Friday, December 07, 2007

The banality of evil: like father, like son?

The Bush Administration has once again set out to show us just how banal evil can be.

While the latest revelation of the CIA destruction of at least two tapes documenting their interrogation of alleged al Qaeda suspects is yet another cut-and-dried case of obstruction of justice by this administration, I want to take just a moment to reflect on the reason given for why these tapes were made in the first place:

General Hayden said the tapes were originally made to ensure that agency employees acted in accordance with “established legal and policy guidelines.” General Hayden said the agency stopped videotaping interrogations in 2002.

“The tapes were meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the program in its early stages,” his statement read.

. . . .

A former intelligence official who was briefed on the issue said the videotaping was ordered as a way of assuring “quality control” at remote sites following reports of unauthorized interrogation techniques.

Because, as we all know, there is nothing more embarrassing to a government than torture of inferior quality. Especially at those franchise outlets “remote sites.”

Now back to the obstruction destruction. . . .

Daniel Marcus, a law professor at American University who served as general counsel for the Sept. 11 commission and was involved in the discussions about interviews with Al Qaeda leaders, said he had heard nothing about any tapes being destroyed.

If tapes were destroyed, he said, “it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal,” because it could amount to obstruction of justice to withhold evidence being sought in criminal or fact-finding investigations.

. . . .

John Radsan, who worked as a C.I.A. lawyer from 2002 to 2004 and is now a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said the destruction of the tapes could carry serious legal penalties.

“If anybody at the C.I.A. hid anything important from the Justice Department, he or she should be prosecuted under the false statement statute,” he said.

It seems to me beyond any doubt that the Bush Administration withheld important information about the existence of the tapes, their contents, and their destruction from Congress, the 9/11 Commission, and the judge and defense team in the Zacarias Moussaoui case, but I am beyond holding my breath until we get any movement toward arrests and prosecution in any of those instances.

I am not, however, beyond now speculating about the timing of the release of the new NIE on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, in light of our fresh understanding that the New York Times had planned to go public with the tape story today, Friday, and had officially notified the CIA on Wednesday. I can pretty much guarantee that Michael Hayden knew that this story was on its way some time before that.

In fact, I can’t even fathom the “dumb luck” of having the NIE and the tape destruction revelations come out in the same week—and in the same week as Mitt Romney’s “JFK moment” (not), and a (another) mass shooting, to boot

It’s really too much to fathom. Best we go back to our holiday shopping.

But, before we do, let me add that I draw this post to a close without anything in the way of a new revelation or much of a new angle—and for that, I feel a tad bad.

It’s not as if I didn’t try. Since I read of the tape scandal Thursday afternoon, I have been searching almost non-stop for a very specific angle, and I just can’t find the quotable, linkable piece of evidence I seek.

So, I am going to throw this out to you for help:

I will date myself here, but I have a very clear memory of a certain DCI named George H.W. Bush ignoring congressional requests for files and, indeed, destroying files in a direct rebuke of investigators. I even think I remember him justifying the destruction by saying that the CIA just didn’t have the room to store the files anymore.

The thing is, I can’t remember what the files were, and I can’t find a primary source that refers to this incident.

I believe this happened in the spring or summer of 1976—but the revelation might have come later. It is possible that the files concerned investigations into CIA programs known as CHAOS and CONDOR. The former having to do with Agency spying on domestic activist groups in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, the latter concerning CIA ties to South American shenanigans like the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende, the instillation of Augusto Pinochet, the torture of dissidents, and the murder three years later of Pinochet opponent Orlando Letellier and American Ronni Moffitt by car bomb on the streets on Washington DC. There is also the possibility that the files in question concerned CIA operations in Cuba.

Or maybe they were about something else—the details of this are hazy to me.

But, I feel relatively certain GHW Bush did destroy CIA records, and that he did so in defiance of Congress. If anyone else has this recollection, can shed some light on it, or can point to a newspaper article or a Congressional report, please let me know via comment or e-mail.

Thank you.

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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