Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Story of the Day - CIA torture techniques "waterboarding"

CIA did use Waterboarding

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Waterboarding is a torture technique that simulates drowning in a controlled environment. It consists of immobilizing an individual on his or her back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face[1] to force the inhalation of water into the lungs.[2] Waterboarding has been used to obtain information, coerce confessions, punish, and intimidate. In contrast to merely submerging the head, waterboarding elicits the gag reflex,[3] and can make the subject believe death is imminent. Waterboarding's use as a method of torture or means to support interrogation is based on its ability to cause extreme mental distress while possibly creating no lasting physical damage to the subject. The psychological effects on victims of waterboarding can last long after the procedure.[4] Although waterboarding in cases can leave no lasting physical damage, it carries the real risks of extreme pain, damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, injuries as a result of struggling against restraints (including broken bones), and even death.[5]

Numerous experts have described this technique as torture.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12] Some nations have also criminally prosecuted individuals for performing waterboarding, including the United States.[13]

The practice garnered renewed attention and notoriety in September 2006, when further reports claim that the Bush administration had authorized the use of waterboarding on extrajudicial prisoners of the United States. ABC News reported that current and former CIA officers stated that "there is a presidential finding, signed in 2002, by President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft approving the 'enhanced' interrogation techniques, including water boarding."[14] According to Republican United States Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, waterboarding is "torture", "no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank" and can damage the subject's psyche "in ways that may never heal."[15] Waterboarding has become an issue in the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey to be the next U.S. Attorney General. In his Senate confirmation hearing, Mukasey refused to say if he considered waterboarding a form of torture, claiming he did not know the details of how waterboarding was conducted. Several Senators have indicated they will not vote for him without an affirmative answer.

What is water boarding?

CIA waterboarding 'broke suspect after 35 seconds'

CIA erased waterboarding videos

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Abrams: CIA Destroys Evidence

TPM's Timeline of the CIA's Torture Tapes
For years, the CIA denied recording any interrogations of al-Qaeda detainees. For years, the Bush administration denied issuing any legal authorization for torture. And for years, members of Congress claimed ignorance of what the CIA and the Bush administration had in store for detained members of al-Qaeda. All of these denials have proven false.

There's a tremendous amount that remains unknown about CIA interrogations of al-Qaeda, the recording of those interrogations, and the destruction of those recordings. Determining just what is known is confusing, as is sorting out when crucial developments occurred. To provide a measure of clarity, TPMmuckraker has compiled a timeline of relevant events over the past five years. Since the core of the current controversy isn't about the destruction of the tapes but the interrogation methods those tapes captured -- which is of course unknown -- we included milestones on the administration's road to developing interrogation policy.

Invaluable research assistance was provided by Adrianne Jeffries, Peter Sheehy, and Andrew Berger. Mistakes in compiling this information are entirely our own, and we hope you'll alert us in comments to any errors we've made.

February 7, 2002: President Bush signs an executive order that says Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions does not apply to al-Qaeda detainees.

2002: Al-Qaeda members Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri are captured and interrogated in secret CIA prisons. At least some of the interrogations are videotaped.

The precise date of the interrogations that were taped is not known. However, there are some clues. As early as the spring of 2002, the CIA began using "harsh interrogation methods" on Zubaydah, including waterboarding. As for Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, he was not captured until the fall, as late as November. He told a military tribunal in March of this year that "from the time I was arrested... they have been torturing me," and that he'd made up stories in order to get interrogators to stop.

August 1, 2002: Jay Bybee, the chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, issues a memo that restricts the definition of torture to physical pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." A still-classified memo from roughly the same time period, known as the Second Bybee Memo, reportedly gets specific about the legality of certain prospective CIA interrogation techniques.

September, 2002: The leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees receive a CIA briefing on interrogation techniques considered for al-Qaeda detainees. The content of that briefing is highly disputed. Both Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and ex-Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) say they were not briefed on actual interrogation techniques in use by the CIA. Ex-Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL) says otherwise. The briefing or briefings do not mention any interrogations being recorded. There is no known protest from any member of Congress present.

February - December 2002: The Senate and House intelligence committees conduct a joint review into the intelligence preceding the 9/11 attacks. Jointly chaired by Sens. Graham and Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Reps. Goss and Pelosi, it is not told by the CIA of any recorded interrogations.

