The CIA has announced it will begin handing over documents to Congress about the destruction of videotapes showing the interrogation of two prisoners held in secret jails. The announcement came after the House Intelligence Committee threatened to subpoena agency officials if they wouldn’t appear before the committee voluntarily. We speak with House Judiciary Chair John Conyers and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The CIA has announced it will begin handing over documents to Congress about the destruction of videotape showing the interrogation of two prisoners held in secret jails. The announcement came after the House Intelligence Committee threatened to subpoena agency officials if they wouldn’t appear before the committee voluntarily. In a direct challenge to President Bush, the panel rejected a Bush administration request that it defer to a preliminary White House inquiry and has launched its own investigation into the videotape destruction.
The CIA says it destroyed the tapes to protect interrogators. But questions remain over whether it was part of a cover-up to mask evidence of torture. Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes wants acting CIA general counsel John Rizzo and the former head of the National Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez, to testify on January 16th. Rodriguez is the official who directed that the tapes be destroyed.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the New York Times revealed Wednesday that at least four top White House lawyers took part in talks about whether to destroy the tapes. The officials taking part included then-White House counsel and later Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, then counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, now his chief of staff; John Bellinger, then a senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet Miers, then President Bush’s deputy chief of staff and later White House counsel.
At a news conference, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino denied she had misled reporters about White House involvement in the tape destruction.
DANA PERINO: I am not accountable for all the anonymous sources that you turn up. I’m not. I am accountable —- I speak for the President and for the White House. This says that I was misleading, and I was not.
REPORTER: But it doesn’t say you. It doesn’t say you at all. And there were other people in the administration who did -—
DANA PERINO: The White House does not comment. The only thing that I have said from this podium is regarding to the President and his recollection. And if CNN has different information that they want to provide to me that contradicts what I’ve said, you know, let’s see it.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, a federal judge has summoned Justice Department lawyers to his courtroom on Friday to determine whether the destruction of the tapes violated a court order to preserve evidence about detainees.
We go now to Capitol Hill, where we’re joined by Congressmember John Conyers. He’s the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. We’re also joined by Ray McGovern. He was a twenty-seven-year career analyst with the CIA. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
Chairman Conyers, we’re going to begin with you. Talk about what your plans are right now with this latest news of White House involvement.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, what we’re planning to do, and we were even before the news you gave us, Amy, was revealed, is hold hearings so that the public can get in on what’s really going on here. The fact that there has been a secret meeting in the Senate Intelligence Committee — thank goodness for the bipartisan efforts in the House Intelligence Committee — we’re now beginning to see some light. But I’m holding a public hearing today, this morning, in Judiciary, in which we examine not just the obstruction of justice possibilities in destroying hundreds of hours of tape, that it’s unclear how and why that was done, but, more importantly, what was on them, which could result in us reviewing a lot of the federal criminal laws that could be involved in the interrogation and the torture laws that we worked so hard, even with the Supreme Court, to get the President and this administration to honor.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Ray McGovern, you’re a twenty-seven-year career veteran analyst with the CIA. Given the fact that four key people in the White House staff had knowledge of this, is it conceivable that the Vice President and the President did not?
RAY McGOVERN: It’s not conceivable to me. However, the President doesn’t recollect a lot of things, and I’m not surprised that his spokesperson would say that he doesn’t recollect this either.
I think the interest in obstruction of justice and what’s on the tapes is certainly interesting, but the subject of torture, which is what is being covered up, has been around for three-and-a-half years, starting with Richard Clarke’s revelation that on the very evening of 9/11, the President was — told Richard Clarke and Don Rumsfeld, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say. We’re going to kick some ass.” That was followed — that revelation came in the spring of 2004, followed very quickly by Abu Ghraib and by revelations of a different kind, namely the text of the memoranda written by David Addington, but signed by Alberto Gonzales, which told the President, “In my opinion, the war on terror creates a new paradigm, which makes the provisions of the Geneva protections for prisoners of war obsolete and some of those provisions quaint.” Now, we should have known from that — that was 25 January, 2002, and just two weeks later, on February 7, 2002, the President took that advice, issued a directive which said, “We shall treat prisoners, quote, ‘humanely, as appropriate and as consistent with military necessity.” That’s not what Geneva says. That is the loophole through which Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney drove the Mack truck of torture. That’s what we should be concerned about. That’s been around for three-and-a-half years.
AMY GOODMAN: Chairman Conyers, on the issue of the destruction of the videotapes, the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, has said Congress should not be investigating, because it will obstruct the Justice Department’s investigation. You’re head of the House Judiciary Committee. Your response?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, that’s precisely one of the things we’re inquiring into. Unless this is going to be a completely new circumstance in the relations between the three branches of government, it’s not possible for us to avoid overlapping inquiries. And it’s happened frequently, and it happens all the time. So if we’re going to have to wait ’til they finish an investigation — by the way, which Mukasey, as a judge, was tangentially, at the least, involved in some of this. He’s the one that ought to step aside. As a matter of fact, one of the big questions that are now before us is whether or not we should get a special prosecutor, so that the Department of Justice’s conflicts or potential conflicts can be set aside and we have a thorough, in-depth examination.