As of Sunday, the official line on the destruction of the CIA’s torture tapes was that the agency had been warned to preserve the videos. The White House, in particular, was at least tacitly aware of the videos’ existence, and the White House counsel’s office urged the CIA to keep them intact.
So, who exactly was involved in identifying incriminating evidence and giving the order to destroy it? The NYT reports today that CIA lawyers “gave written approval in advance” of the 2005 video destruction.
The former intelligence official acknowledged that there had been nearly two years of debate among government agencies about what to do with the tapes, and that lawyers within the White House and the Justice Department had in 2003 advised against a plan to destroy them. But the official said that C.I.A. officials had continued to press the White House for a firm decision, and that the C.I.A. was never given a direct order not to destroy the tapes.
“They never told us, ‘Hell, no,’” he said. “If somebody had said, ‘You cannot destroy them,’ we would not have destroyed them.”
Kevin Drum summarized just how weak the latest version of events from the Bush administration really is: “The White House had been in the loop for two years. The CIA had received letters from both the Justice Department and congressional leaders arguing that the tapes shouldn’t be destroyed. The CIA’s top lawyer had been involved for the entire time. And yet we’re supposed to believe that, in 2005, a mid-ranking agency lawyer suddenly decided the tapes could be destroyed and the head of the clandestine branch then gave the order to do so without anyone else being involved? Really? Does anyone actually believe this story?”
No, not if they’re paying attention they won’t. Oliver Willis’ observation was quite apt: "The #1 Rule for the Bush Administration: If they say something, don’t believe them.”