Washington A federal judge in Washington on Tuesday ordered a court hearing Friday to examine whether the CIA violated a judicial order by destroying videotapes showing harsh interrogation methods, rebuffing pleas from the Bush administration that he stay out of the matter while the executive branch's own probe is underway.
The Justice Department had told U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. earlier that he had no jurisdiction to inquire into the destruction of the tapes. It separately told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week to delay public hearings on the tapes' destruction while the department's National Security Division and the CIA inspector general's office conducted their probe.
Congress agreed not to hold hearings now, but Kennedy decided, without comment, to schedule the court hearing.
The dispute centers on hundreds of hours of CIA videotape showing coercive interrogation tactics used on two senior al-Qaida suspects in 2002: Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, commonly known as Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. CIA Director Michael Hayden and other officials said earlier this month that the tapes had been destroyed to protect the identities of interrogators.
The tapes were destroyed in November 2005, intelligence officials said. In June of that year, Kennedy had ordered the government to preserve detention and interrogation records as part of an ongoing civil lawsuit by a group of detainees held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The lawsuit is only one of several cases in which courts have ordered the government to preserve documents or other records related to interrogations, and the destruction of the tapes has been raised by multiple lawyers as a possible obstruction of justice by the CIA that could interfere with efforts to determine whether some clients were tortured into making false admissions.
Lawyers for a man convicted of terrorism charges alongside al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla asked a federal judge in Miami on Tuesday, for example, to order the government to turn over any new information on Abu Zubaydah, who had helped identify Padilla to U.S. authorities.
In the Washington case, lawyers for the plaintiffs sought a hearing to examine whether the destruction of the tapes violated the June 2005 preservation order or otherwise undermined the government's credibility.
An attorney in the case, David Remes, wrote in a brief filed Monday that the plaintiffs' concerns "reach well beyond whether the government has violated the Court's preservation order, to the more general question of the government's handling of evidence that may be relevant to this case."