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Context of 'December 14, 2007: Justice Department Urges Judge Not to Look into Destruction of CIA Tapes'

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Henry Kennedy.Henry Kennedy. [Source: District Court for the District of Columbia]In June 2005, US District Judge Henry Kennedy orders the Bush administration to safeguard “all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.” US District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a nearly identical order one month later. Later that year, the CIA will destroy videotapes of the interrogation and possible torture of high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November 2005). In 2005, Zubaida and al-Nashiri are not being held at the Guantanamo prison, but at secret CIA prisons overseas. But while evidence of torture of Zubaida and al-Nashiri is not directly covered by the orders, it may well be indirectly covered. David Remes, a lawyer for some of the Guantanamo detainees, will later claim, “It is still unlawful for the government to destroy evidence, and it had every reason to believe that these interrogation records would be relevant to pending litigation concerning our client.” In January 2005, Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler assured Kennedy that government officials were “well aware of their obligation not to destroy evidence that may be relevant in pending litigation.” [Associated Press, 12/12/2007] In some court proceedings, prosecutors have used evidence gained from the interrogation of Zubaida to justify the continued detention of some Guantanamo detainees. Scott Horton writing for Harper’s magazine will later comment that “in these trials, a defendant can seek to exclude evidence if it was secured through torture. But the defendant has an obligation to prove this contention. The [destroyed videotapes] would have provided such proof.” [Harper's, 12/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Peter Keisler, Henry H. Kennedy Jr., David Remes, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Gladys Kessler, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

By November 2005, when the CIA destroys videotapes of the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November 2005), there are numerous reasons to not destroy them, some of them possibly legal requirements. [New York Times, 12/8/2007]
bullet In February 2003, Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Congressperson Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the committee, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see February 2003).
bullet Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2005, White House officials, including White House deputy chief of staff Harriet Miers, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see Between 2003-Late 2005).
bullet In 2003, Justice Department lawyers also advised the CIA to preserve the videotapes (see 2003).
bullet Beginning in 2003, lawyers in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial have requested access to evidence of interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders like Zubaida. The CIA twice misinformed the judge in the trial about the existence of the videotapes (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The trial will not be concluded until mid-2006 (see May 3, 2006).
bullet In September 2004, a judge rules the CIA has to preserve all records about the treatment of detainees overseas, as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The videotapes of Zubaida and al-Nashiri would clearly qualify, since both are held overseas (see September 15, 2004).
bullet Beginning in May 2005, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the CIA to preserve over 100 documents about the CIA interrogation program. One of the documents requested is a report about the videotapes of interrogations and their possible illegality (see May-September 2005).
bullet In June and July 2005, two judges ordered the CIA to preserve all evidence relevant to detainees being held in Guantanamo prison. The interrogation videotapes are indirectly relevant because the cases of some detainees hinge on their alleged ties to Zubaida (see June-July 2005).
bullet In the summer of 2005, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte met with CIA Director Porter Goss and “strongly advised” him not to allow the videotapes to be destroyed (see Summer 2005).
bullet The videotapes are also needed for a trial of Jose Padilla, who is indicted in November 2005 (see November 22, 2005).
An unnamed official familiar with the case will comment, “Everybody from the top on down told them not to do it and still they went ahead and did it anyway.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/9/2007] Despite this, many later reports will indicate that the National Clandestine Service (NCS), the CIA unit that takes the decision to destroy the tapes, believes the advice about their destruction is ambiguous. NCS head Jose Rodriguez will be said to feel he never gets a straight answer to the question of whether the tapes should be destroyed, despite extensive correspondence about the issue at the CIA. [Newsweek, 12/11/2007; Newsweek, 12/24/2007] A former intelligence official will say, “They never told us, ‘Hell, no.’ If somebody had said, ‘You cannot destroy them,’ we would not have destroyed them.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaida, National Clandestine Service

