After the media revealed last Thursday evening that the CIA had destroyed at least two torture tapes, both the White House and the Department of Justice delayed in sending out a preservation order ensuring that federal government employees did not undertake any further acts of destroying evidence.
Lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights representing Guantanamo Bay detainee Majid Khan warned in a Nov. 29 filing that, “absent a preservation order, there is substantial risk that the torture evidence will disappear.”
On Friday’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Georgetown Law professor Neal Katyal — who successfully argued the Hamdan decision in front of the Supreme Court — expressed concern that further documents might be destroyed because the administration was delaying the issuance of a preservation order:
I am a little dismayed that [Attorney General Michael Mukasey] hasn’t done what I believe Attorney General Ed Meese did right when the Iran contra scandal broke, which was issue a preservation order — ordering all federal government employees to make sure no further documents were destroyed. Because who knows what’s being shredded right now as we speak.
In today’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Dana Perino said that, “this weekend,” the White House counsel sent out a notice to “all employees” ordering them to preserve documents and evidence. Unfortunately, the order came much later than it should have.
UPDATE: In 2003, when the Justice Department first contacted the White House about the Plame investigation, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales waited 12 hours “to inform the White House staff that it must ‘preserve all materials‘ relevant to the investigation.”
UPDATE II: Perino says she’s “not allowed” to comment on Bush’s reaction to the destruction of the tapes:
Q Dana, is the President concerned about the impact on the CIA’s reputation and its integrity, not just here but around the world? I mean, there’s been similar episodes — we don’t know the full scope of this — but we know what we know, based on his point, that may be comparable to Abu Ghraib, where there were photos that were released –
MS. PERINO: No. No.
Q — the President spoke extensively about that.
MS. PERINO: Well, one, I haven’t — I’m not allowed to characterize the President’s reaction to this, but what I can tell you is that he — as I said Friday, he has complete confidence in General Hayden, and that remains.
QUESTION: Has the White House counsel directed everybody here to preserve all the documents?
QUESTION: A formal order has gone out?
QUESTION: And in what form? Was it a letter…
PERINO: As they usually do, it’s a notice that goes to all employees.
QUESTION: And it said — can you tell us what it says?
PERINO: I don’t remember. I don’t have it with me. I received it and (inaudible) preserve the documents, or preserve what you know. I just — I can’t remember exactly what the language was, but we’ll try to get it for you. It came out this weekend.