The CIA Broke The Law

December 8, 2007 at 12:34 am | Posted in American politics, CIA, Torture | 2 Comments

the story continues:

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.

The disclosures provide new details about what Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, has said was a decision “made within C.I.A. itself” to destroy the videotapes. In interviews, members of Congress and former intelligence officials also questioned some aspects of the account General Hayden provided Thursday about when Congress was notified that the tapes had been destroyed.

Can you see it? Everybody is in a CYA (cover your ass) mode. One man is made the fall guy. Meanwhile, the Agency will survive this crime, the White House (who ordered the torture) will emerge unscathed, because the damning videos are destroyed, and Congressional leaders like Hoekstra and Rockefeller, who KNEW of this, wash their hands and say, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

Marty Lederman writes that in this particular case, the CIA made a rational choice. In this case, the crime was truly worse than the cover-up.

After all, haven’t they learned from the experience of the past 35 years that it’s not the crime but the cover-up that’ll get you?

Yes, they have. Let’s not lose sight of the big picture. This was not something they did on the spur of the moment. They vetted it with Rockefeller and Harman, for goodness’ sake, and then destroyed the tapes after Harman urged them not to do so. And right after Judge Brinkema’s orders started hitting close to home and Dana Priest broke the black sites story. [Check out this great timeline from emptywheel — pay close attention to all that’s going on in October/November 2005.] I retract what I said earlier: This was the CIA. They must have gotten DOJ approval (Gonzales, anyway) for the destruction. And the POTUS and/or VP, too. And all of these folks they knew full well what the fallout might be. And they knew about criminal laws involving obstruction. Most importantly, they were actually destroying what might be incredibly valuable evidence for future uses — valuable for criminal trials, for intelligence investigations, for training purposes, and, most importantly, as a key tile in their vaunted, hallowed “mosaic” of evidence developed to construct an accurate story about al Qaeda.

And yet they chose to destroy anyway, after what must have been a lot of internal debate. Which goes to show that . . . the cover-up is not worse than the crime, and they knew it. Those tapes must have depicted pretty gruesome evidence of serious criminal conduct. Conduct that would be proof positive of serious breaches of at least two treaties. Conduct approved and implemented at the highest levels of government.

Remember, this was late 2005. By this point, they all knew damn well that “the Commander in Chief has the constitutional authority to violate the Torture Act and the Geneva Conventions” would not be viewed as a very compelling defense. Worse yet, their other defense would have been: “A 35-year-old deputy assistant attorney general by the name of John Yoo orally advised me that this was legal.”

Obstruction of justice, and the scandal we’re about to witness, was a price they concluded was well worth paying.

The biggest question I have is why is this being released NOW to the public? My own answer is that the CIA again made a rational decision. They concluded that a Democrat was going to win next year, no matter what. That Democratic administration was going to poke around the CIA’s activities, and the CIA felt they would survive easier if they released this on their own terms. They will weather this storm. They’re not going down because of this. After all, the cover-up succeeded in destroying apparently a pretty awful crime.

We never should have lowered our standards as a nation to allow torture. What a complete shame for our generation!


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  1. By destroying the tapes, the CIA and the Bush administration made what should be an intractable moral issue (the immorality of torture) into a hand-slap legal issue. This frustrates me to no end, that people who proclaim themselves as Christians are so “in name only”, and are willing to sacrifice what is “right” and moral to legal questions.

    As long as our country chooses immoral means to accomplish any end, we will fail to move the cause of goodness in the world. But then again, who says that is in the “interest” of the nation (which has become only economic and power-driven)?

  2. Kevin Drum adds some good commentary on the issue.

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