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The CIA Has a "Very Serious Problem"

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December 20, 2007

It’s been two weeks since we learned that the CIA secretly destroyed at least two videotapes of its “enhanced interrogations” of terror suspects. At issue is the possible criminality of both the tapes’ destruction and what the tapes might show – like torture.

There are several investigations being launched into the CIA’s decision to destroy the tapes – from congressional committees, the Justice Department, and the CIA. Because the Bush administration can hardly be trusted to investigate itself, and because Congress’ track record of holding administration officials accountable has been unimpressive at best, a special prosecutor is desperately needed.

In addition to these investigations, the destruction of the tapes is at issue in a few court cases. In a case brought on behalf of Guantánamo detainees, Justice Henry H. Kennedy – despite being warned off by the Justice Department – has called a hearing for tomorrow addressing the fact that he had ordered evidence in the case – including of detainee treatment of Guantánamo detainees – not be destroyed. Good for him.

A second case is a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU in which the ACLU requested documentation of U.S. treatment and abuse of detainees overseas – not limited to Guantánamo. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordered the government to produce all responsive information. Yet, in blatant disregard of that order, the CIA destroyed the videotapes that clearly fall into the scope of the ACLU’s request.

The ACLU has asked Judge Hellerstein to hold the CIA in contempt of court. It has also asked that the government be ordered to produce documentation regarding the decision to destroy the tapes, including from the White House and the FBI.

The ACLU’s case has been characterized as perhaps the strongest. For why it might provide the CIA with a “very serious problem” and might “force the Bush administration’s hand,” see John Dean’s recent piece:

In our troubled democracy where the critical element of separation of powers is regularly attacked by the Bush administration, let’s hope our courts are allowed and willing to provide the crucial oversight of this administration that is so sorely needed.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post linked “Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU” to the wrong page. It should go to, not

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