COMMENTS: Waterboarding Evidence Deleted

Spies hogged headlines for the second time this week. Monday and Tuesday, the Story of the Day was the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program. Now it is the Central Intelligence Agency's turn--not so covert for the way it tried to hide its secret interrogation techniques. The revelation that the CIA destroyed its own videotape of the methods its spies used in 2002 against suspected al-Qaeda ringleaders abu-Zubaydah and Ramsi bin al-Shibh was the lead story on both ABC and NBC. CBS chose to kick off with further details about Wednesday's department store shooting in Omaha.

"Waterboarding, simulated drowning, widely viewed as torture," was what the CIA did not want anyone to see, asserted NBC's Andrea Mitchell. She quoted the CIA's explanation for destroying the video--"to protect the identities of interrogators"--before pooh-poohing it. "Other officials say the real reason was concern about criminal charges because waterboarding…violates the Geneva Conventions." The CIA insists "all its interrogation techniques were legal," commented CBS' David Martin wryly, "but, with the tapes now destroyed, there is no way to verify that claim."

ABC's Jonathan Karl (no link) noted the timeline for the tapes' destruction in November 2005, shortly after a Washington Post expose about the CIA's secret prisons. The 9/11 Commission was never told that the tapes existed in the first place. Congressional Intelligence Committees and President George Bush both insisted they knew they existed but were kept in the dark about their destruction. "There was one White House official who knew about the plans to destroy the tapes," ABC's Karl revealed. Then counsel Harriet Miers "urged the CIA not to destroy the tapes," according to Karl's unidentified sources.

Illinois Democrat Sen Richard Durbin requested that the Justice Department launch an obstruction of justice investigation. ABC's legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg (no link) called it a "really tough case" with "big legal hurdles." She explained that prosecutors would have to prove that the spies knew there were "official proceedings either going on or contemplated" in which the videotape would be used as evidence.


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