Justice Department Seeks Delay on C.I.A. Inquiry (Or: Things That Make You Go WTF!!))

The New York Times reported in an article published today, “Justice Department Seeks Delay on C.I.A. Inquiry,” by David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti, that the Justice Department has sought a delay on the current Congressional Hearings on the CIA’s blatant destruction of videotapes.

Perhaps “sought” or “seeks” is not a good word. The Justice Department, in all its fame and glory and adherence to the rule of law, has forced a delay on the current Congressional Hearings by refusing to comply with Congressional requests for information. Let’s make the words clear though. “Requests” are actually subpoenas, not simply, “Hey, Justice Department, would you mind coming here and providing this information over tea and cookies?” No, a subpoena is: “Justice Department, you are required by law to provide this information and if you don’t you will be found in contempt.”

What’s the Justice Department’s reasoning for this? I’m sure it’s the same idiot attorney or attorneys who wrote memos on why the United States is not part of the Geneva Convention, who said: to “avoid[] any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence.” Huh? Isn’t that exactly what the Justice Department is in fact being accused of because of withholding the information?

Add this wrinkle: the Justice Department may have played a role in the CIA’s destruction of the videotapes. So, the theory goes, the Justice Department should do their own investigation. And, as for the CIA? Well, they should do their own investigation, too. And all these investigations should be done first, before an oversight body, like friggin Congress, has their chance. Interesting. Let the blind lead the blind.

At a point, certain types of conduct prevent an institution’s right to “investigate” it themselves, at the exclusion of an outside body. This is not some tax audit issue or something along those lines. This is severe and conscious criminal conduct implicating two behemoth institutions that have conspired to abuse power and violate the rule of law, either through their own preservation, their misguided attempt to fight the war on terror, or more ominously, directions from those who work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Justice Department has failed to administer justice. They now can’t say they have the right to do a “preliminary investigation” without any oversight. Sorry Justice Department. You lost that chance in 2005 when you had the chance to do a preliminary investigation. Too late now to be crying foul.

The Justice Department asked the House Intelligence Committee on Friday to postpone its investigation into the destruction of videotapes by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2005, saying the Congressional inquiry presented “significant risks” to its own preliminary investigation into the matter. The department is taking an even harder line with other Congressional committees looking into the matter, and is refusing to provide information about any role it might have played in the destruction of the videotapes. The recordings covered hundreds of hours of interrogations of two operatives of Al Qaeda.

The Justice Department and the C.I.A.’s inspector general have begun a preliminary inquiry into the destruction of the tapes, and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said the department would not comply with Congressional requests for information now because of “our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence.” Over all, the position taken by Mr. Mukasey, who took office last month, represented what Justice Department officials described as an effort to caution Congress against meddling in the tapes case and other politically explosive criminal cases.

The Justice Department request was met with anger from both Republican and Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, who said the department was trying to interfere with their investigation. The committee had summoned two C.I.A. officials to testify at a hearing next week, a session that will now almost certainly be postponed. The inquiry by the House committee had been shaping up as the most aggressive investigation into the destruction of the tapes, and in a written statement on Friday, the two senior members of the panel said they were “stunned” by the Justice Department’s request.

The lawmakers, Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas, and Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, threatened to issue subpoenas to get testimony and other information from the C.I.A. “There is no basis upon which the attorney general can stand in the way of our work,” they said. The committee had demanded that the C.I.A. produce all cables, memorandums and e-mail messages related to the videotapes, as well as the legal advice given to agency officials before the tapes were destroyed. Friday’s deadline passed without the arrival of any of those C.I.A. records on Capitol Hill. The inquiries by the Justice Department and Congress began after the disclosure last week that the C.I.A. had videotaped the 2002 interrogations of two Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

The tapes were destroyed in November 2005 in a decision that the current C.I.A. director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was not in charge of the agency at the time, has said was made “in line with the law” to protect the security of C.I.A. officers who took part in the questioning. The preliminary joint inquiry by the Justice Department and the C.I.A. is aimed at determining how the tapes were destroyed, who authorized their destruction, and whether the action violated the law. The C.I.A. did not provide the tapes to the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks or to authorities that have sought to prosecute terrorism suspects in the courts.

The Congressional inquiries, by the House and Senate intelligence committees and other panels, are largely moving on a parallel track, but are also trying to determine whether anyone in the executive branch had sought to have the tapes destroyed to eliminate possible evidence that C.I.A. officers had used outlawed interrogation techniques. The Justice Department request to the House committee was made in a letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein and John L. Helgerson, the C.I.A.’s inspector general, who are leading the preliminary criminal investigation. “Our ability to obtain the most reliable and complete information would likely be jeopardized if the C.I.A. undertakes the steps necessary to respond to your requests in a comprehensive fashion at this time,” the letter said.

Mr. Wainstein and Mr. Helgerson asked the committee’s “indulgence,” and promised to advise the panel on when it might resume its inquiry without jeopardizing their own investigation. But they said they could not say when the Justice Department inquiry might be completed and asked to pursue their investigation at the appropriate pace. The House Intelligence Committee has been hoping to hear testimony next week from two C.I.A. witnesses: Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the former leader of the agency’s clandestine branch, who is said to have ordered the destruction of the tapes, and John A. Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer.

Mark Mansfield, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined to comment directly on the Justice Department’s letter. “Director Hayden has said the agency would cooperate fully with both the preliminary inquiry conducted by D.O.J. and the C.I.A’s inspector general and with the Congress,” he said. “That has been and certainly is the case.” The exchanges came as Republicans in the Senate moved on Friday to strip language from a bill that would have prohibited the C.I.A. from using what the White House has called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which allow the use of methods more aggressive than those permitted by other agencies. The House has approved a measure containing the prohibition, but the Senate action, together with a veto threat from President Bush, made it unlikely that it would become law.

Mr. Mukasey was rebuffing requests from the Congressional committees that oversee the Justice Department. The committees sent him letters this week demanding information about the department’s role in the destruction of the tapes and in other issues related to the possible recording of interrogations. “At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice,” Mr. Mukasey wrote in one letter. Accordingly, he went on, “I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter.”

That letter was sent on Friday to Senators Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel’s ranking Republican. Mr. Leahy said Friday that he was disappointed that “the Department of Justice declined to provide us, either publicly or in a classified setting, with any of the information Senator Specter and I have requested.”

“This committee needs to fully understand whether the government used cruel interrogation techniques and torture, contrary to our basic values,” Mr. Leahy added.


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