Rep. Boehner Explains GOP Strategy on CIA Tapes House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) talks with Robert Siegel about the CIA's decision to destroy videos of interrogation suspects, and about Republican strategy as a Congressional recess and deadlines for a variety of spending bills loom.
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Rep. Boehner Explains GOP Strategy on CIA Tapes

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Rep. Boehner Explains GOP Strategy on CIA Tapes

Rep. Boehner Explains GOP Strategy on CIA Tapes

Rep. Boehner Explains GOP Strategy on CIA Tapes

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) talks with Robert Siegel about the CIA's decision to destroy videos of interrogation suspects, and about Republican strategy as a Congressional recess and deadlines for a variety of spending bills loom.


And this is the first item on the agenda now for our next guest, who's joining us from Capitol Hill, Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.

Welcome back to the program, Representative Boehner.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): Robert, good afternoon.

SIEGEL: You just heard the report on the CIA Director Michael Hayden's visit to the Senate today. What do you make of the CIA's destruction of those videotapes?

Rep. BOEHNER: Well, I'm not comfortable with it. And I believe Congress should have been fully briefed and consulted on the matter before they were destroyed. Both Congress and the Justice Department will and, I think, should look into the matter.

SIEGEL: Congresswoman Jane Harman, who used to be ranking Democrat on intelligence, said on this program yesterday that few years ago, she learned of these interrogations being videotaped, and she was concerned enough to send a letter saying please don't destroy any videotapes. Does that constitute, as you understand it, the will of Congress being thwarted or ignored by the CIA?

Rep. BOEHNER: Well, it's clear that the White House was unaware of the existence of these tapes, nor the fact that they were destroyed. And it's clear that the Congress - both the House and the Senate - respective intelligence committees where in the dark as well.

And so I think the investigations that are underway are warranted. And I think it's important for us to get to the bottom of what did happen.

SIEGEL: Let's move on to spending. I assume you haven't reached a spending agreement in the few minutes that you've been on the line, waiting to talk with us.

Rep. BOEHNER: Not that I'm aware of.

SIEGEL: What's happened here? Just on Sunday afternoon, I heard you telling Wolf Blitzer on CNN that your party had lost the elections in 2006 because you've lost the whole brand of fiscal responsibility. I thought you were standing with the principle - with the president, rather, on his limits for spending. Now, you've seen your way through to an extra $7 billion. What happened to you on Monday?

Rep. BOEHNER: Well, the question that was raised earlier today was over the issue of emergency spending. And, probably, it was premature because I'm only aware of some of the emergency spending that was included in the bill. But until we see the bill, you know, it's hard to comment. My point on Sunday - and frankly it has been all year - is that Republicans are here to hold the line on spending. And we've seen a lot of wasteful spending in the past. Frankly, we were responsible for some of them. And we lost the last election. We heard what people said loud and clear.

And so all year, we've made clear to the Democrat majority that we were going to work off the president's number. It's important that we hold the line on spending. And I believe that we've done that all year. We're going to continue.

SIEGEL: By the way, we heard you - I think most of us heard you as saying - you were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush on spending. And what I hear you say now is, well, it's important to hold the line, but there are also some other projects that might be worth spending on.

Rep. BOEHNER: No. Frankly, the president is in the same position that I'm in. What I said earlier today is that there's some emergency spending that's part of this package that passes the straight face test. I don't see there's a problem.

SIEGEL: And have you found $7 billion that passed the straight test - the straight face test?

Rep. BOEHNER: Well, we have not seen the bill yet.

SIEGEL: I see.

Rep. BOEHNER: We thought we were going to see the bill today, but we haven't seen it.

SIEGEL: I want to take you back to January, when we spoke the day that the new Congress opened. And you said then that the Republicans want to work with Democrats to deal with issues Americans care about. What evidence of that has there been so far since you've been leader?

Rep. BOEHNER: Well, unfortunately, Robert, there hasn't been any. You know, I've been around the Congress for 17 years. I've got some major legislative accomplishments under my bill. And all of them have been done in a bipartisan fashion from the beginning, not only in the House, but through the Senate as well. And I was hopeful that Speaker Pelosi wouldn't make some of the mistakes that the Republican majority made by overreaching and going it alone. But what we've seen all year is an effort to overreach, to only consider what the Democrat majority wants to do.

