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WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 — The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about the C.I.A’s secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.
The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. They were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy, several officials said.
The C.I.A. said today that the decision to destroy the tapes had been made “within the C.I.A. itself” and they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value. The agency was headed at the time by Porter J. Goss. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Goss declined this afternoon to comment on the destruction of the tapes.
The New York Times informed the C.I.A. on Wednesday evening that it planned to publish an article in Friday’s newspaper about the destruction of the tapes. Today, the C.I.A. director, General Michael V. Hayden, wrote a letter to the agency workforce explaining the matter.
The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui or to the Sept. 11 commission, which had made formal requests to the C.I.A. for transcripts and any other documentary evidence taken from interrogations of agency prisoners.
C.I.A. lawyers told federal prosecutors in 2003 and 2005, who relayed the information to a federal court in the Moussaoui case, that the C.I.A. did not possess recordings of interrogations sought by the judge in the case. It was unclear whether the judge had explicitly sought the videotape depicting the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah.
In an odd twist, a significant number of lefty bloggers are not just wondering when “Bush KNEW!” but are fuming over the news that some ranking Democrats admitted that they knew about the destruction of the tapes about a year ago … and did nothing.
I think Bryan at Hot Air pretty much has the definitive post on the controversy, noting the likely reasons why the tapes were destroyed and understanding it but at the same time not excusing it:
[...] CIA agents shouldn’t be destroying evidence, though it ought to be obvious to everyone that the evidence in question stood about a 99% chance of being used against the agents on the tape and to the benefit of the terrorists. That’s how things work nowadays. That’s not a justification, but it is a motivation, and it’s not too hard to grasp how this could occur.
This is what we get when we have leaders who abdicate leadership and don’t protect their subordinates for the consequences of the choices that the leaders make. This, essentially, is the result of Sen. John McCain’s announced policy of keeping interrogation techniques like waterboarding illegal, but knowing full well that it will be used in extreme circumstances, and that when it is used the agents who used it will find themselves in legal jeopardy no matter what the outcome of the interrogation was. It’s the politics of passing the buck.
This is where politicizing a war gets us: We’re prosecuting front line troops for using time-tested techniques for killing enemy combatants, and we’re all but granting Miranda rights to terrorists who live for nothing but killing us. Here’s what I wrote about the issue in November 2005. That’s when McCain initially set out to ban torture, as defined down to include waterboarding and lesser techniques like sleep deprivation that are used against our own troops in basic training every single day of the year. It’s also around the time that the CIA destroyed the tapes
Heads are going to roll over this, as they should. Unfortunately, while those heads are rolling, the inept and clueless Democrats in Congress – and a few posturing Republicans, I’m sure – will once again do all they can to politicize this for all its worth (just as they have before), just in time for election season, without giving any care at all to the sensitive nature of the issue itself and how it should be handled in a manner consistent with upholding the law while at the same time not compromising our national security interests.