December 24, 2007

Rodriguez Wants Immunity

Jose Rodriguez, the Director of Operations for the CIA who apparently ordered the destruction of videotaped interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda detainees, wants immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. The demand deepens the fog around the decision to destroy the tapes at the same time that Congress took an interest in waterboarding and indicates that the buck did not stop at his desk. The Times of London reports that Rodriguez had contacted White House staff on the issue before ordering the destruction, which will certainly tempt Congress to offer the deal (via Memeorandum):

THE CIA chief who ordered the destruction of secret videotapes recording the harsh interrogation of two top Al-Qaeda suspects has indicated he may seek immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying before the House intelligence committee.

Jose Rodriguez, former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, is determined not to become the fall guy in the controversy over the CIA’s use of torture, according to intelligence sources.

It has emerged that at least four White House staff were approached for advice about the tapes, including David Addington, a senior aide to Dick Cheney, the vice-president, but none has admitted to recommending their destruction.

Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA, said it was impossible for Rodriguez to have acted on his own: “If everybody was against the decision, why in the world would Jose Rodriguez – one of the most cautious men I have ever met – have gone ahead and destroyed them?”

Rodriguez has already hired Robert Bennett to defend him, so he knows that he will have to put on Kevlar underwear in this process. As the Times notes, he learned that lesson during Iran-Contra, where his cautious approach in gaining approval for his actions kept the fire above his level. Several sources in the story point out that Rodriguez would not have been a likely candidate to transform into a loose cannon, and that the order for this destruction had to come from someone above him in the hierarchy.

Porter Goss, the CIA Director at the time, makes an unlikely suspect. Goss himself demanded that the tapes remain in custody while the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. In fact, those Congressional contacts briefed on the tapes had all insisted on their retention. That made sense, given that the controversial technique depicted on them -- waterboarding -- had already been the topic of at least one Congressional intel briefing in 2002, with no opposition to its use.

The order to destroy these tapes in defiance of Congress and the courts are very significant to the rule of law, and it deserves a full investigation. The CIA has had to retract its claim before a federal court that it had no such tapes, and the destruction came too close to Congressional debate on waterboarding to be coincidental. Someone had in mind to destroy evidence, for whatever purpose, and that is clearly obstruction of justice.

We may not like the politicians that get elected to Congress, and we may believe them unworthy of their oversight roles. Individually, that would indeed be hard to rebut. However, we base our form of government on the rule of law, and we expect those in leadership positions to remain subject to the same laws as the rest of us. That's why Bill Clinton got impeached. It's why whomever decided to operate outside the law, destroy evidence, and provide false testimony to a federal court needs to be held responsible in some manner for those actions.

If we allow elected officials and federal agencies to ignore laws simply because we like the outcome, then we do not have a rule of law but a popular tyranny of whim. We will have handed the federal government a power that we will rue when other hands are on the rudder. Let the Department of Justice and Congress conduct their lawful investigations and the chips fall where they may.


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