November 27, 2002: President Bush signs into law a bill creating the 9/11 Commission.
February, 2003: CIA General Counsel Scott Muller briefs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about interrogation techniques now in use by CIA. According to then-ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA), the briefing raised "serious concerns." Muller also gave some indication that there were videotapes of some al-Qaeda detainees and reason to believe that the tapes might be in danger of destruction. Harman writes a classified letter to the CIA general counsel's office, warning "against destruction of any videotapes." Reportedly, Porter Goss (R-FL), the committee chairman and future CIA director, warns against destroying the tapes as well.

May 7, 2003: Judge Leonie Brinkema, presiding over the trial of admitted al-Qaeda member Zacharias Moussaoui, requests that the government turn over any recordings of al-Qaeda captives potentially relevant to the case.

May 9, 2003: The Justice Department and CIA reply to Brinkema by asserting that no such recordings exist.

2003-2004: CIA General Counsel Muller solicits opinions about potential destruction of videotaped interrogations from White House and Justice Department lawyers. Harriet Miers is the only lawyer whom the press has so far identified as discussing the potential destruction with Muller. It is not known who from the Justice Department participated. Reportedly, all advise against destruction, though it is unclear how strongly they express those views, or what opinions they commit to paper. Senior CIA leadership concurs.

July 22, 2004: The 9/11 Commission issues its final report. Despite "formally request[ing] material of this kind from all relevant agencies," in the words of staff director Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission does not learn of the existence of the tapes. The commission did not specifically request taped interviews, however.

September 22, 2004: Porter Goss becomes Director of Central Intelligence. It is believed that Goss again objected to the destruction of the tapes. Goss begins a purge of the CIA, which the Bush administration suspects of undermining its agenda. In the fall, Jose Rodriguez Jr. becomes head of the Directorate of Operations, subsequently renamed the National Clandestine Service. Rodriguez is no fan of Goss's, but reportedly takes the position to preempt the appointment of a Goss loyalist.

December 30, 2004: The Office of Legal Counsel formally repudiates the August 1, 2002 torture memo. However, the new memo's eighth footnote reassures the CIA that interrogators would not face prosecution, saying that "we have reviewed this Office's prior opinions addressing issues involving treatment of detainees and do not believe that any of their conclusions would be different under the standards set forth in this memorandum."

February 2005: The New York Times reports "growing unease" within the CIA that interrogators may someday face prosecution for carrying out interrogations in accordance with guidelines approved by the Bush administration.

Spring 2005: Steve Bradbury, the new head of the OLC, reportedly issues secret legal opinions amounting to "an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency," including "head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures." The document remains classified.

2005: Though the exact date is unknown -- ABC News places it in November -- Jose Rodriguez orders videotapes of the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri destroyed. He reportedly has the backing of an attorney from the agency's Directorate of Operations, though he does not inform CIA General Counsel John Rizzo of the decision. His motivations, according to former colleagues, are to protect his interrogators from potential prosecution. Goss is reportedly not advised before the destruction either. It is unclear whether all videotapes of CIA interrogations are destroyed, or even all of the videos of Abu Zubaydah's and al-Nashiri's interrogations.

May 2005: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, apparently writes to CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, asking for "over a hundred documents" about CIA detentions and interrogations. Among them is a CIA General Counsel assessment of whether the interrogations shown on the tapes were "were in compliance with the August 2002 Department of Justice legal opinion concerning interrogation." He gets no reply.

September, 2005: Rockefeller, having received no reply from Helgerson, redirects his request to Goss. He again receives no reply.

November 3, 2005: For the sentencing phase of Moussaoui's trial, Judge Brinkema again requests the government to disclose whether it had recorded any interrogations of al-Qaeda detainees relevant to Moussaoui's trial.

November 14, 2005: The government again tells Brinkema it has no such recordings.

May 5, 2006: Moussaoui is sentenced to life in prison.
May 30, 2006: General Michael Hayden becomes CIA Director, replacing Goss.

March 14, 2007: In response to a question at a briefing to the House intelligence committee, Hayden makes what lawmakers later describe as an "offhand comment" about destruction of videotaped interrogations.

April 19, 2007: Hayden again "briefly mentions" the destruction of the tapes in a letter to a member of the House intelligence committee.

