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DOJ refusing to turn over info on CIA interrogation tapes probe

[JURIST] US Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Friday that the Department of Justice will not provide information to congressional officials regarding its ongoing probe into the CIA's destruction of videotapes [JURIST reports] showing the interrogation of terror suspects. In a letter [PDF text] to top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mukasey wrote:

the Department has a long-standing policy of declining to provide non-public information about pending matters. This policy is based in part on our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence. Accordingly, I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter, but appreciate the Committee's interests in this matter. At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice. Consistent with that testimony, the facts will be followed wherever they lead in this inquiry, and the relevant law applied.

Finally, with regard to the suggestion that I appoint a special counsel, I am aware of no facts at present to suggest that Department attorneys cannot conduct this inquiry in an impartial manner. If I become aware of information that leads me to a different conclusion, I will act on it.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) expressed disappointment [press release] with Mukasey's response, saying:
The Judiciary Committee has an important role in the oversight of the Department of Justice. Oversight fosters accountability. This Committee needs to fully understand whether the government used cruel interrogation techniques and torture, contrary to our basic values.
Leahy said that he will schedule a hearing early next year on the matter.

Mukasey sent a similar letter Thursday to the House Judiciary Committee refusing to provide information to that panel's investigation. The Justice Department has also directed the CIA not to cooperate with the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into the destruction of the videotapes and has asked that committee to postpone its investigation [DOJ letter, PDF] over concerns that congressional inquiries could interfere with the DOJ probe. According to a press release [PDF text] from the committee:
Just two days ago, CIA Director Michael Hayden appeared before our Committee to address the CIA's destruction of videotapes. In that hearing, he committed to providing materials relevant to our investigation. Earlier today, our staff was notified that the Department of Justice has advised CIA not cooperate with our investigation.

We are stunned that the Justice Department would move to block our investigation. Parallel investigations occur all of the time, and there is no basis upon which the Attorney General can stand in the way of our work. ...

It's clear that there's more to this story than we have been told, and it is unfortunate that we are being prevented from learning the facts. The Executive Branch can't be trusted to oversee itself. Congress must conduct its own investigation.
Meanwhile, government lawyers have urged [PDF text] a federal judge considering a request to investigate [JURIST report] whether the tapes' destruction violated a court order not to proceed with an inquiry. Several Guantanamo Bay detainees have asked US District Judge Henry H. Kennedy to look into whether the CIA's destruction of the tapes violated a June 2005 order where Kennedy directed the government to "preserve and maintain all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." In a court filing Friday, the government said that a judicial inquiry would be inappropriate [AP report; SCOTUSblog report] "in light of the current inquiries by the political branches into the destruction of the tapes that occasioned petitioners' motion." AP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

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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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