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DOJ lawyers warned CIA against destruction of 'harsh interrogation' tapes: NYT

[JURIST] US Department of Justice lawyers advised the CIA's general counsel in 2003 not to destroy videotapes showing the "harsh interrogations" of high-value terror detainees Abu Zubaydah [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [GlobalSecurity profile; JURIST news archive], according to unnamed officials cited by the New York Times in a report Saturday. Scott W. Muller allegedly raised the option of destroying the tapes with the DOJ attorneys and then-White House deputy chief of staff Harriet Myers, who also advised against destruction. A number of lawmakers advised of the existence of the tapes - including US House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Peter Goss and and ranking Democratic minority member Jane Harman - also weighed in against destroying them, although Muller suggested they had no intelligence value and could put at risk US intelligence personnel shown on the tapes. In the short-term the CIA decided not to destroy the videos, but in 2005 as the interrogation program was coming under increased legislative and public scrutiny that stance was reversed by CIA Directorate of Operations head Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. The CIA's general counsel at that time, John Rizzo, was not informed of the destruction of the tapes beforehand. The New York Times has more.

US Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter [JURIST report] to US Attorney General Michael Mukasey Friday, asking that the DOJ launch an investigation into whether the CIA's destruction of videotaped recordings of two terror suspects in 2002 could be considered obstruction of justice. Existence of the videotapes was verified in November after the CIA admitted it had mistakenly denied [JURIST report] that it had recorded interrogations, and in a letter to CIA employees on Thursday, CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that the tapes had been destroyed in 2005 [JURIST report].

In US government documents released in March al-Nashiri claimed that his confession to responsibility for the 2000 USS Cole bombing was coerced through five years of torture [JURIST report]. In a transcript of testimony before a US Combatant Status Review Tribunal released in April Zubaydah made similar allegations of being subjected to torture prior to his transfer [JURIST report] to Guantanamo Bay. Both men were questioned at CIA secret prisons [JURIST news archive], the existence of which was only officially acknowledged by US officials late last year.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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