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Lawmaker says CIA official defied instructions on videos

Times Staff Writer

A senior House Republican said information gathered by the House Intelligence Committee indicated that a high-ranking CIA official ordered the destruction of videotapes depicting agency interrogation sessions even though he was directed not to do so.

The remark by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) contradicts previous accounts that suggested that Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the CIA official who ordered the tapes destroyed, was never instructed to preserve them. Hoekstra’s statement was quickly challenged by Rodriguez’s lawyer.

“It appears he hadn’t gotten authority from anyone” to order the tapes’ destruction, Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the panel, said of Rodriguez. “It appears that he got direction to make sure the tapes were not destroyed.”

Hoekstra’s comments came as the House Intelligence Committee held its second classified hearing on the matter, receiving closed-door testimony from the acting general counsel of the CIA.

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Rodriguez, head of the CIA’s clandestine service, also had been scheduled to appear at the hearing. But the committee withdrew its request that he testify after his lawyer said he would refuse to answer questions unless given immunity.

Rodriguez’s lawyer, Robert Bennett, disputed Hoekstra’s statements. “He’s wrong,” Bennett said of the Republican lawmaker.

Rodriguez “never got any direction not to do it,” Bennett said. To the contrary, Bennett said, “He was told that as head of the clandestine service, he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that there was no legal impediment to doing it.”

Rodriguez is at the center of a criminal obstruction of justice investigation by the Justice Department, as well as inquiries by the House and Senate intelligence committees, into his role in the destruction of videotapes that showed CIA interrogators using harsh methods to question suspected Al Qaeda members in 2002.

The tapes were destroyed in November 2005, at a time when the CIA was coming under intense scrutiny for its secret network of overseas prisons and its use of brutal interrogation tactics. Among the methods recorded on the tapes was waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

Critics have described waterboarding as torture, and accused the agency of disposing of the tapes to destroy evidence of potentially illegal behavior. The agency has denied that, and maintains that its interrogation methods were legal and approved in advance by the Justice Department.

Current and former CIA officials have said that the tapes were destroyed out of concern for the safety of agency operatives who could be identified if the tapes were leaked to the public.

According to accounts by some of the current and former officials, Rodriguez ordered the tapes destroyed after receiving a request to dispose of the recordings from the CIA’s station chief in Bangkok, Thailand, where one of the agency’s secret prison facilities was located. Details about that request were first revealed Wednesday in a report by the Washington Post.

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Lawmakers declined to discuss details of their hearing Wednesday with John Rizzo, the acting general counsel of the CIA, who was involved in discussions within the agency about whether the tapes should be destroyed. Former CIA officials have said that Rizzo cautioned against doing so but did not instruct Rodriguez to preserve the recordings.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), chairman of the committee, said Rizzo’s testimony was “highly detailed,” adding that the panel has also received more than 300 pages of internal CIA documents.

Reyes and Hoekstra said they still intended to compel Rodriguez to testify before the committee but indicated that they were considering whether to grant Rodriguez’s request for immunity. Rodriguez is in the process of retiring from the agency.

The hearing came on the same day that the nation’s top intelligence official, J. Michael McConnell, delivered a speech in Maryland in which he was asked about waterboarding.

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McConnell had been quoted in an article in this week’s New Yorker magazine saying that for him “it would be torture” to be subjected to waterboarding. Asked about the comment, McConnell defended the CIA’s interrogation program, and said information gleaned through interrogations had disrupted potentially deadly terrorist plots.

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greg.miller@latimes.com


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