SIEGEL: She - you're saying her behavior reminds you what Republican behavior was in the last Congress, is that what you tell us?

Rep. BOEHNER: Some of it. It sure does. And at the end of the day, I think the American people want us to find a way to work together to raise all of our differences, find common ground, and move the legislative process and deal with the issues the American people sent us here to deal with. But we've not seen any of that bipartisan effort or reaching out at all as the years has progressed.

SIEGEL: Well, Representative Boehner, we'll - over the coming days, I'm sure you'll hear for some Democrats on that same script. But thank you very much for talking with us about it.

Rep. BOEHNER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican House leader.

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The CIA Interrogation Tapes: A Primer

The CIA interrogation tapes were made sometime in 2002, shortly after the capture of several alleged al-Qaida members, including Abu Zubaydah, pictured above in an undated photo. AP Photo/U.S. Central Command hide caption

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AP Photo/U.S. Central Command

News that the CIA made and then destroyed videotapes of its agents using harsh interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects has caused ripples on Capitol Hill and around the world. The case is complicated and, like all things involving the CIA, shrouded in mystery.

Here is a primer on what is known — and not known — about the tapes and their destruction.

When were these tapes filmed?

Sometime in 2002, shortly after the capture of several alleged al-Qaida members, including Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. They were among the first suspects interrogated by the CIA after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

What did the tapes show?

They showed harsh interrogation methods being used against the terrorism suspects, reportedly including "waterboarding," or controlled drowning, a centuries-old interrogation technique that human rights groups and others call torture.

Why did the CIA make the tapes?

The agency wanted to document the evidence obtained during the interrogations and, according to CIA Director Michael Hayden, ensure that the interrogation techniques were legal.

When were they destroyed, and why?

The tapes were destroyed in November 2005. CIA officials say they feared the identity of the interrogators might be made public, placing them in danger of retaliation by al-Qaida. Human rights groups and many members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — don't buy that argument. They accuse the CIA of, in the words of GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, destroying the tapes "to cover somebody's rear end."

Was it illegal to destroy the videotapes?

That's not yet clear. The Justice Department and the CIA's internal watchdog have launched a joint preliminary investigation, and so has the House Intelligence Committee. (There is little support, though, for the appointment of a special prosecutor.) Those who ordered the tapes destroyed could, in theory, be prosecuted on charges of obstruction of justice, though legal experts say it would be a difficult case to prove.

Who knew about the existence of the tapes?

Senior CIA officials, as well as a few members of Congress, who were briefed about the tapes as early as 2002, according to The Washington Post. They reportedly condoned the interrogation techniques the agency was using. In addition, CIA officials claim they briefed three members of congressional intelligence committees in 2003, telling them about the tapes and the agency's intention to eventually destroy them. Several members of the panel, though, disagree with that assertion. They say they were told of the tapes' existence but not of any CIA plans to destroy them.

Did President Bush know about the tapes?

Not according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. She says President Bush "has no recollection" of being consulted about the tapes' existence or their destruction. Perino, though, could not rule out the possibility that other White House officials knew about the tapes.

Could CIA interrogators be successfully prosecuted for what was on the tapes?

In theory, yes, but it's highly unlikely. During his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused to say whether harsh interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, amounted to torture. In addition, the CIA agents could use the so-called White House "torture memo" as part of their defense. The memo, drafted in 2002 at the request of the CIA, gave U.S. interrogators wide latitude. It concluded that "physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Critics say the memo was drafted to provide legal cover for agents using severe interrogation methods.

What was the political climate at the time that the tapes were destroyed?

Stormy. News outlets were running investigative stories about secret CIA prisons abroad, while Congress and the courts were investigating whether "enhanced interrogation" techniques crossed the line into torture. Photos of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison were splashed across front pages. Not long after the tapes were destroyed, Congress adopted the Detainee Treatment Act. The law prohibits not only torture, but "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of all U.S. detainees, including those in CIA custody. And last June, the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to the protections afforded by the Geneva Convention.

Did anyone ever ask the CIA to turn over the tapes?

Yes and no. The 9/11 Commission asked the agency for all relevant information about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and their immediate aftermath. The commission, though, did not ask for the specific tapes in question. In November 2005, a federal judge overseeing the trial of terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui ordered the government to disclose whether it had video or audio tapes of specific interrogations. The CIA did not turn over any tapes.