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John Rizzo, acting general counsel of the CIA, is facing a tough slog. Hours after CIA Director Michael Hayden announced that the agency had destroyed videotapes of its officers using harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, congressional Democrats demanded an investigation, some alleging that the CIA action amounted to obstruction of justice. In June 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the CIA for documents related to the agency’s detainment and interrogation of suspected terrorists. A federal judge in New York ordered the agency to identify relevant documents in February 2005. Nine months later, CIA officials ordered that the videotapes be destroyed, Hayden said last week. “The CIA destroyed them at a time when they were subject to litigation in our [Freedom of Information Act] suit and when the agency was under a federal court order to produce those tapes,” says Jameel Jaffer, a national security lawyer at the ACLU. Rizzo, a 32-year veteran of the CIA and its acting general counsel since 2004, is charged with vetting the legality of the interrogation and detainment powers the president granted the CIA after 9/11. Bryan Cunningham, a former CIA associate general counsel in the 1990s and now a security consultant based in Colorado, says it’s possible the CIA’s lawyers were unaware of the tapes, while operations officials were oblivious to the ACLU lawsuit. “If John Rizzo were aware that these tapes were subject to a lawsuit, he would not approve them being destroyed unless he got the court’s approval.” And if he did? “You’d have some CIA people held in contempt,” Cunningham says.
Joe Palazzolo can be contacted at [email protected]. Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be contacted at [email protected].

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