October 25, 2007: U.S. Attorneys Chuck Rosenberg, David Novak and David Raskin file court papers informing Brinkema and Fourth Circuit Court Judge Karen Williams that they have discovered and personally viewed two videotapes and one audiotape of interrogations of al-Qaeda detainees. It is unclear which detainees the tapes show, when they were made, and how they survived Rodriguez's destruction order. The lawyers state that the tapes do not change the outcome of the Moussaoui trial. Explanations for why the government told the court that no such recordings existed are redacted from the public filing.

December 6, 2007: Preempting a New York Times story, Hayden tells CIA employees that the CIA recorded interrogations of two detainees in 2002 and destroyed those tapes in 2005. Hayden says that the CIA's general counsel reviewed the tapes and found the interrogations shown to have been legal and that the tapes were destroyed in order to protect interrogators shown on the tapes from al-Qaeda reprisal should the tapes ever be released. Both intelligence committees, he says, have been told that the tapes were destroyed. He adds that "videotaping stopped in 2002."

December 7, 2007: Chairman Rockefeller says that the Senate intelligence committee will look into the destruction of the tapes as part of "its thorough examination of the CIA’s detention, interrogation and rendition program." He adds that his committee was not told that the tapes had been destroyed.
House intelligence committee leaders Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) complain that Hayden's earlier mentions of the tapes' destruction were not "sufficient notification." And they say that Hayden's claim that they were told about the tapes' destruction "simply is not true."

December 8, 2007: The Justice Department and CIA Inspector General announce a joint inquiry into the destruction of the tapes.

December 10, 2007: Reyes and Hoekstra announce an inquiry into the destruction of the tapes.

CIA Agent on waterboarding

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CIA man Admits Waterboarding 'Torture',22049,22906305-5006003,00.html

A RETIRED CIA agent has confirmed interrogators used a simulated drowning technique on an al-Qaeda suspect and admitted that the disputed method is a form torture.

In an ABC News interview aired yesterday, retired agent John Kiriakou, who led a CIA team that captured and interrogated al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah, said using the "waterboarding'' technique was necessary and yielded crucial information.

Mr Kiriakou said the method broke Zubaydah - one of the first top al-Qaeda suspects captured after the September 11, 2001 attacks - in less than 35 seconds, according to ABC.

"The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to co-operate,'' Mr Kiriakou said.

"From that day on, he answered every question,'' he said.

"The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.''

The technique involves pouring water on the covered face of a restrained prisoner.

Although Mr Kiriakou admitted waterboarding was used, he did not entirely approve of it.

"We're Americans, and we're better than this. And we shouldn't be doing this kind of thing.''

But he also said that in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, there was a sense of urgency in getting information on terrorist groups.

"What happens if we don't waterboard a person, and we don't get that nugget of information, and there's an attack,'' Mr Kiriakou said.

"I would have trouble forgiving myself.''

Mr Kiriakou's comments come amid a growing scandal over the CIA's destruction in 2005 of videotapes made in 2002 of interrogations of Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another top al-Qaeda operative, as first reported by The New York Times.

The videotapes reportedly showed harsh interrogation techniques used on the suspects.

Mr Kiriakou said he was unaware that the Zubaydah interrogation was being secretly recorded by the CIA and that the tapes were subsequently destroyed.

CIA director Michael Hayden, who was not leading the agency when the tapes were destroyed, has said that getting rid of the tapes was necessary to protect the identity of CIA agents.

The White House has stopped short of denying any involvement in the affair.

The Justice Department and the CIA's internal watchdog said they had opened a preliminary inquiry.

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CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described
Sources Say Agency's Tactics Lead to Questionable Confessions, Sometimes to Death
Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and supervisors.

They say they are revealing specific details of the techniques, and their impact on confessions, because the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen. All gave their accounts on the condition that their names and identities not be revealed. Portions of their accounts are corrobrated by public statements of former CIA officers and by reports recently published that cite a classified CIA Inspector General's report.
Other portions of their accounts echo the accounts of escaped prisoners from one CIA prison in Afghanistan.

"They would not let you rest, day or night. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. Don't sleep. Don't lie on the floor," one prisoner said through a translator. The detainees were also forced to listen to rap artist Eminem's "Slim Shady" album. The music was so foreign to them it made them frantic, sources said.

Contacted after the completion of the ABC News investigation, CIA officials would neither confirm nor deny the accounts. They simply declined to comment.

The CIA sources described a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

"The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.

