U.S. Congressional Democrats are asking the Justice Department to investigate whether the CIA's destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogation of terrorism suspects amounts to obstruction of justice. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The acknowledgment by Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden that his agency destroyed the interrogation videotapes in 2005 sparked a firestorm of criticism among Congressional Democrats. They suggested the tapes could have provided key evidence in ongoing trials brought by terrorism suspects who are alleging they were tortured.
Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said, "What would cause the CIA to take this action? The answer is obvious - cover up. The agency was desperate to cover up damning evidence of their practices."
The Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are vowing to investigate, and other Democrats are calling on the Justice Department to do the same.
"You cannot destroy material if there is an ongoing investigation. There is a law against it," said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush only learned of the matter Thursday after he was briefed by CIA Director Hayden.
"He has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday," said Perino.
Perino defended the CIA interrogation program as legal and critical to national security. She said President Bush supports General Hayden's explanation that the tapes were destroyed to protect the identities of the interrogators.
But the Senate's number two Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, rejected that argument:
"The defense of the CIA is that they wanted to protect the identity of those CIA employees who were engaged in the interrogation," said Durbin. "Mr. [Senate] President, that is not a credible defense. We know that it is possible, in fact, easy, to cover the identity and faces of those who were involved in any videotape. Something more was involved here."
The tapes, which documented the use of tough interrogation techniques against key terror suspects in 2002, were destroyed three years later, at a time when there was increasing pressure from defense lawyers to obtain videotapes of detainee interrogations and as Congress had been probing allegations of torture.
The Bush administration has maintained it does not use torture, but refuses to say what techniques are used by intelligence agencies in interrogations of terror suspects.