Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Lawyers Said We Could

The defense of the destruction of the interrogation tapes is gearing up, and it looks like Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr, the CIA official named as the person who ordered them trashed, is saying that the lawyers said it was okay. From the New York Times:

Lawyers within the clandestine branch of the Central Intelligence Agency gave written approval in advance to the destruction in 2005 of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations of two lieutenants from Al Qaeda, according to a former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the episode.

[…]

The involvement of agency lawyers in the decision making would widen the scope of the inquiries into the matter that have now begun in Congress and within the Justice Department. Any written documents are certain to be a focus of government investigators as they try to reconstruct the events leading up to the tapes’ destruction.

The former intelligence official acknowledged that there had been nearly two years of debate among government agencies about what to do with the tapes, and that lawyers within the White House and the Justice Department had in 2003 advised against a plan to destroy them. But the official said that C.I.A. officials had continued to press the White House for a firm decision, and that the C.I.A. was never given a direct order not to destroy the tapes.

“They never told us, ‘Hell, no,’” he said. “If somebody had said, ‘You cannot destroy them,’ we would not have destroyed them.”

I’d like to hear from any lawyers out there who can come up with a reasonable explanation as to why the agency lawyers would give their written approval to destroy the tapes. And I wonder if there’s anyone in any of these agencies who might think that even if the lawyers said it was okay to destroy the tapes, it didn’t occur to them that perhaps the lawyers might be wrong… or trying to cover up for another crime. It’s not like lawyers aren’t capable of breaking the law; after all, most of the people that went up the river for Watergate were lawyers.

At some point you would think that common sense would kick in and say, “Hey, these tapes are, like, you know, evidence…and there are laws against destroying the evidence…and if someone finds out that we destroyed them, the shit is gonna hit the fan.” Well, shit, meet fan.

It also makes you wonder what kind of mindset would think that they could get away with it. Kevin Drum has a few thoughts on that:

Let me get this straight. The White House had been in the loop for two years. The CIA had received letters from both the Justice Department and congressional leaders arguing that the tapes shouldn’t be destroyed. The CIA’s top lawyer had been involved for the entire time. And yet we’re supposed to believe that, in 2005, a mid-ranking agency lawyer suddenly decided the tapes could be destroyed and the head of the clandestine branch then gave the order to do so without anyone else being involved? Really? Does anyone actually believe this story?

How about a show of hands…