The techniques are controversial among experienced intelligence agency and military interrogators. Many feel that a confession obtained this way is an unreliable tool. Two experienced officers have told ABC that there is little to be gained by these techniques that could not be more effectively gained by a methodical, careful, psychologically based interrogation. According to a classified report prepared by the CIA Inspector General John Helgerwon and issued in 2004, the techniques "appeared to constitute cruel, and degrading treatment under the (Geneva) convention," the New York Times reported on Nov. 9, 2005.

It is "bad interrogation. I mean you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture's bad enough," said former CIA officer Bob Baer.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and a deputy director of the State Department's office of counterterrorism, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets."

One argument in favor of their use: time. In the early days of al Qaeda captures, it was hoped that speeding confessions would result in the development of important operational knowledge in a timely fashion.

However, ABC News was told that at least three CIA officers declined to be trained in the techniques before a cadre of 14 were selected to use them on a dozen top al Qaeda suspects in order to obtain critical information. In at least one instance, ABC News was told that the techniques led to questionable information aimed at pleasing the interrogators and that this information had a significant impact on U.S. actions in Iraq.

According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

"This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear," one source said.

However, sources said, al Libbi does not appear to have sought to intentionally misinform investigators, as at least one account has stated. The distinction in this murky world is nonetheless an important one. Al Libbi sought to please his investigators, not lead them down a false path, two sources with firsthand knowledge of the statements said.

When properly used, the techniques appear to be closely monitored and are signed off on in writing on a case-by-case, technique-by-technique basis, according to highly placed current and former intelligence officers involved in the program. In this way, they say, enhanced interrogations have been authorized for about a dozen high value al Qaeda targets -- Khalid Sheik Mohammed among them. According to the sources, all of these have confessed, none of them has died, and all of them remain incarcerated.

While some media accounts have described the locations where these detainees are located as a string of secret CIA prisons -- a gulag, as it were -- in fact, sources say, there are a very limited number of these locations in use at any time, and most often they consist of a secure building on an existing or former military base. In addition, they say, the prisoners usually are not scattered but travel together to these locations, so that information can be extracted from one and compared with others. Currently, it is believed that one or more former Soviet bloc air bases and military installations are the Eastern European location of the top suspects. Khalid Sheik Mohammed is among the suspects detained there, sources said.

The sources told ABC that the techniques, while progressively aggressive, are not deemed torture, and the debate among intelligence officers as to whether they are effective should not be underestimated. There are many who feel these techniques, properly supervised, are both valid and necessary, the sources said. While harsh, they say, they are not torture and are reserved only for the most important and most difficult prisoners.

According to the sources, when an interrogator wishes to use a particular technique on a prisoner, the policy at the CIA is that each step of the interrogation process must be signed off at the highest level -- by the deputy director for operations for the CIA. A cable must be sent and a reply received each time a progressively harsher technique is used. The described oversight appears tough but critics say it could be tougher. In reality, sources said, there are few known instances when an approval has not been granted. Still, even the toughest critics of the techniques say they are relatively well monitored and limited in use.

Two sources also told ABC that the techniques -- authorized for use by only a handful of trained CIA officers -- have been misapplied in at least one instance.

The sources said that in that case a young, untrained junior officer caused the death of one detainee at a mud fort dubbed the "salt pit" that is used as a prison. They say the death occurred when the prisoner was left to stand naked throughout the harsh Afghanistan night after being doused with cold water. He died, they say, of hypothermia.

According to the sources, a second CIA detainee died in Iraq and a third detainee died following harsh interrogation by Department of Defense personnel and contractors in Iraq. CIA sources said that in the DOD case, the interrogation was harsh, but did not involve the CIA.

The Kabul fort has also been the subject of confusion. Several intelligence sources involved in both the enhanced interrogation program and the program to ship detainees back to their own country for interrogation -- a process described as rendition, say that the number of detainees in each program has been added together to suggest as many as 100 detainees are moved around the world from one secret CIA facility to another. In the rendition program, foreign nationals captured in the conflict zones are shipped back to their own countries on occasion for interrogation and prosecution.

There have been several dozen instances of rendition. There have been a little over a dozen authorized enhanced interrogations. As a result, the enhanced interrogation program has been described as one encompassing 100 or more prisoners. Multiple CIA sources told ABC that it is not. The renditions have also been described as illegal. They are not, our sources said, although they acknowledge the procedures are in an ethical gray area and are at times used for the convenience of extracting information under harsher conditions that the U.S. would allow.

