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Posted by on Jan 17, 2008 in At TMV | 6 comments

CIA Torture Tapes Destruction Scandal: House Intel Committee In the Hot Seat

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When the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence met yesterday afternoon behind closed doors to continue its investigation of the destruction of those CIA torture tapes, its star witness was nowhere to be seen.

Jose Rodriguez Jr., who as CIA director of operations in 2005 ordered the destruction of two videotapes recording the harsh interrogation of two terrorism suspects, including the use of waterboarding, had refused to testify without a grant of immunity.

I noted here that would be akin to a murderer facing no repercussions for testifying about his own crime.

Committee chairman Representative Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, is holding off on calling for a vote on the crucial immunity issue for the time being, but the smart money says that Rodriguez will be immunized sooner or later.

“We’re pleased that the committee is considering our request for immunity,” said Robert S. Bennett, Rodriguez’ attorney. “It’s only fair in light of the fact that he has not been given access to the documents he needs to defend himself with.”

Bennett is one of the most sly legal foxes in the Washington henhouse and his comment can be translated thusly: The documents thing is, of course, a ruse and the best way to assure that my client gets off the hook is through a congressional cover-up. We’re pleased that seems to be where we’re headed.

The CIA line has been that the tapes were destroyed out of concern for the safety of agency operatives who could be identified if the tapes were to be made public. No such concern, of course, was expressed over the identity of another operative by the name of Valerie Plame, who was outted in a concerted effort by Vice President Cheney and his henchmen.

Congress holds the key to unlocking the darker secrets of the tape destruction. This is because neither the Justice Department nor federal judiciary seem particularly curious.

During his nomination hearings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s responses regarding torture generally and waterboarding specifically were . . . well, tortured and he said he’d review the whole issue if he was confirmed stat. If he’s doing so it has escaped my notice.

You can bet the ranch that the executive branch is working hard behind the scenes to protect its own bunch of lawbreakers. The Justice Department is creating the appearance of playing softball when this scandal calls for hardball. And the judiciary is not asserting its powers for the moment, ceding the floor to Mukasey.

Congressional Democrats have again asked the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor with broad powers like Patrick Fitzgerald in the Wilson-Plame leak investigation. Mukasey instead named veteran federal prosecutor John H. Durham as a so-called outside counsel and it is likely that he will stay with him.

Meanwhile, Laura Rozen reports at Mother Jones that Rodriguez alleges he was advised by lawyers in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations that he had the legal authority to order the destruction of the tapes, which reportedly record the 2002 interrogations of Abu Zubayda, an Al Qaeda suspect captured in Pakistan, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole.

But Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican and committee member, said yesterday that information gathered by the committee indicated that Rodriguez had ordered the destruction even though he was directed not to do so:

“It appears he hadn’t gotten authority from anyone. It appears that he got direction to make sure the tapes were not destroyed.”

Bennett, of course, begged to disagree, saying:

“He’s wrong.”

Rozen writes that some Washington observers question Congress’ commitment to getting to the bottom of the decision and note that once again, all the attention is focused on the proverbial cover up, not the crime.

She quotes Jonathan Turley, the George Washington University law professor, as saying:

“There is a concerted effort in Washington to keep the focus of the investigation away from torture. Both Democrats and Republicans are struggling to do that, as if there is nothing on the tapes.”

The reason is obvious, says Rozen: Committee members knew about the torture program. It’s the only explanation for their confirming Mukasey even though he refused to answer the question of whether waterboarding is torture.

Image from ABC News