Congress hearing comes as ex-interrogator defends waterboarding of al-Qaeda suspect.
“And I think that we’re going to hold [CIA director] Mike Hayden accountable.”
Variations include pouring water over face covered with cloth or cellophane, or dunking headfirst into water
Induces reflexive choking, gagging and feelings of suffocation
Dates back to the Spanish Inquisition
Earlier this month, the CIA acknowledged destroying videos showing the harsh interrogation of top al-Qaeda suspects.
Hayden said the videos, which were made in 2002, were destroyed in 2005 out of fear the tapes would leak and reveal the identities of interrogators.
He said the sessions were videotaped to provide an added layer of legal protection for officers using tough interrogation methods authorised by George Bush, the president, to help break down detainees.
The House panel subsequently vowed to investigate, requesting documents and making plans to call several witnesses.
But on Friday, the assistant attorney-general and the CIA inspector-general who are heading a separate preliminary inquiry into the videotape destruction, asked Hoekstra and the house intelligence committee chairman, Silvestre Reyes, to postpone the review until it is clear where the government’s preliminary inquiry will lead.
Kenneth Wainstein and John Helgerson, who could not say how long that would take, explained their inquiry would need the same documents and witnesses the committee has requested.
“Our ability to obtain the most reliable and complete information would likely be jeopardised if the CIA undertakes the steps necessary to respond to your requests in a comprehensive fashion at this time,” they wrote in a letter to the committee.
In particular, they cited the committee’s request to interview CIA inspector-general personnel “because they are potential witnesses in the matter under our inquiry”.
|“It smells like the cover-up of the cover-up”
Jane Harman, Democrat
On Sunday, Jane Harman, a Democrat, said a congressional review was necessary because it was an “independent branch of government”, noting that congress and the justice department have conducted many parallel inquiries in the past.
She also said that when she was the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, she sent a letter to the CIA warning the agency not to destroy the videotapes and “they did it anyway and they didn’t tell us”.
“So I am worried. It smells like the cover-up of the cover-up,” Harman said.
Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, reiterated his call for Mukasey to appoint a special counsel to investigate, citing the attorney-general’s refusal during confirmation hearings in October to describe waterboarding as torture.
Mukasey has said there is no need right now to appoint a special prosecutor.
“I don’t have confidence in the president. I don’t have confidence in the vice-president. And I don’t have confidence in the justice department,” said Biden, a 2008 presidential contender.
The US president has denied the torture of suspects but refuses to disclose the approved interrogation methods employed by the CIA.
Backers of harsh interrogation methods, including simulated drowning known as waterboarding, say such methods are needed to pry vital information out of enemy combatants but critics decry them as torture and say they are inhumane and yield unreliable information.