By Freedom New Mexico
Last week the Justice Department upgraded its inquiry into the destruction of CIA tapes of the interrogations of two al-Qaida suspects to a criminal investigation. It also decided to appoint a veteråçthe case.
This is welcome news.
Rumors and allegations have flown as to whether the tapes showed interrogators using torture techniques, specifically “waterboarding,” and whether the destruction of the tapes was a possibly illegal cover-up.
It’s time for answers, and while a properly handled criminal investigation might not provide all of them, it can go a long way toward increasing our knowledge of what government has been doing in our name.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed John Durham to lead the investigation, but not as a special counsel, which would have given him added powers.
Durham is now in charge of all major federal felony prosecutions in Connecticut, with a strong record prosecuting mob figures and, in the late 1990s, a case involving FBI agents and policemen allegedly compromised by the mob.
He brought Durham in, “in an abundance of caution,” as Mukasey put it, in place of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, which would normally handle the case given the CIA’s location.
That office handles a number of cases involving the CIA and might appear to have a potential conflict.
It is still unclear just what potentially criminal activities will be investigated.
The department could look into circumstances under which the tapes were destroyed — the action was apparently debated at the highest levels of the White House for almost three years though it’s not known what White House lawyers advised.
Or it could look into evidence that the activities on the tape itself were criminal, though the destruction of the tapes might make that impossible.
The fact that the Justice Department is now conducting a criminal investigation throws a rather different light on hearings into the matter scheduled for Jan. 16 by the House Intelligence Committee. The committee plans to call Jose Rodriguez, then head of the CIA’s clandestine service, who reportedly ordered the destruction of the tapes.
Congressional hearings, especially if a committee grants a witness immunity, can make it difficult to obtain convictions. The intelligence committee will have to tread carefully to avoid such an outcome.
Ideally, the congressional hearings would not compromise the Justice Department investigation but might serve to prod the department along to finish what could turn out to be a complicated and lengthy inquiry.
It may well be — especially considering the tapes had been requested by the 9/11 Commission and plaintiffs in a court case — that destruction of the tapes amounts to obstruction of justice. If so, those held responsible should be accountable.
But it is more important for the facts to come out than for somebody to go to jail. With all deliberate speed, please.