ABC was told that several dozen renditions of this kind have occurred. Jordan is one country recently cited as an "emerging" center for renditions, according to published reports. The ABC sources said that rendition of this sort are legal and should not be confused with illegal "snatches" of targets off the streets of a home country by officers of yet another country. The United States is currently charged with such an illegal rendition in Italy. Israel and at least one European nation have also been accused of such renditions.

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CIA Tapes Furor: A Legacy of Mistrust,8599,1692571,00.html
This week's uproar over the destruction of interrogation tapes by the CIA offers a rare public glimpse into a perennial battle within the agency's clandestine service. Since Watergate, the CIA's case officers have been restrained by the expectation that taking risks in pursuit of actionable intelligence would bring career-ending, or even life-threatening, exposure if things went badly and details came to light. CIA leaders, especially after 9/11, have sought to unshackle their operatives by reassuring case officers they would be protected if they took risks. Current CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden said Thursday that the tapes of the questioning of al-Qaeda suspects were destroyed to protect the identities of the interrogators.
Indeed, the man who ordered the tapes destroyed is certainly familiar with the case that agency employees view as one of the worst political betrayals of an operative. Jose Rodriguez headed the National Clandestine Service when he ordered the interrogation tapes destroyed. But during the 1980s and 1990s he was a case officer in Latin America and in the CIA headquarters office that oversees operations there. He served under Terry Ward, the onetime director of Latin American operations who was fired in 1995 by then-CIA director John Deutch. President Bill Clinton's foreign intelligence advisory board had found Ward "derelict" in his duties for failing to inform Congress of human rights violations by agents of the CIA in Guatemala, including complicity in the death of an American citizen.

Ward's firing created a legacy of distrust at the agency. "There's the perception there that the politicians want you to be risk-takers, but as soon as you do and something turns out badly, they moonwalk away from you faster than a speeding bullet," says a former senior intelligence official who knows Rodriguez. CIA officers erupted in bitter laughter during a speech after the Ward firing in which Deutch urged them to take risks. Deutch's successor, George Tenet, attempted to mollify case officers by awarding Ward the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal in March 2000.

But the fear of betrayal persists, and even after 9/11, CIA officers remain skittish. Case officers typically buy liability insurance to pay for lawyers in case their activities come to light. And concern about crossing a legal line on interrogation has been heightened with recent exposure given to cases of alleged torture. "Enhanced interrogation techniques are an example where people within the Administration, senior people, were fully briefed and oversight committees were briefed," the former senior intelligence official says. "At the time they were briefed, people on the Hill said things like, 'Are you sure you're doing enough?' And then information leaks to the media and suddenly the same people are saying, 'You're doing what?!' "

Now, Rodriguez's eagerness to protect his case officers has landed him, and others at the CIA, in serious trouble. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin called Friday for Attorney General Michael Mukasey to initiate an investigation into whether actions by Rodriguez or others criminally obstructed justice. Durbin argues, in his letter to Mukasey, that by refusing to turn the interrogation tapes over to the 9/11 Commission, CIA officials may have violated the law against criminal obstruction. Durbin has given Mukasey until Dec. 12 to respond.

The CIA, meanwhile, is scrambling to defend itself against the accusation of obstruction. "The agency went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 Commission," says CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. "The Commission had access to material from detainees... [and] even though the Commission obviously had a good sense of what was learned from detainees, the tapes were not destroyed while the Commission was active because it was thought the staff could ask about tapes at some point. As Director Hayden noted in his message to the CIA workforce, the tapes were destroyed only when it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries."

The irony may be that Rodriguez could have made matters worse, rather than better, for the clandestine service by destroying the tapes. A former senior Administration official says that the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the case officers had been approved by top lawyers and officials at the Justice Department and the White House, including then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Even if the techniques were in violation of the domestic and international prohibitions on torture, it would have been very hard for the powers at the White House, CIA and Justice to "moonwalk" away from the techniques if and when they were exposed.

The CIA insists that the destruction of the tapes was designed only to protect the interrogators from personal danger if their faces were made public with the leaking of the tapes. But there, too, the destruction may have made matters worse. If Mukasey decides to pursue a criminal obstruction of justice investigation, that could raise the risk of precisely the sort of exposure the CIA interrogators would prefer to avoid.
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