December 8, 2007

Tape Destruction Decision Compartmentalized

The decision to destroy the tapes of interrogations that included waterboarding two al-Qaeda terrorists came from the director of the clandestine services of the CIA and in opposition to requests from both Congress and the White House. Jose Rodriguez, the Director of Operations, made the decision without consulting the CIA's attorneys or the DCI, Porter Goss. While a member of Congress and head of the House Intelligence Committee, Goss had demanded that the CIA retain all such recordings:

White House and Justice Department officials, along with senior members of Congress, advised the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003 against a plan to destroy hundreds of hours of videotapes showing the interrogations of two operatives of Al Qaeda, government officials said Friday.

The chief of the agency’s clandestine service nevertheless ordered their destruction in November 2005, taking the step without notifying even the C.I.A.’s own top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, who was angry at the decision, the officials said.

The disclosures provide new details about what Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, has said was a decision “made within C.I.A. itself” to destroy the videotapes. In interviews, members of Congress and former intelligence officials also questioned some aspects of the account General Hayden provided Thursday about when Congress was notified that the tapes had been destroyed. ...

Top C.I.A. officials had decided in 2003 to preserve the tapes in response to warnings from White House lawyers and lawmakers that destroying the tapes would be unwise, in part because it could carry legal risks, the government officials said.

But the government officials said that Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the chief of the agency’s clandestine service, the Directorate of Operations, had reversed that decision in November 2005, at a time when Congress and the courts were inquiring deeply into the C.I.A.’s interrogation and detention program. Mr. Rodriguez could not be reached Friday for comment.

As the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Porter J. Goss, then a Republican congressman from Florida, was among Congressional leaders who warned the C.I.A. against destroying the tapes, the former intelligence officials said. Mr. Goss became C.I.A. director in 2004 and was serving in the post when the tapes were destroyed, but was not informed in advance about Mr. Rodriguez’s decision, the former officials said.

In other words, Rodriguez decided for himself what his legal obligations required in terms of retention. Despite the expressed will of Congress, the White House, and the CIA's own attorneys, Rodriguez destroyed the tapes -- even though his own boss had gone on record as demanding their retention. Afterwards, the agency didn't bother to inform anyone of the destruction for almost a year, and lied about the one-time existence of the tapes to federal prosecutors working on the Moussaoui case.

This clears the White House of responsibility for the decision and the cover-up. Mark Mazzetti reports that George Bush didn't know about the destruction until Hayden announced it publicly on Thursday. Porter Goss found out about it at the same time as John Rizzo, and vented his anger at the destruction of the tapes, as did Rizzo. In this case, the destruction appears to have been a compartmentalized operation by Rodriguez. The CIA informed the intel committee leadership in 2006 that they had defied their wishes and destroyed the tapes.

Why? In November 2005, Congress began asking questions about aggressive interrogation techniques. The CIA hid the tapes abroad instead of securing them at Langley, hoping to avoid subpoenas. When that strategy looked weak, they simply destroyed the tapes.

That is obstruction of justice, at least in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui's trial, and Congress could add a contempt charge on their own. They may have a tough time of that, since neither the Democrats nor the Republicans took any action in 2006 when they discovered the destruction. However, Congress and the judiciary should act as the check against abuses of power of the CIA (and all other executive branch functions), and the CIA had no business destroying evidence that would allow for that kind of check, no matter how well-intentioned Rodriguez may have been.

If we endorse the removal of those checks, then we endorse an executive branch that can do whatever it pleases. Some may think that acceptable under current management, but if they do, they should consider the precedent left for people less acceptable to them elected to the White House.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Tape Destruction Decision Compartmentalized:

» Destroyed CIA Interrogation Tapes Another Ploy to Hurt Bush Administration? from The New American Citizen
Or How to turn a non-scandal, into a scandal in order to get legislation passed… The mainstream media reports: December 6th, the New York Times runs this story: C.I.A. Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 — The Cent... [Read More]