The Stonewall Continues

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, December 12, 2007; 1:30 PM

The White House continues to dodge important questions about its involvement in the destruction of videotapes documenting the CIA's torture of terror suspects.

The evidence is mounting that the White House role in the decision to destroy the tapes may have been significant. But no details are forthcoming from White House aides. Rather than come clean with the public, they are once again hiding behind a familiar but transparent dodge, saying that ongoing investigations preclude them from speaking.

Baloney. They just don't want to answer questions.

The only substantive thing White House Press Secretary Dana Perino offered up about the matter on Friday was a carefully parsed denial of any direct involvement by President Bush himself. "He has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday," Perino said.

That's what's known in Washington as an assertion of plausible deniability -- particularly given Bush's history of leaving such matters to his vice president. And he's not even saying he wasn't involved, he's just saying he doesn't remember.

Yesterday, Bush used almost the same phrasing during an interview with ABC News's Martha Raddatz: "My first recollection of whether the tapes existed or whether they were destroyed was when [CIA director] Michael Hayden briefed me," he said, adding: "There's a preliminary inquiry going on, and I think you'll find that a lot more data, facts, will be coming out... That's good. It will be interesting to know what the true facts are."

There is, however, plenty of data the White House could and should share with the public right now, starting with the disclosure of who in the White House knew about the tapes, what they knew, and when they knew it.

In the face of this blatant stonewall, I have to ask again: Where is the outrage?

The Latest

Here's the latest evidence that the White House response to CIA inquiries about destroying the tapes was the equivalent of a wink and a nod.

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write in Newsweek: "The CIA repeatedly asked White House lawyer Harriet Miers over a two-year period for instructions regarding what to do with 'very clinical' videotapes depicting the use of 'enhanced' interrogation techniques on two top Al Qaeda captives, according to former and current intelligence officials familiar with the communications (who requested anonymity when discussing the controversial issue). The tapes are believed to have included evidence of waterboarding and other interrogation methods that Bush administration critics have described as torture.

"Senior officials of the CIA's National Clandestine Service finally decided on their own authority in late 2005 to destroy the tapes -- which were kept at a secret location overseas -- after failing to elicit clear instructions from the White House or other senior officials on what to do with them, according to one of the former intelligence officials with direct knowledge of the events in question. An extensive paper -- or e-mail -- trail exists documenting the contacts between Clandestine Service officials and top agency managers and between the CIA and the White House regarding what to do about the tapes, according to two former intelligence officials. . . .

"The reason CIA officials involved the White House and Justice Department in discussions about the disposition of the tapes was that CIA officials viewed the CIA's terrorist interrogation and detention program -- including the use of 'enhanced' interrogation techniques -- as having been imposed on the agency by the White House. 'It was a political issue,' said the former official, and therefore CIA officials believed that the decision as to what to do with the tapes should be made at a political level, by Miers -- a former personal lawyer to President Bush and later White House staff secretary and counsel -- or someone else directly representing the president."

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