Bush Administration Rebukes Congress and Courts, Stymieing Investigations of Destroyed CIA Videotapes

December 15, 2007 12:00 am

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(Updated 12/15/2007)

ACLU Calls it a Threat to Constitutional Checks and Balances

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NEW YORK — In a stunning rebuke of the constitutional system ofchecks and balances, the Justice Department — in a single 24-hourperiod — has warned a federal judge to back off of his inquiry into thedestruction of CIA interrogation tapes, has told Congress to delay itsown investigation into the matter, and has refused to cooperate withcongressional inquiries into its own role in the elimination of thevideotaped evidence.

In court documents filed late Friday night, administration lawyerswarned U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy that demanding informationabout the destroyed tapes would interfere with Justice Department andcongressional investigations. In 2005, Justice Kennedy ordered thegovernment to preserve all evidence regarding the torture, abuse andmistreatment of Guantánamo Bay detainees. Five months later,the CIA destroyed two interrogation tapes of “high-value” detainees whowould eventually be transferred to Guantánamo.

In a lawsuit concerning The American Civil Liberties Union’s Freedom ofInformation Act request, federal Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein also ordered thegovernment to produce evidence of detainee treatment and abuse overseas— evidence that would include the destroyed tapes. After learning ofthe tapes’ destruction in violation of the judge’s order, the ACLUrequested that Judge Hellerstein hold the government in contempt. Thatrequest is now pending.

Additionally, the Department of Justice — led by new Attorney GeneralMichael B. Mukasey — has asked congressional committees to back off oftheir own investigations into the destruction of the videotapes, whichwill most likely result in the postponement of a planned hearing nextweek at which two CIA officials were summoned to testify. The JusticeDepartment has also refused to provide information to Congress aboutits own role in destroying the tapes.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, ExecutiveDirector of the American Civil Liberties Union:

“The administration’s attempt to obstruct legitimate and criticalinvestigations into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes isstunning. It is a bold and shameless frontal assault on the oversightroles of both Congress and the courts, which are co-equal branches ofgovernment. Our democracy cannot function without separation of powers,meant to provide a system of checks and balances so that no branch ofgovernment can dominate the other two. The Bush administration’s viewof a unitary executive threatens that balance and Americansof all political stripes should be very concerned. Congressmust finally take a stand and put an end to executive overreaching.

“The ACLU will continue to do its part through its contempt motion andother litigation to restore Constitutional integrity to thisbroken government.”

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