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The Torture Tapes

This is incredible: The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about the … Read More

By / December 7, 2007

This is incredible:

The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about the C.I.A’s secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.

I say this is incredible not because it's impossible or even slightly difficult to believe that a national security apparatus engaged in wide-ranging, wanton illegality would do something wantonly illegal, especially considering the incentives a potential defendant faces when his crime is in fact worse than its coverup — as one of Josh Marshall's readers put it, "if I had the choice between being charged with Obstruction of Justice, or having documentary evidence that I participated in, facilitated, or ordered violations of the Geneva Conventions, amounting to war crimes, I know what I'd choose." Rather, the belief this episode strains is the members of the executive branch's own belief in the John Yoo school of Constitutional theory, according to which the president has unchecked monarchical powers in wartime, which are in turn freely transferable to those agents whom he deputizes.

Yet here we see the CIA, knowing its agents have violated international treaties enshrined in the US code (and therefore subject to felony prosecution in the US as well as under international law), and frantically, fearfully destroying the evidence:

They were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy, several officials said.

In other words, act as if no constraint in positive or natural law applies to you, and whinge afterwards that you might, God forbid, be prosecuted for breaking the law. The silver lining in this episode is that it demonstrates that at least some members of the administration know the Yoo-Addington theory of ad hoc law is bollocks.

Since there's likely to be a lot of (justified) CIA-bashing as this story reverberates throughout the media, it's worth reflecting on the fact that the CIA never sets policy; it carries out the policies given to it. And while it's doubtful that top administration officials had any direct role in ordering the destruction of evidence, they most certainly greenlighted whatever torture practices the CIA engaged in. There never would have been a need to obstruct justice if the CIA hadn't been instructed to violate the law in the first place, so, as ever, the fish rots from the head down.

Lastly, since anytime is the right time to highlight the uselessness of congressional Democrats, take a look (via Andrew Sullivan) at Jane Harman's reaction to this news:

I told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad idea and urged them in writing not to do it.

She sent a strongly worded letter. That'll show'em, Jane.

 

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