No Criminal Charges In CIA Tapes Case

No one will be charged in connection with the 2005 destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, in an episode that opened up tension between the Justice Department and the CIA and led to a grand jury investigation that has lasted more than two years. It's still possible someone could be charged with satellite violations, such as lying to the grand jury — and a broader inquiry into whether CIA contractors broke the law in their harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects is continuing. Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson, who broke the story.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

No one will face criminal charges for destroying CIA videotapes that showed interrogation of detainees. News of those tapes first came to light in late 2007 and touched off a criminal investigation that's lasted for more than two years. The statute of limitations on the tapes' destruction expired this week.

NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson broke this story, and now she's here to talk about it. Hi.

CARRIE JOHNSON: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: And first, remind us when these tapes were made and why they were destroyed.

JOHNSON: These tapes appeared to have been made in 2002, and they captured footage of a few high-value detainees in CIA custody in black site prisons overseas. The reasons behind making these tapes remain a bit murky. All along, though, the CIA executives involved in making the tapes seemed to be uncomfortable about them. They had discussions over a three-year period about what to do with them. And finally, in November 2005, Jose Rodriquez, who was then the agency's top clandestine officer, ordered them to be destroyed.

SIEGEL: These were tapes of interrogations of - they're some people we've heard of - Abu Zubaydah is one of the people who was interrogated.

JOHNSON: Abu Zubaydah, who was a famous al-Qaida money man; and al-Nashiri, a man who's suspected of being involved in the plotting for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

SIEGEL: Now, as you understand it, after this active investigation, why weren't there any criminal charges brought for destroying tapes before the statute of limitations expired this week?

JOHNSON: Well, Robert, it really was not for want of trying. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey in the Bush administration appointed a special prosecutor to investigate this. That man, John Durham, has been having a very active grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, hauling in former CIA executives, agency lawyers and a host of other people to testify about the reasons for those tapes' destruction.

And he just, it appears, couldn't prove that the tapes were destroyed for a matter of ill intent. There was no apparently criminal wrongdoing in the destruction of the tapes themselves.

SIEGEL: What is the Obama administration saying about this?

JOHNSON: The Justice Department confirmed a few hours after we broke the story online that the investigation into the destruction of the tapes had ended without charges. That said, I've been calling around all day to sources - lawyers involved in the investigation and others - they tell me there's still a possibility that people could be charged for making false statements to the grand jury, or otherwise obstructing justice.

However, Jose Rodriquez's defense lawyer, Bob Bennett, told me this afternoon that Jose Rodriquez is a real patriot and he never broke the law.

SIEGEL: But there are things - at least it's been reported - there are things that were captured in these destroyed videotapes that were very disturbing, if not plainly illegal.

JOHNSON: Robert, that's a very important point. In some of the content portrayed on these videotapes and elsewhere, including menacing of a detainee with a gun and a drill, some detainees were injured and some even died after interrogations. And all of that conduct remains under active criminal investigation by the special prosecutor John Durham.

The Justice Department has said it will not prosecute CIA operatives who acted within the bounds of the law. But if they violated those laws, they still could face criminal jeopardy.

SIEGEL: So the investigation of what was being videotaped may still be going on. The actual destruction of the videotapes is what is now at an end.

JOHNSON: That's exactly right. And that investigation into what was being videotaped could take some period of time because we do know the special prosecutor in this case, John Durham, is an exceedingly cautious man.

SIEGEL: NPR's Carrie Johnson.

Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Robert.

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