For weeks, there has been a concerted effort in both Congress and the White House to contain the scandal over the CIA torture tapes, while giving the impression of a serious effort to investigate. This week’s House Intelligence hearing seemed to confirm the worst suspicions along these lines as both Democrats and Republicans offered a rogue employee theory to explain the destruction — and in the process, relieve themselves and the Administration of serious blame.
After the sealed hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich, voiced the theory: “It appears he got direction to make sure the tapes were not destroyed. . . . I believe there are parts of the intelligence community that don’t believe they are accountable to Congress and may not be accountable to their own superiors in the intelligence community, and that’s why it’s a problem.” Well, not exactly. The problem is the one word that neither Democrats nor Republicans uttered after the hearing: torture. Both parties are still closely following a script to avoid any mention of the fact that Congress was aware of an official torture program and that these tapes contains evidence of that crime ordered by the President of the United States.Instead, members are going to portray the “real problem” as the sense of unaccountability in the intelligence field — a perfect beltway spin that allows them to express outrage while avoiding any of the truly embarrassing questions.
The decision to give these investigations to the House and Senate Intel Committees was a curious move if the intention was a real investigation. After all, it was the ranking members of both parties on these committees who were informed of both the torture program and the plan to destroy the tapes but did nothing to disclose such illegality. So now we have a rather odd situation. The Justice Department has refused to appoint an independent prosecutor and will now effectively investigate itself (and as it is arguing in court that the CIA had a perfect right to destroy the tapes, see here). On the congressional side, the very two committees accused for failing to act will now investigate their own roles as well as the actions of the executive branch.
Even with some stiff competition in the last few years, this may be the most impressive spin of a scandal in history. If all goes right, the investigation will focus on the technical issue of obstruction of justice while no one will acknowledge the crime recorded on the tapes.The rogue employee has been designated as Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service who is now insisting on immunity for any testimony. Everyone from members of the committee to White House officials to CIA lawyers are insisting that the advised against the destruction — but conspicuously omitting any action to reveal of proposed criminal act in such destruction or a confirmed criminal act in the torture of suspects.
There is a common view that there are simply too many influential people to have a full investigation to occur. We now know that White House officials and Justice Department officials were aware of this plan to destroy evidence. According to sources, at least four top White House lawyers discussed the issue between 2003 and 2005. This would put the discussions at a date shortly before Gonzales took over as Attorney General. It would also show that he knew of the destruction plan as Attorney General despite the demand for such evidence by Congress and the courts. It would also mean that Gonzales was involved in another alleged criminal act. He was previously involved in pushing the unlawful electronic surveillance program, even appearing at the hospital bed of John Ashcroft to override objections within the Justice Department. He was also the author to the infamous torture memo and now appears to have be a party to a plan to destroy evidence of such torture. It also appears that he did not reveal this involvement to Congress in his confirmation hearings.
Reportedly also involved were David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and is now his chief of staff; John Bellinger III, then senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet Miers, who succeeded Gonzales as White House counsel. Addington is particularly interesting given his appearance in virtually every scandal these days. He is known as an enabler for both Bush and Cheney, arguing for extreme assertions of executive privilege and supporting such things as waterboarding.While other officials deny it, the Times reported that one officials noted that there had been “vigorous sentiment” among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes.
The disclosure puts the scandal literally next door to the President and, on the crime of torturing suspects, leads directly to his desk. Yet, the Justice Department insists that it can see no conflict in investigating its own chief executive and staff.Of course, Attorney General Mukasey swore implausibly that he did not know what waterboarding is and, even when told, refused to acknowledge the various courts decisions defining it as torture. Since his confirmation, he has refused demands that he answer that question for the obvious reason that it would confirm that President Bush ordered criminal acts. Mukasey will now head an investigation involving the very subject of waterboarding.
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