WASHINGTON – Key members of Congress on Friday called for multiple investigations into the CIA’s destruction of interrogation videotapes, charging the agency may have eliminated evidence of torture, obstructed justice or engaged in an illegal coverup.
The CIA’s disclosure that it had destroyed tapes showing harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects rekindled the emotional controversy surrounding U.S. practices and threatened to reopen the tense confrontation between Congress and the Bush administration first begun more than three years ago.
Democratic leaders demanded Friday that Attorney General Michael Mukasey order a full Justice Department probe into whether the CIA had acted illegally in destroying the tapes, which recorded interrogations of two terrorism suspects.
“We haven’t seen anything like this since the 18 1/2 -minute gap in the tapes of President Richard Nixon,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a blistering speech on the Senate floor. A Justice Department spokesman said the congressional requests for an investigation were under review.
At the same time, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said the panel already had opened its own probe of the matter, and challenged a CIA assertion that key lawmakers had been briefed on the decision to dispose of the recordings.
“I was not told of the CIA’s decision to destroy the tapes, and I was not aware of their destruction until yesterday’s press reports,” Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said in a statement. He added that “the CIA’s description of notifying Congress is inconsistent with our records.”
The handling of the tapes raised questions on other fronts.
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden had said the tapes were “not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries.” But critics said the tapes could have been pertinent to inquiries by Congress, to the Sept. 11 commission and in the criminal trials of two terrorism suspects.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said that President Bush had no recollection of being aware of the tapes or their destruction before he was informed about the issue by Hayden on Thursday.
Perino said the White House counsel’s office was engaged in working with the CIA to gather information on the handling of the tapes. She said the White House would support Mukasey if he decided to investigate the matter.