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December 09, 2007

More Info on that CIA Obstruction of Justice

Adding to the story I wrote about on Friday, it turns out that then Deputy Director of Operations, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. ordered the destruction of hundreds of hours of recordings of two interrogations over the objection of quite a few folks:

White House and Justice Department officials, along with senior members of Congress, advised the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003 against a plan to destroy hundreds of hours of videotapes showing the interrogations of two operatives of Al Qaeda, government officials said Friday.

The chief of the agency’s clandestine service nevertheless ordered their destruction in November 2005, taking the step without notifying even the C.I.A.’s own top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, who was angry at the decision, the officials said.

[...]

As the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Porter J. Goss, then a Republican congressman from Florida, was among Congressional leaders who warned the C.I.A. against destroying the tapes, the former intelligence officials said. Mr. Goss became C.I.A. director in 2004 and was serving in the post when the tapes were destroyed, but was not informed in advance about Mr. Rodriguez’s decision, the former officials said.

So the DDO acted against the advisement of Congress, the White House, Justice, and the Director of the CIA. Congress wasn't informed of the destruction of the tapes until a year after the fact and the White House says they don't recall being told about the tapes' destruction before this week. This is in addition to what we knew on Friday, that the tapes had been requested in a criminal trial and by Congress.

Both Congress and the Executive are supposed to share oversight of the CIA. It is not exempt from that oversight simply because its purpose is intelligence gathering, any more than it is exempt from following the law. Expecting it to conduct itself in a legal manner is not "keeping it on a short leash." Volumes of legislation provide the CIA plenty of legal cover for its activities. In fact, it has much greater latitude in its activities than others and greater protections from disclosure and liability than the rest of government; it therefore enjoys quite a lengthy leash.

This episode is even more frustrating because it imperils the military commissions, which are just getting on their feet. I already talked about how this might affect the Moussaoui and al-Timimi cases (and was told that criminal justice has no place being involved in stopping or punishing terrorism). Hopes that military justice would be a viable substitute are probably wasted.

Unfortunate, from the perspective of anyone who wants to see vigorous prosecution of the War on Terror, is the fact that this has given both houses of Congress all the excuse they need to tighten their grip on the CIA and probably on interrogation practices in general. Both houses have already started investigations into this. So have the Department of Justice and the CIA's general counsel. If the CIA wasn't "constantly looking over their shoulders for fear of a politically-motivated gotcha" before, you can bet they sure are now.

Incidentally, I have a few minutes to go through the comments in the previous post on this topic. Some of you had good discussion and I was too busy yesterday and today to give it the attention it deserved. You may want to check back there for my replies (if you're interested, of course).


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 05:55 AM

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