US lawmakers and rights advocates question CIA tape destruction

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

U.S. Congressional Democrats are asking the Justice Department to investigate whether the CIA's destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogation of terrorism suspects amounts to obstruction of justice.

The acknowledgement by Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden that his agency destroyed the interrogation videotapes in 2005 sparked a firestorm of criticism among Congressional Democrats. They suggested the tapes could have provided key evidence in ongoing trials brought by terrorism suspects who are alleging they were tortured.

Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said, "What would cause the CIA to take this action? The answer is obvious - cover up. The agency was desperate to cover up damning evidence of their practices."

Human Rights Watch's Senior Counterterrorism Counsel commented to Google news saying, "The CIA was well aware that its interrogations crossed a line considered by many to be torture. Now some in the CIA may also be guilty of obstruction of justice as well - a serious felony that carries a possible 20 year sentence. There needs to be a serious criminal investigation, and those who have committed crimes should be prosecuted and convicted."

The Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are vowing to investigate, and other Democrats are calling on the Justice Department to do the same.

"You cannot destroy material if there is an ongoing investigation. There is a law against it," said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush only learned of the matter two days ago, after he was briefed by CIA Director Hayden.

The United States Capitol building, where Congress meets

"He has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday," said Perino.

Perino defended the CIA interrogation program as legal and critical to national security. She said President Bush supports General Hayden's explanation that the tapes were destroyed to protect the identities of the interrogators.

But the Senate's number two Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, rejected that argument:

"The defence of the CIA is that they wanted to protect the identity of those CIA employees who were engaged in the interrogation," said Durbin. "Mr. [Senate] President, that is not a credible defence. We know that it is possible, in fact, easy, to cover the identity and faces of those who were involved in any videotape. Something more was involved here."

The tapes, which documented the use of tough interrogation techniques against key terror suspects in 2002, were destroyed three years later, at a time when there was increasing pressure from defence lawyers to obtain videotapes of detainee interrogations and as Congress had been probing allegations of torture.

The Bush administration has maintained it does not use torture, but refuses to say what techniques are used by intelligence agencies in interrogations of terror suspects.


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