate cover-up'
David Edwards and Jason Rhyne
Published: Thursday December 20, 2007 |
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DOJ representative is no-show at hearing

The CIA's official explanation for destroying at least two videotapes depicting severe interrogation techniques "fails the straight-face test," an expert witness told the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.

In a hearing focused on the Justice Department's role in the tapes' destruction and the legality of torture tactics, George Washington University Law School professor Stephen Saltzburg heavily rebuked CIA reasoning that the decision was made in part to protect the identify of interrogators.

"The rationale for destroying the tapes to protect the identity of the interrogators is almost as embarrassing as the destruction itself," said Saltzburg, who is also general counsel for the National Institute of Military Justice. He said that the tapes could easily have been modified to obscure the faces of those involved, and that regardless, the CIA keeps a written record of which officers interrogated detainees.

"And so the explanation for destruction fails the straight-face test," he said. "The only plausible explanation, I believe, is that the CIA wanted to assure that those tapes would never be seen by any judicial tribunal -- not even a military commission -- and they would never be seen by a committee of Congress."

Continued Saltzburg, "With [the CIA tapes] gone, we have the ultimate cover-up. The indisputable evidence no longer exists, and memories will undoubtedly differ about what happened."

He also chided Congress for not choosing to rein in CIA practices.

"It's vitally important for this Congress to recognize that it's part of the interrogation process," he said. "This Congress decided not to restrict the CIA, at least not explicitly. And it decided not to confine the CIA to interrogation techniques that are contained in the Army Field Manual."

A representative from the Justice Department was invited to testify before the committee, but was not present at the hearing.

Another hearing witness, former CIA general counsel and DOJ prosecutor John Radsan, was pressed by committee member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) as to whether interrogators resorting to torture could be prosecuted criminally if a legal definition of the practice could be agreed upon.

"If the tapes clearly depict torture," said Scott,"let's kind of think who could be guilty of a criminal offense."

Responded Radsan, "If we agree that the conduct on those tapes [is torture], that person who did the conduct is guilty...that's for sure." He offered the same analysis for those authorizing torture.

In statements before witnesses were called, Democratic committee members also admonished the White House for its alleged role, as reported by the New York Times, in participating in discussions about the tapes with the CIA.

"It is important that we investigate these allegations carefully," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), "because if true, we may be facing the possibility of a dangerous and criminal abuse of powers at the highest levels of our government."

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) called on the US to take a moral stand on the issue of torture , and said the country should separate itself from other nations engaging in the practice.

"This government has to be based on truth and transparency, and it certainly must be based on security, the protection of America," she said. "But the United States does not make those practices of violating the law, violating the Constitution, violating the international convention on torture -- it must not make that the norm...therefore we must not draw to the practices of foreign dictators, but we must stand alone as a beacon of light shining around the world to ensure the principles of freedom and equality and justice reign strong in this nation."

This video is from, broadcast on December 20, 2007.

In the following video, Rep. Scott asks witnesses to define torture.

This video is from, broadcast on December 20, 2007.