Justice, CIA Begin Videotape Inquiry
Sunday, December 9, 2007
The Justice Department and the CIA announced yesterday that they have started a preliminary inquiry into the CIA's 2005 destruction of videotapes that depicted harsh interrogation of two terrorism suspects.
The announcement follows congressional demands Friday for an investigation into the CIA's action despite warnings from the White House and congressional leaders to preserve the tapes.
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden disclosed the destruction of the tapes Thursday in a letter to his staff, telling them that the identities of the interrogators in the 2002 sessions needed to be protected. Some lawmakers have rejected that explanation.
In a letter sent yesterday, Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's national security division, wrote to CIA General Counsel John A. Rizzo to confirm the inquiry and asked the CIA to preserve evidence and documents.
Wainstein indicated in the letter that he will be working with the CIA inspector general's office to determine "whether a further investigation is warranted."
"Based on our recent discussions, I understand that your office has already reviewed the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the videotapes, as well as the existence of any pending relevant investigations or other preservation obligations at the time the destruction occurred," Wainstein wrote to the CIA.
Also yesterday, attorneys for a detainee who had been in CIA custody for three years released documents in which they asked a federal court to prevent the U.S. government from destroying evidence of his torture. The filing, on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainee Majid Khan, one of 14 "high-value detainees" brought to the military prison from secret sites in other countries, came a week before the CIA acknowledged that it had destroyed the interrogation videotapes.
Officials and sources have identified the two terrorism suspects on the tapes as Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein Abu Zubaida, a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was captured in the United Arab Emirates in 2002.
It is not clear which aggressive tactics are shown. Intelligence officials have identified Abu Zubaida as one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, an aggressive technique that simulates drowning. Nashiri complained this year in documents filed for a hearing at Guantanamo Bay that he had been tortured into confessing to various terrorist acts and plots.
Hayden said in a statement released yesterday that the CIA will cooperate fully with the joint inquiry. "I welcome it as an opportunity to address questions that have arisen over the destruction back in 2005 of videotapes," he said. Wainstein requested a meeting with CIA officials early this week.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, praised the inquiry as "the kind of quick response the nation expects and deserves from an attorney general who puts the rule of law first," adding: "It is a refreshing change." Schumer was referring to recently confirmed Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who succeeded Alberto R. Gonzales.
Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees said they either were unaware the tapes existed, had never been briefed about their destruction or had warned the CIA not to destroy them.