Torture, Lies, & Videotape

Thanks to Larry Johnson at No Quarter, for the link.

Earlier this year, Senator Ron Wyden got a bit of ink — including a mention in Jane Mayer’s article on the Central Intelligence Agency’s black sites in The New Yorker — for putting a hold on the nomination of John Rizzo as general counsel of the CIA. As a result of the hold, the Bush administration withdrew the nomination.

But as articles in the International Herald Tribune and elsewhere pointed out, by the time Wyden placed his hold, Rizzo had already served as acting general counsel for most of the past six years.

In August, I wrote a letter to Wyden, asking him whether his hold on Rizzo’s nomination to permanent status would have “any effect on his status as de facto general counsel at the CIA.”

Yesterday, of course, news came out that the CIA had destroyed “at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about its secret detention program.”

According to the article from The New York Times:

The tapes were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks, several officials said.

As the general counsel to the CIA, there’s a vanishingly small possibility that John Rizzo was not involved in any decisions about what did or did not “expose agency officials to legal risks” or whether the existence of the videotapes should be shared with the various committees investigating both the 9/11 attacks and CIA detention programs.

In his response to me — coincidentally dated Halloween — Wyden says he placed his hold on Rizzo because of his demonstrated willingness to “let major programs go forward without a firm legal foundation in place”, referring specifically to the 2002 Justice Department legal opinion on what constitutes torture.

At Wyden’s August town hall, I asked him whether he trusted the Bush administration. My interpretation of his “trust but verify” comment then was that deep down Wyden did trust the administration to do the right thing, despite years of obvious lying to Congress, the American people, and the rest of the world. Maybe even to themselves. After I posted about his remark, one of his aides reportedly told torridjoe from Loaded Oyrgun that “Wyden does NOT trust the President on Iraq, Iran and civil liberties.”

Wyden’s Halloween letter to me ends this way:

I am pleased the the President has withdrawn Mr. Rizzo’s nomination, and I am hopeful that the President will now pick somebody who will ensure that our national counterterrorism programs have the solid legal foundation they need.

John Rizzo is still acting general counsel of the CIA.