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Internal CIA e-mails show the former agency head, Porter Goss, agreed with a top aide’s 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of the harsh interrogation of a terror suspect, a controversial action that remains the focus of an FBI investigation.
The documents show that, despite Goss’ apparent agreement, CIA officials almost immediately began worrying they’d done something wrong. The e-mails also indicate that President George W. Bush‘s White House counsel, Harriet Miers, hadn’t been informed of the tapes’ destruction and was “livid” to find out later.
The videos showed CIA interrogators using waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that’s widely considered torture, on terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah. The videos showed that interrogators did not follow the waterboarding procedures authorized by the Bush administration, the documents indicate.
Jose Rodriguez, the agency’s top clandestine officer, worried the 92 tapes would be “devastating” to the CIA if they ever surfaced, the documents show. He approved the destruction of the tapes.
Rodriguez told Goss and others he “felt it was extremely important to destroy the tapes and that if there was any heat, he would take it,” according to a November 2005 e-mail.
Goss, according to the e-mail, laughed and said he’d be the one to take the heat.
The e-mail then states: “PG, however, agreed with the decision.”
The author’s name is blacked out. The e-mail amounts to an after-the-fact summary and does not prove that Goss approved destroying the tapes. Current and former intelligence officials have said he did not, and was angry to find out about it.
Rodriguez’s lawyer has disputed that and Goss has not discussed the matter publicly.
The e-mails, released late Thursday by the Justice Department under a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union, showed that Bush’s top lawyer, Miers, and her CIA counterpart, John Rizzo, didn’t find out the tapes were destroyed until two days later and were both angry.
“Rizzo is clearly upset because he was on the hook to notify Harriet Miers of the status of the tapes because it was she who had asked to be advised before any action was taken,” reads a November 2005 e-mail from an unidentified CIA officer to the agency’s No. 3 official, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo. “Apparently, Rizzo called Harriet this afternoon and she was livid.”
A year later, Rodriguez sent a memo approving the destruction, saying the agency had no legal requirement to keep the tapes.
It’s unclear who told Rodriguez that, but a subsequent e-mail suggest that either someone lied to Rodriguez or that Rodriguez lied about having received approval.
The e-mail correctly predicts: “Rizzo does not think this is likely to just go away.”
Years later, prosecutor John Durham is still investigating whether any crime was committed.
“These documents provide further evidence that senior CIA officials were willing to risk being prosecuted for obstruction of justice in order to avoid being prosecuted for torture,” ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner said. “If the Department of Justice fails to hold these officials accountable, they will have succeeded in their cover-up.”
CIA spokesman George Little said the agency continues to cooperate with that investigation.
“We hope that this issue is resolved soon,” Little said.
The tapes were destroyed in Thailand. The agency’s former top officer there has not responded to repeated messages seeking comment.