Wednesday, January 16, 2008

They Are Certainly Clever Ones

CIA and Bush administration officials have been busy trying to hang the destruction of the CIA tapes that showed terrorist detainees being tortured around the neck of Jose Rodriguez,
but this Washington Post article demonstrates that there were those who were quite eager to rid themselves of the tapes...though senior officials were clever enough to avoid ordering such outright:

In late 2005, the retiring CIA station chief in Bangkok sent a classified cable to his superiors in Langley asking if he could destroy videotapes recorded at a secret CIA prison in Thailand that in part portrayed intelligence officers using simulated drowning to extract information from suspected al-Qaeda members.

The tapes had been sitting in the station chief's safe, in the U.S. Embassy compound, for nearly three years. Although those involved in the interrogations had pushed for the tapes' destruction in those years and a secret debate about it had twice reached the White House, CIA officials had not acted on those requests. This time was different.

The CIA had a new director and an acting general counsel, neither of whom sought to block the destruction of the tapes, according to agency officials. The station chief was insistent because he was retiring and wanted to resolve the matter before he left, the officials said. And in November 2005, a published report that detailed a secret CIA prison system provoked an international outcry.

Those three circumstances pushed the CIA's then-director of clandestine operations, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., to act against the earlier advice of at least five senior CIA and White House officials, who had counseled the agency since 2003 that the tapes should be preserved. Rodriguez consulted CIA lawyers and officials, who told him that he had the legal right to order the destruction. In his view, he received their implicit support to do so, according to his attorney, Robert S. Bennett.

Many of those involved recalled conversations in which senior CIA and White House officials advised against destroying the tapes, but without expressly prohibiting it, leaving an odd vacuum of specific instructions on a such a politically sensitive matter. They said that Rodriguez then interpreted this silence -- the absence of a decision to order the tapes' preservation -- as a tacit approval of their destruction.

"Jose could not get any specific direction out of his leadership" in 2005, one senior official said. Word of the resulting destruction, one former official said, was greeted by widespread relief among clandestine officers, and Rodriguez was neither penalized nor reprimanded, publicly or privately, by then-CIA Director Porter J. Goss, according to two officials briefed on exchanges between the two men.

You can be damned sure that Rodriguez "interpreted this silence" in the exact manner he was expected to. The failure to provide any specific direction was a result of no one in authority wanting to put their name on a memo that said "Yeah, go ahead and melt those tapes" for fear of later embarrassment or liability. Rodriquez isn't talking right now, but you can be sure that if there's any attempt to prosecute him for the destruction, he'll have quite a bit more to say about the instructions he received.

As to why so many parties were so eager to destroy the tapes...well, this sort of confirms what we already know:

The principal motive for the tapes' destruction was the clandestine operations division's worry that the tapes' fate could be snatched out of their hands, the officials said. They feared that the agency could be publicly shamed and that those involved in waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques would be hauled before a grand jury or a congressional inquiry -- a circumstance now partly unfolding anyway.

"The professionals said that we must destroy the tapes because they didn't want to see the pictures all over television, and they knew they eventually would leak," said a former agency official who took part in the discussions before the tapes were pulverized. The presence of the tapes in Bangkok and the CIA's communications with the station chief there were described by current and former officials.

In other words, they desired to hide what they knew could possibly be criminal and what was certainly shameful behavior. Which sounds like obstruction of justice, right?

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