Just-Asking Jane Accepts a Spy-Guy Brush Off

Drop by drop we learn more about Tapegate. Yesterday, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) released a telling declassified letter exchange between herself and the CIA about a plan to destroy an interrogation tape.

What makes it telling is that the letter was written in 2003. CIA officials have said the tapes were destroyed in 2005. So that would mean the issue was discussed for at least two years.

What makes it compelling is that the CIA never directly responded to the concerns Harman raised and the veteran lawmaker evidently was willing to accept "no answer" for an answer. Shame on the CIA for blowing off a serious inquiry. But shame on Harman for allowing it to happen.

In her February 2003 letter, Harman wrote to then-CIA General Counsel Scott Muller: "You discussed the fact that there is videotape of [Al Qaeda leader] Abu Zubaydah following his capture that will be destroyed after the Inspector General finishes his inquiry. I would urge the Agency to reconsider that plan. Even if the videotape does not constitute an official record that must be preserved under the law, the videotape would be the best proof that the written record is accurate, if such record is called into question in the future. The fact of destruction would reflect badly on the Agency."

To which Muller replied -- in so many words -- don't worry your pretty little head about it: "As we informed both you and the leadership of the Intelligence Committees last September, a number of Executive Branch lawyers including lawyers from the Department of Justice participated in the determination that, in the appropriate circumstances, use of these techniques is fully consistent with US law. While I do not think it appropriate for me to comment on issues that are a matter of policy, much less the nature and extent of Executive Branch policy deliberations, I think it would be fair to assume that policy as well as legal matters have been addressed within the Executive Branch."

Chew on Muller's response for an extra second with your morning muffin. We now know that the "techniques" were not necessarily "fully consistent with US law" and that this "US law" has been emphatically rejected by Congress, if not the courts. And of course, Muller never bothered to address Harman's concerns about destroying the 'best proof" of the interrogations.

This was, in short, a sham exchange. Unless there is another yet-to-be-declassified set of mash notes, Harman asked a question designed to cover her you-know-what without caring enough to pursue the truth. And Muller wrote a response designed to be opaque and non-responsive. Each fulfilled some preconceived role in the kabuki dance that is the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. But, in the end, the tapes were destroyed, the destruction was never explained to the Congress, not even in secret, and we are where we are today: gearing up for a long battle.

By Andrew Cohen |  January 3, 2008; 9:08 PM ET
Previous: Tapegate Probe Will Outlast Bush Presidency | Next: Court to Hear Child-Rape Death-Penalty Challenge


Please email us to report offensive comments.

At least Harmon asked the question. Whether it was COA or not, it means that no one can now say that the congress never even questioned the destruction. So, good for Jane.

Posted by: rj2z J. Tewes | January 4, 2008 10:07 AM

Yes, good for Jane. She will not have been the first or last Democratic member to have been stonewalled by this administration. The question is where was Pelosi? And the followup - would Pelosi's friend Reyes done any better? Doubtful. His meekness at this time is more damning.

BTW, anyone agree that Harmon should be Obama's running mate?

Posted by: mike s | January 4, 2008 10:44 AM

Not on your life!

Posted by: The Speaker | January 4, 2008 03:01 PM

Where is Pelosi? Promoting the importance of Santa CLAUSe to Mrs.CLAUSe? This CIA matter was addressed and needs to be buried. Waterboarding and other CIA techniques have been classified as inhumane. Please, Mr.Cheney don't close the North Pole, Muller would like to go skiing.

Posted by: Diane | January 4, 2008 03:14 PM

I guess that what scares the holy heck out of me is that so many members of Congress knew about the tapes and their possible destruction and nobody did anything about it. With the possible exception of covering their asses with meaningless memos, no one in either intelligence committee did anything. Perhaps a prerequisite for being appointed to these committees is a lack of backbone. Neither Pelosi, Harman nor Jay Rockefeller saw fit to expose the illegalities that were being carried out in the name of the American people. I don't care what rules of secrecy apply to these committee members, if you knowingly allow illegal acts to occur, you are aiding and abetting a criminal act. These people should be instantly removed from power. I realize that I am only picking on Democrats, but I expected more of them. We all know that Republicans have no mind of their own and will follow George W. Bush off a cliff like lemmings if necessary. It just greatly disturbs me that the Democrats are almost as bad. No wonder Obama and Huckabee won in Iowa. They were among the few running for President without the stench or cowardice of Washington on them.

Posted by: Veteran1 | January 4, 2008 04:01 PM

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