Dec 27, 2007

Judge defers hearing on CIA tapes

A US judge has deferred ruling on whether the CIA's destruction of videotapes allegedly showing the mistreatment of two al-Qaeda suspects was illegal.
Henry Kennedy, a federal district court judge, held a hearing on Friday to determine whether the intelligence agency had broken a 2005 order of his to preserve evidence of torture at the camp.
A lawyer for a group of Yemeni detainees held in Guantanamo Bay had argued that the US intelligence agency had violated the order and urged an inquiry.
However the US government said any such inquiry should wait until the US justice department finished its own investigation into the affair.
At the hearing in Washington DC, Judge Kennedy appeared to agree in part with the US government, saying at one point: "Why should the court not permit the department of Justice to do just that?"
The judge did not say when he would issue his ruling.
The hearing marked the first time the US government had been in court over the tapes since the CIA admitted earlier this month it had destroyed them.
David Remes, US Guantanamo detainee lawyer David Remes, lawyer for the Guantanamo detainees, had asked the court to call an inquiry as the tapes - made in 2002 and not actually at Guantanamo - because they reportedly show two suspects undergoing waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning widely considered torture.
Remes said the government was prohibited from destroying any evidence that could be relevant in a case, even if not directly noted in a court order.
"We have a smoking gun, as it were, with respect to the government's destruction of potentially relevant evidence," he said at the hearing.
However Joseph Hunt, the US justice department's lawyer, said a court inquiry would be "unwise and imprudent" and could damage the joint Justice Department-CIA investigation's investigation.
Hunt added that justice department officials would notify the court if they found evidence that Judge Kennedy's court order had been violated.
Remes countered that such an inquiry would be like "foxes guarding the henhouse".
In addition to the CIA-justice department investigation, both the US house and senate intelligence committees are holding inquiries into the scandal.
The CIA's admission earlier this month that the tapes had been destroyed caused widespread anger amongst human rights groups and some Democrat members of Congress.
The CIA denies torture and says the tapes were destroyed to protect the identity of the agents involved.
Source: Agencies

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