By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 17, 2007
Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan said Congress would call witnesses and demand documents in order to investigate the CIA's decision to destroy videotapes of the interrogations of two suspected Al Qaeda operatives.
"We want to hold the [intelligence] community accountable for what's happened with these tapes," Hoekstra said. "I think we will issue subpoenas."
On Friday, the Justice Department said it would not cooperate with any congressional investigation, contending that giving lawmakers information could subject the inquiry to political pressures. Immediately after that announcement, Hoekstra and the committee chairman, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), said they were stunned that the Justice Department was trying to block the investigation.
The two lawmakers have requested all of the CIA's records related to the creation and destruction of the tapes.
Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Hoekstra said he believed his committee would defy the Justice Department's demand that Congress halt its inquiry and would force the Bush administration to provide information. Although Hoekstra said it was likely the committee would issue subpoenas to force testimony and documents, members have not decided whether to offer immunity to potential witnesses.
Interviewed with Hoekstra, Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, the intelligence panel's top Democrat from 2003 to 2006, told Fox that she had warned the CIA in 2003 not to destroy the tapes.
"It smells like the coverup of the coverup," she said.
Harman, who is no longer on the intelligence committee, said that Congress and the Justice Department had conducted parallel inquires before.
Hoekstra was extremely critical of the intelligence community and its leaders, calling them arrogant, political and incompetent. "They've clearly demonstrated through the tapes case that they don't believe that they are accountable to Congress," Hoekstra said. "And when we are at war, that is a terrible position for the intelligence community to be."
The tapes were created in 2002 and destroyed three years later. The reason cited was concerns that if they were leaked, the identities of the CIA interrogators would be compromised. They reportedly showed CIA officers interrogating Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda suspect linked to the Sept. 11 plot, using a technique known as waterboarding.
Human rights advocates, many Democratic lawmakers and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, say waterboarding is a form of torture and is banned under U.S. law and international treaties. The technique involves strapping a prisoner to a board, covering his face with cloth or other material and dousing the cloth with water to simulate drowning.
In the Fox interview, Harman said that she did not believe waterboarding worked and that she hoped the CIA's interrogation program would be forced to operate under the rules of the Army Field Manual, which prohibits harsh techniques and almost all physical stress. The House has passed legislation, which President Bush has threatened to veto, mandating such a requirement.
But Hoekstra would not swear off waterboarding.
"The last thing we ought to do is telegraph to Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations exactly what may happen if and when they are captured," Hoekstra said. "I don't want to give them our playbook."
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