Lawyers for the U.S. government urged a federal judge on Friday not to launch his own investigation into the destruction of CIA videotapes that showed officers using harsh interrogation methods as they questioned suspects.
The lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy to hold off until the U.S. Department of Justice and the CIA finish their own investigation into the matter.
Kennedy, who heard the lawyers' arguments during a hearing in Washington, appeared to agree, although he has not yet announced his final decision.
"Why should the court not permit the Department of Justice to do just that, [conduct its investigation first]?" Kennedy said.
The CIA disclosed this month that it had destroyed tapes of officers questioning two al-Qaeda suspects. The two suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were being held in CIA prisons in secret locations overseas.
At the hearing Friday, government lawyer Joseph Hunt said the joint Justice Department-CIA investigation will delve into an issue of concern to the court— whether the government violated any court orders. Hunt promised the judge that once the government investigation is done, lawyers will tell the court if its rules were broken.
The federal court two years ago ordered the government not to destroy any evidence of mistreatment or abuse in Guantanamo Bay, an American military base in Cuba that the U.S. has been using since 2002 to house suspected terrorists captured in military operations.
But government lawyers have said the order was not violated because the suspects who were interrogated in the destroyed tapes were not at Guantanamo.
'We have a smoking gun'
David Remes, a lawyer for some detainees at Guantanamo Bay, appeared at the federal court hearing on Friday and argued that the destruction of the CIA tapes may indicate that other evidence was destroyed.
"We have a smoking gun, as it were, with respect to the government's destruction of potentially relevant evidence," Remes said.
Remes urged the court not to take a back seat to the CIA and Justice Department investigation.
"The Justice Department may have sanctioned the destruction of these videotapes," Remes said. "Now they are asking the court to stay out, on the ground it is investigating the destruction of these videotapes."
The CBC's Henry Champ, reporting from Washington, said it would appear the judge will side with the government lawyers.
"The judge will announce shortly that he's not carrying on his independent investigation," Champ predicted.
Perception an issue for White House
Champ said the biggest issue the White House and administration faces is the perception that human rights may have been violated. Critics will suspect that a higher authority in the administration gave the order to have the tapes destroyed, Champ said.
"Throughout the entire war on terrorism, there's been this feeling that somehow the administration has run roughshod over civil rights," Champ said. "They see this as yet another of those condemnations. It's a black mark against the White House.
"Until we find out about what happened to these tapes, the feeling is going to be that somebody in the White House interfered with the legal right of individuals in the care of the American justice system.