By Peter Baker and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 21, 2007
The CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether a former agency officer illegally disclosed classified information in describing the capture and waterboarding of an al-Qaeda terrorism suspect, officials said yesterday.
In interviews last week with The Washington Post and other news organizations, former CIA officer John Kiriakou discussed details of the capture of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein alleging that he resisted cooperating with interrogators until he was subjected to waterboarding, which makes a captive believe he is being drowned.
Kiriakou, who participated in the capture of the man commonly known as Abu Zubaida in Pakistan in March 2002, said he did not see the waterboarding but was given details by others who were there. He said waterboarding was effective in Abu Zubaida's case, though Kiriakou now regards the technique as torture.
Kiriakou's attorney, Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer whose clients include former CIA employees, said the CIA routinely refers such cases to the Justice Department, though only rarely do the referrals result in criminal charges.
"If they do pursue it, they will open a Pandora's box that will put the spotlight on whether the interrogations were lawful, and the extent to which they have been fully revealed by federal officials," Zaid said in an interview.
News of the investigation came amid continuing controversy over the CIA's destruction of videotapes, which recorded interrogations of Abu Zubaida and another CIA prisoner. The CIA disclosed earlier this month that videotapes were destroyed in 2005, and the Justice Department and CIA inspector general have launched a preliminary inquiry.
President Bush yesterday declined to say whether he thinks the CIA acted responsibly by destroying the tapes, while a House committee accelerated its own investigation of the episode and subpoenaed the CIA official who reportedly ordered the destruction.
"I'm going to reserve judgment until I find out the full facts," Bush said. Noting the multiple investigations now opened, he added: "Until these inquiries are complete, until the oversights are finished, then I will be rendering no opinion from the podium."
Bush's remarks came as sources disclosed that another government lawyer argued strongly against destroying the tapes. Scott Muller, who was appointed CIA general counsel in 2002, was the agency's top legal expert when White House officials were receiving initial briefings about the existence of the tapes, and he opposed their destruction until his departure in late 2004, two officials familiar with the discussions said yesterday.
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden told lawmakers privately last week that three White House lawyers also urged the agency to be "cautious" about destroying the tapes, said sources familiar with the classified testimony. Another source said that a fourth White House lawyer, Bush's friend Harriet E. Miers, followed up with similar advice in 2005.
The House intelligence committee also moved yesterday to dig deeper into what happened to the tapes. Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.) said the panel subpoenaed Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the CIA's former director of operations, who is said to have made the decision to destroy the tapes.
The panel was talking with CIA officials to secure testimony from John A. Rizzo, the CIA's current general counsel. The committee also wants to hear from four other CIA lawyers -- Steven Hermes, Robert J. Eatinger, Elizabeth Voigt and John McPherson -- as well as the unidentified CIA officials in charge of the secret overseas prison where the interrogations took place. Also in the panel's sights are Muller, former CIA directors George J. Tenet and Porter J. Goss, and James L. Pavittt, former deputy director of operations.
Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.