WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2007 — -- House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes told ABC News today that he will ignore the Bush administration's request to drop its investigation of why CIA interrogation tapes were destroyed.
"This is an administration that frankly does not have a good track record of policing itself," Reyes said. "We intend to go forward and issue subpoenas next week because we are a whole equal branch of government."
After telling Congress to get out of the way, the Justice Department took the highly unusual step of telling the same thing to a federal judge.
In 2005, Judge Henry Kennedy ordered the government not to destroy any evidence of mistreatment or torture at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Administration says that because the destroyed tapes were interrogations of two suspects in secret CIA prisons, not at Guantanamo, the judge should not interfere.
"This is becoming increasingly bizarre," said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School. "The Justice Department insists it will essentially investigate itself and then tells the court that because it is investigating itself it won't turn over evidence of its possible criminal misconduct. It's so circular, it's maddening."
An investigation could be embarrassing to politicians in both parties who received classified briefings five years ago on interrogation tactics, possibly including waterboarding.
Some former CIA officers say Congress and the White House want the information obtained from suspected terrorists, but refuse to take the heat when the harsh methods are leaked.
And now CIA officers could face criminal charges.
"The CIA guys say we were told to do this ... told to treat detainees this way. And we were told it was legal," said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archives. "Now we find out we were wrong. Now we're taking the blame."
When CIA agents saw politicians starting to distance themselves from the agency, some bought legal insurance policies. That now looks it might have been a smart investment.
In 2002, the CIA videotaped the interrogations of two terror suspects, including top al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. The tapes showed what the CIA calls "enhanced interrogation techniques," methods which critics call torture.
In February 2003, the CIA says it told the leaders of congressional intelligence committees about the tapes and that it planned to destroy them.
On Nov. 2, 2005, the Washington Post detailed the CIA's secret prison program known as "black sites." It was November 2005 that the CIA destroyed the tapes.
CIA director Michael Hayden said the tapes were destroyed because "they were no longer of intelligence value" and that they posed "a serious security risk" because if leaked, they'd reveal the identity of covert CIA agents.