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U.S. Congress members vowed on Sunday to investigate the CIA’s destruction of videotapes depicting harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects, despite Justice Department advice that the agency not cooperate.
The top Republican member of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and a leading Democratic voice on security joined in a blistering attack on the CIA and on the complex network of U.S. intelligence agencies in general.
“We want to hold the (intelligence) community accountable for what’s happened to these tapes,” Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We will issue subpoenas … Our investigation should move forward.
He said he had no confidence in U.S. intelligence leadership. “You’ve got a community that’s incompetent. They are arrogant. And they are political. And they don’t believe that they are accountable to anybody. They don’t believe that they’re accountable to the president.”
Hoekstra said CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden should answer for what he called misleading statements by the agency during his term, which began in 2006 after the tapes had been destroyed.
It is believed that the tapes, destroyed in 2005, depicted the use of a simulated drowning technique called waterboarding.
The United States has been widely criticized by European allies and human rights groups for methods like waterboarding, in which prisoners are made to fear that they are drowning. President George W. Bush has repeatedly said the United States does not torture.
The disclosure this month that the CIA destroyed lengthy recordings of the 2002 interrogations of two top al Qaeda suspects has prompted furious denunciations from lawmakers and human rights advocates.
“It smells like the cover-up of the cover-up,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Jane Harman of California, chairwoman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.
The Justice Department, under new Attorney General Michael Mukasey, whose contentious confirmation focused on his refusal to call waterboarding illegal torture, has launched a preliminary videotape probe in conjunction with the CIA’s inspector general.
But the Democratic-led Congress has launched its own probes. The Justice Department last week urged the CIA not to cooperate, saying it could interfere with the department’s investigation.
Mukasey also rejected a congressional request for information about the Justice Department’s probe.
“I warned them not to destroy the videotapes,” Harman said on the Fox program. “I sent them a letter in 2003, and they did it anyway and they didn’t tell us.”
“Congress does absolutely need to exercise its constitutional authority,” to investigate, she said. Harman also cited concerns about the CIA inspector general’s ability to participate in fair investigation.
In a separate court filing, the Justice Department last week urged a U.S. district court judge not to investigate the videotapes.
The judge in 2005 had ordered the government to preserve information on prisoner mistreatment at the U.S. Naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But the Justice Department said there was no evidence the prisoners believed to be on the videotapes, including suspected al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, were at Guantanamo at the time.
The CIA said it destroyed the tapes lawfully and did so out of concern for the safety of agents involved in the negotiations if the recordings were ever made public.