The Department of Justice will not bring charges against CIA officers and lawyers for the destruction of video tapes depicting cruel interrogations of Al Qaeda detainees in Thailand. In August of 2009, a Justice Department report revealed CIA interrogation techniques overseas included interrogators chocking a prisoner repeatedly and threatening to kill another detainee’s children. Some detainees in the videos died due to the interrogations. The Justice Department has not stated whether it will pursue murder charges. After a three year investigation, special prosecutor Michael Mukasey decided not to charge CIA undercover officers who destroyed the videotapes or the CIA lawyers who advised the officers the tapes could be destroyed. Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the agency’s clandestine service, ordered his staff in November 2005 to destroy tapes of the interrogation of two Al Qaeda detainees. Rodriguez withheld the existence of the tapes from the 9/11 Commission.
The Justice Department is not choosing to not prosecute not because of a matter of fact. Instead, while it is established that the CIA did destroy the tapes and purposely mislead Congress, whether the techniques employed were illegal is a matter of debate. At the time, 2002, there was a legal debate of whether using certain techniques of Al Qaeda detainees was illegal. The Bush administration said that using techniques such as water boarding was not illegal and the agencies and the military could use them and the CIA went along with the White House’s opinion. Rodriguez’s lawyer said, “[C]riminalizing differences of legal opinion would set a terrible precedent for our democracy.”
However, the lawyers for those under investigation and the Justice Department left out the issue of destroying the videotapes and lying to Congress out of their press release. While the CIA may justify using aggressive interrogation techniques, it is hard pressed to justify lying to the 9/11 Commission. The decision of the Justice Department reveals that the investigation, which took over three years even though all the facts were revealed, seems to have been off the mark. The special prosecutor focused more on what was potentially on the tapes instead of the act of destroying the tapes. This decision greatly undermines the credibility of the Justice Department who had all the facts laid out yet still decided to not prosecute charges. It seems to have allowed politics and bureaucracy stand in the way of justice. Blatantly misleading Congress undermines the credibility of the CIA who already has a reputation for pervasive and unnecessary secrecy.
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