The New York Times reports today that the Justice Department has begun a formal criminal investigation into the C.I.A.’s destruction of interrogation videotapes. The videotapes in question were of two Al Qaeda members from 2002; these tapes were destroyed, perhaps improperly, in 2005.
Previously, this matter was the subject of an inquiry, but has been elevated to a criminal investigation after a December 6 report that said tapes had existed, but had now been destroyed. The exact nature of the crimes which are now being investigated have not yet been specified, “but government lawyers have said the inquiry will probably focus on whether the destruction of the tapes involved criminal obstruction of justice and related false-statement offenses.” Such an investigation is expected to scrutinize the actions of both current and former high-level C.I.A. officials. While the Justice Department’s investigation proceeds, both the chairmen of the House Intelligence Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee have indicated that their own inquiry would continue.
The C.I.A. has indicated that they will cooperate fully with John H. Durham, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut who has been appointed to lead the investigation along with the F.B.I. Several officials have already provided the name of Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr. as the official who had ordered the destruction of the tapes in question.
The outcome of this investigation, expected to potentially outlast the remainder of President Bush’s term, will be interesting to follow. While the steps taken to ensure the accountability of the C.I.A. in this matter is commendable, it will be interesting to see what type, if any, punishment and results occur due to the investigation. The Attorney General’s appointment of an attorney outside of Washington would seem to indicate that this investigation will be independent, but in the end the punishment and/or changes would seem to need to be handed down from officials in D.C. It is hoped that the investigation will, at the least, prevent other such instances of the destruction of evidence and, at best, cause the Attorney General to take a firmer stance on the issue of torture in these instances, punishing those who violate any future measures; however, until the investigation is completed, the true effectiveness of this probe will be unknown.