More doubts about destroyed CIA tapes

Washington politicians scrambled Sunday to position themselves on the rapidly-developing CIA torture tape scandal. Both Republicans and Democrats doubted the CIA’s story that the tapes were destroyed to protect the identities of interrogators.

The growing scandal threatens to turn into the worst yet for the Bush Administration, a Presidency beset by scandal and questions about White House credibility.

Said GOP Presidential contender John McCain:

The actions, I think, were absolutely wrong. There will be skepticism and cynicism all over the world about how we treat prisoners and whether we practice torture or not.

Rising GOP contender Mike Huckabee dismissed the CIA’s claims, saying the agency is simply trying to cover its butt.

The scandal is also causing some red faces on Capitol Hill. Reports The New York Times:

At a conference in El Paso in mid-August, Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, heaped praise on a man whose exploits, he joked, had been the inspiration for the television show “24.”

From fast cars to fine wines, Mr. Reyes said, the appetites of the man, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., are the stuff of legend. Then turning serious, Mr. Reyes hailed Mr. Rodriguez’s three decades of undercover work for the Central Intelligence Agency, where he recently stepped down as head of its clandestine service, and called Mr. Rodriguez an “American hero.”

Four months later, Mr. Rodriguez’s role in the destruction of hundreds of hours of videotape of harsh interrogations of two operatives of Al Qaeda is at the center of an inquiry by Mr. Reyes’s committee on Capitol Hill. With a separate Justice Department inquiry that could lead to a full criminal investigation into the matter, the man who spent a career in the shadows has been thrust uneasily into the spotlight.

Many Washington observers feel the scandal will continue to grow and become even more of a problem for Bush and Republicans in 2008. Some have called for a special counsel to investigate.

Reports The Associated Press:

That view was not shared by fellow Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, or a number of other prominent Democrats.

“I don’t think there’s a need for a special counsel, and I don’t think there’s a need for a special commission,” Rockefeller said. “It is the job of the intelligence committees to do that.”

Rockefeller, citing the confidentiality of certain intelligence briefings, said he could not comment on the existence of any other interrogation tapes. He said CIA Director Michael Hayden would appear before his committee Tuesday.

Biden cited Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s refusal during confirmation hearings to describe waterboarding as torture as a reason to appoint an independent counsel.

“He’s the same guy who couldn’t decide whether or not waterboarding was torture and he’s going to be doing this investigation,” said Biden. The “easiest, straightest thing to do is to take it out of the political realm, appoint a special prosecutor and let them decide, and call — call it where it is. Is there a criminal violation? If there is, proceed. If not, don’t.”

Hayden told CIA employees Thursday that the recordings were destroyed out of fear the tapes would leak and reveal the identities of interrogators.

The White House declined comment Sunday on Biden’s suggestion or remarks by other lawmakers and candidates. White House press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration stands by Hayden and supports the Justice Department’s effort to “gather facts.”

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican often critical of the administration on national security and Iraq, said he finds it hard to believe the White House did not know. “Maybe they’re so incompetent” they didn’t, he said. “I don’t know how deep this goes. Could there be obstruction of justice? Yes. How far does this go up in the White House, who knew it? I don’t know.”

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said based on facts so far known, “it was a big mistake. Whether it’s a crime or not, I think we’re going to have to find (out).”

“I don’t buy the answer — it was for the protection of the CIA,” she said.