Yesterday, the New York Times revealed that, in 2002, the CIA videotaped its own officials administering harsh interrogation tactics against two al Qaeda operatives, but three years later, destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the incidents. One of the videotapes may have contained evidence of an al Qaeda operative being waterboarded.
The Times reports the destruction of the tapes occurred in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and “CIA officers became concerned about a possible leak of the videos and photos.” In his agency’s defense, CIA Director Michael Hayden said, “What matters here is that it was done in line with the law.” As proof, he cited internal CIA legal decisions:
The decision to destroy the tapes was made within CIA itself. [...]
As part of the rigorous review that has defined the detention program, the Office of General Counsel examined the tapes and determined that they showed lawful methods of questioning.
The man in charge of this “rigorous review”? John Rizzo — the Acting General Counsel of the CIA. Recall, Rizzo was nominated by President Bush last year to become CIA General Counsel. At his confirmation hearings, Rizzo unapologetically stood behind his approval of the “Bybee memo,” which defined torture as “serious physical injury, such as organ failure.” When asked whether he still agreed with that decision, Rizzo answered, “I honestly — I can’t say I should have objected at the time.” Watch it:
After a coalition of human rights and advocacy groups and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee voiced strong objections to his nomination, the White House backed down and withdrew his nomination.
Rizzo effectively signed off on the destruction of evidence that may have proven that his original legal opinion was in violation of U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions. And now, Hayden is citing Rizzo’s signature as proof that the video destruction “was done in line with the law.”
UPDATE: The New York Times reports the chief of the CIA’s clandestine service “ordered their destruction in November 2005, taking the step without notifying even the C.I.A.’s own top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, who was angry at the decision, the officials said.”