Showdown Over Destroyed CIA Tapes This Week

A hearing this week will probe how -- and why -- tapes were destroyed.

Jan. 13, 2007 — -- In a closed door hearing scheduled for Wednesday, Congress plans to ask why the CIA destroyed tapes showing interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda operatives. Was it a cover-up?

National security author Ken Timmerman says, "All the members of the House Intelligence Committee are very upset about this, Republicans and Democrats."

Upset because they believe the tapes may have shown illegal torture. But the chief witness, former CIA official Jose Rodriguez — the man who ordered the destruction of the tapes — threatens to invoke the Fifth Amendment and remain silent, unless he is granted immunity from prosecution for anything he tells Congress.

Former U.S. prosecutor Alan Baron says, "If he takes the Fifth Amendment, if there's a hearing, it's like putting on 'Hamlet' without the prince." Chuckling, Baron adds, "Who's going to care?"

It's not funny to Congress, which is in a dilemma. If it grants immunity to Rodriguez, that could block a separate investigation being conducted by the Justice Department.

Twenty years ago, Oliver North was granted immunity by Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal. Later, he was tried and convicted. But his conviction was overturned when an appeals court decided the jurors at his trial were influenced by his testimony to Congress.

Sources tell ABC News that Congress, still mindful of what happened with North, is highly unlikely to grant immunity to Rodriguez.

Some of his former CIA colleagues have been saying privately that Rodriguez acted on his own, and that he did not get the approval of CIA lawyers to destroy the tapes.

That prompted a sharp denial from his lawyer, Robert Bennett, who said in a statement to ABC News, "It is unfortunate that, under the pressure of a congressional and criminal investigation, history is being revised, and some people are running for cover."

Even if Rodriguez refuses to testify, Congress will question another key witness, John Rizzo, the top lawyer at the CIA, and will demand to know whether anyone really gave Rodriguez the green light to destroy the tapes.