Judge calls for hearing on destruction of CIA tapes

Dan Eggen, The Washington Post

A federal judge has ordered a hearing on Friday to examine whether the CIA violated a judicial order by destroying videotapes showing harsh interrogation methods, rebuffing pleas from the Bush administration to stay out of the matter while the executive branch's own probe is under way.

The Justice Department had told U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. that he had no jurisdiction to inquire into the destruction of the tapes. Separately, it told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week to delay public hearings while the department's National Security Division and the CIA inspector general's office conducted their probe.

Congress agreed not to hold hearings now, but Kennedy decided, without comment, to schedule the court hearing.

The dispute centers on hundreds of hours of CIA videotape showing coercive interrogation tactics used on two senior al-Qaida suspects in 2002: Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, commonly known as Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. CIA director Michael Hayden and other officials said this month that the tapes had been destroyed to protect the identities of interrogators.

The tapes were destroyed in November 2005, intelligence officials said. The previous June, Kennedy had ordered the government to preserve detention and interrogation records as part of an ongoing civil lawsuit by detainees at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The lawsuit is one of several cases in which courts have ordered the government to preserve documents or other records related to interrogation. Multiple lawyers have raised destruction of the tapes as possible obstruction of justice by the CIA that could interfere with efforts to determine whether some clients were tortured into making false admissions.