Investigation Focused on Tapes, Not Torture

John Durham, the prosecutor tapped by Attorney General Michael Mukasey to probe the destruction of the CIA’s videotapes of interrogations, finally laid out in detail the purview of his investigation last week. And it’s clear that his focus is on the tapes themselves – not what they might show.

Given Mukasey’s refusal to investigate the use of waterboarding, that’s not much of a surprise. Mukasey had also allowed that Durham could look at the possible use of torture “if it leads to showing motive” for the destruction. Durham’s summary of his investigation jibes with that — showing that it’s all about the tapes, but that why someone might have destroyed the tapes will also be key to his investigation:

The questions under active review in this investigation focus on whether any federal criminal offenses were committed in connection with the destruction of the…videotapes. More specifically, the investigation team is actively reviewing whether any person or persons obstructed justice, made false statements, or acted in contempt of court or Congress in connection with the destruction of the videotapes. With respect to potential obstruction of justice offenses, we are investigating whether the destruction of the videotapes violated any order issued by any federal judicial officer, and, if so, what the persons’ knowledge, motive, and/or intent was in destroying the tapes or causing their destruction….

Central questions for this investigation include: who within the federal government knew of the existence of the videotaped interrogations at issue; who was aware of the various orders that might have required the preservation of the videotapes; and who was involved, in any way, in the decision and/or directive to destroy the videotapes.

In other words, whether any of this will lead to an examination of the interrogation techniques that were used on the two detainees whose interrogations were videotaped is unclear.

Durham made the disclosure, which was first reported by The New York Times this weekend, as part of the government’s bid to convince a federal judge to withdraw an order to explain the tapes’ destruction. You can read it here.