Wednesday, January 02, 2008


The op-ed making the rounds today is this one by Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the Chair and Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission, respectively. In it they accuse the CIA of obstruction, in refusing to release to the Commission the videotapes on which were recorded hundreds hours of interrogation of Abu Zubaydah during which he was reportedly tortured. As we now know, those videotapes were later destroyed, after some discussion by senior officials in the Bush administration concerning the embarrassing or legally adverse potential of the tapes. In their own words:

More than five years ago, Congress and President Bush created the 9/11 commission. The goal was to provide the American people with the fullest possible account of the “facts and circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001” — and to offer recommendations to prevent future attacks. Soon after its creation, the president’s chief of staff directed all executive branch agencies to cooperate with the commission.

The commission’s mandate was sweeping and it explicitly included the intelligence agencies. But the recent revelations that the C.I.A. destroyed videotaped interrogations of Qaeda operatives leads us to conclude that the agency failed to respond to our lawful requests for information about the 9/11 plot. Those who knew about those videotapes — and did not tell us about them — obstructed our investigation.

They go on to discuss the manner in which CIA, Defense Dept. and Justice Dept. stonewalled their access to terrorist detainees, hampering the 9/11 Commission's duty to uncover the events that led to that fateful day.

Here's Glenn Greenwald's take on the matter:

It's hard to imagine a more serious scandal than this. As I noted the other day, it is a confirmed fact that Alberto Gonzales and David Addingtion -- the top legal representatives of George Bush and Dick Cheney, respectively -- participated in discussions as to whether those videotapes should be destroyed. The White House refuses to disclose what these top officials said in those meetings. Did they instruct that the videos should be destroyed or fail to oppose their destruction? The NYT previously quoted one "senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter [who] said there had been 'vigorous sentiment' among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes."

Thus, we have evidence that "top White House officials" vigorously argued that these videos should be destroyed. The number one aides to both the President and Vice President both participated in discussions as to whether they should be, almost certainly with the knowledge and at the direction of their bosses.

And now we have the 9/11 Commission Chairmen stating as explicitly as can be that the mere concealment (let alone destruction) of these videos constituted the knowing and deliberate obstruction of their investigation into the worst attack on U.S. soil in our history. Combined with the fact that the videos' destruction almost certainly constitutes "obstruction of justice" with regard to numerous judicial proceedings as well, we're talking here about extremely serious felonies at the highest levels of our government.

I don't agree with him that this is the most serious scandal to beset this administration. I believe that U.S. Attorneys scandal, which implicates the entire federal justice system, is much more damaging to the health of our nation than the destruction of evidence of what is certainly a crime, even if that destruction is also a criminal act, and even if that evidence could lead to embarrassing revelations about torture that reveal other criminal acts. But, as you can see from the summary alone, this is no small matter and, unlike the U.S. attorneys scandal, the names and dates in this story are easier to follow, the corruption a little clearer, thus making it a story that more easily sticks in the mind of the average American. Like the attorney's scandal this one will refuse to die, but unlike that scandal, this one appears to be making its way to the top much faster and with potentially more unfavorable consequences for the administration.

UPDATE: And now a criminal investigation is underway.

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