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Several inquiries are launched into the destruction by the CIA of videotapes showing detainee interrogations.
bullet The Justice Department begins a preliminary inquiry. It writes to the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, noting he has undertaken to ensure all currently existing records are preserved. [Associated Press, 12/8/2007]
bullet The CIA’s Inspector General begins an inquiry. One of the questions it will address is whether the destruction was obstruction of justice. [Associated Press, 12/11/2007] However, some Democratic lawmakers raise questions about the propriety of inquiries run by the Justice Department, as its lawyers offered advice about the tapes, and the CIA Inspector General, who reviewed the tapes before they were destroyed. [Washington Post, 12/15/2007]
bullet The House Intelligence Committee starts an inquiry. Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes says it is planning a “broad review” of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, but adds, “I’m not looking for scapegoats.” [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007] The committee requests all cables, memos and e-mails related to the videotapes, as well as legal advice given to CIA officials before the tapes were destroyed. [New York Times, 12/15/2007]
bullet The Senate Intelligence Committee also begins an inquiry. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007]
bullet The House Judiciary Committee sends letters to CIA Director Michael Hayden and Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking whether the Justice Department provided the CIA with legal advice. [Associated Press, 12/7/2007]
bullet The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigates whether the Federal Records Act has been violated. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007]
bullet There is a debate in a court case involving 11 Guantanamo detainees about whether the tapes were subject to a preservation order issued by the judge in that case (see December 14, 2007).

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Judiciary Committee, Silvestre Reyes, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Some US lawmakers indicate they may support the appointment of a special counsel to look into the CIA’s destruction of videotapes (see December 6, 2007), in addition to various other inquiries that are launched at this time (see December 7, 2007 and Shortly After).
bullet Initially, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicates he will support a special counsel if the Bush administration impedes a congressional probe and an investigation initiated by the Justice Department: “The CIA, the Justice Department, the Bush White House and every American should know that if these investigations encounter resistance or are unable to find the truth, I will not hesitate to add my voice to those calling for a special counsel.” [The Hill, 12/11/2007]
bullet Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, backs the call. [The Hill, 12/11/2007]
bullet After some lawmakers begin to question whether the Justice Department will properly investigate the scandal (see December 14, 2007), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) expresses some support for a special counsel: “I am concerned whether we are going to get to the real facts… [Because the inquiry is] being very closely held, the question is whether the American people will have a sense that this investigation is on the level. Unless you bring the FBI in, and unless you bring in the possibility of a special prosecutor as they had in Watergate, I am not sure we’ll get to that point.” [Bloomberg, 12/14/2007]
However, a special prosecutor is opposed by some, such as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). [The Hill, 12/11/2007] Attorney General Michael Mukasey calls such appointment “the most hypothetical of hypotheticals.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2007]

Entity Tags: John D. Rockefeller, Harry Reid, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Michael Mukasey, Joseph Biden

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The Justice Department urges a federal judge not to begin an inquiry into the destruction of CIA videotapes in a case involving 11 Guantanamo Bay detainees. The judge in the case, Henry Kennedy, had previously issued a ruling that evidence related to the detainees should be preserved (see June-July 2005). After attorneys for the detainees file a motion saying the CIA’s destruction of the tapes “raises grave concerns about the government’s compliance with the preservation order entered by this court,” the administration argues it was not under an obligation to preserve the videotapes and tells US District Judge Kennedy that asking for information about the tapes’ destruction could “potentially complicate” a Justice Department inquiry into it. The Justice Department also says the judge lacks jurisdiction and is worried he will compel CIA officers to testify. In addition, the destroyed tapes were made outside Guantanamo, whereas the order previously issued by the judge only directly affected material in Guantanamo. However, evidence from “a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant” is being used against one of the detainees, and this lieutenant may have been shown on the destroyed tapes, making them relevant to the case. The Associated Press calls the Justice Department’s request “unusual,” and law professor Douglas Kmiec comments, “It’s hard to know on the surface whether this is obstruction or an advancement of a legitimate inquiry.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007; Associated Press, 12/15/2007] Another law professor, Jonathon Turley, comments: “The Justice Department insists it will essentially investigate itself and then tells the court that because it is investigating itself it won’t turn over evidence of its possible criminal misconduct. It’s so circular, it’s maddening.” [ABC News, 12/15/2007] In early January 2008, Kennedy will decline to hold a hearing into the destruction, saying that the destroyed tapes were not directly related to this case, as they were not made in Guantanamo. He is also “influenced by the assurances of the Department of Justice” that its criminal investigation will cover the issue of whether the tapes’ destruction “was inconsistent with or violated any legal obligations.” [New York Times, 1/10/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Jonathan Turley, Henry H. Kennedy Jr., Douglas Kmiec

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The Justice Department’s National Security Division and the CIA’s inspector general conclude their preliminary inquiry into the destruction of CIA videotapes showing the interrogation of detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see December 7, 2007 and Shortly After). They report that there is enough evidence to start a criminal investigation, but do not say for certain that a crime has been committed. [Salon, 1/2/2008] A prosecutor is appointed to head the investigation (see January 2, 2008).

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaida, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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