Recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) decided to not bring criminal charges against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the destruction of federal records: videotapes of the torture of detainees at CIA black sites. The destruction of these records is a clear violation of the Federal Records Act, which DOJ should have pursued. The decision to date to give the CIA a free-pass is antithetical to DOJ’s mission to enforce the law of the land, and sends the wrong message to agencies that may have information that, if released, would be embarrassing or reveal illegal activities.
As chronicled by Michael Isikoff for MSNBC.com, the records in question are videotapes that involved "hundreds of hours of material showing the interrogations, including waterboarding, of two 'high value' detainees...CIA officials have said the tapes were destroyed because they were concerned that, if they were ever released, they could subject CIA interrogators to reprisals. But internal emails released earlier this year under a Freedom of Information Act request show that the agency official who ordered the destruction had expressed concerns that if the images were disclosed 'out of context, they would make us look terrible; it would be devastating to us.”'
In a January 21 memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act, President Obama directed Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies that the government “not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.” Surely, the President was not suggesting that potentially embarrassing information should not be withheld, but it can be destroyed. By destroying these records, the CIA denied Americans of the right to fully know and debate actions the government takes in our name, and to hold government accountable for those actions. The CIA’s actions also destroyed evidence that is crucial to ensuring that torture victims have a fair day in court.
Not all of our leaders in the federal government are willing to stand by, though. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) launched an early investigation into the issue, which was put on hold for the DOJ. NARA has indicated that they will re-start their investigation in light of DOJ’s failure to take the lead. Join us in thanking NARA for its willingness to demand the CIA answer for its actions, and expressing great hope that DOJ support NARA.