White House spins CIA tape debacle

The White House on Wednesday defended its response to disclosures about the CIA’s destruction of videotapes that showed harsh interrogations of two terrorism suspects.

The New York Times reported that at least four White House lawyers participated in discussions with the CIA between 2003 and 2005 about whether the tapes should be destroyed.

The Times said the lawyers’ participation showed White House officials were more extensively involved than the Bush administration has acknowledged.

The White House refused to discuss the central focus of the article — whether a number of top advisers to President George W. Bush were aware of the tapes. It cited an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department and the CIA.

But the administration attacked the newspaper on the more narrow point of whether the White House tried to minimize the role its officials played when the story about tapes broke earlier this month.

“We have not described — neither to highlight, nor to minimize — the role or deliberations of White House officials in this matter,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.

The CIA on December 6 disclosed that it had destroyed hundreds of hours of interrogation tapes, prompting an outcry from congressional Democrats and human rights activists.

The sessions recorded on the tapes were believed to have included a form of simulated drowning known as waterboarding, which has been condemned internationally as torture.

Bush, who has said the United States does not engage in torture, said the first time he learned of the existence of the tapes was when CIA Director Michael Hayden briefed him on the subject this month.

Perino reiterated that Bush does not recall being told of the tapes earlier than that.

“He does not recall being told about the existence of the tapes, nor their destruction before being briefed by the CIA briefer,” she said.

According to the Times report, those who took part in the discussions of the tapes included Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, both former White House counsels; John Bellinger, who was previously a lawyer at the National Security Council and David Addington, a senior adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.