Mob-buster to quiz CIA over al-Qaeda tapes

Chris Gelken

America's top lawman has announced the launch of a criminal investigation into the CIA's destruction of videotapes allegedly showing the violent interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects being held at a secret prison.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed a modern day  'Untouchable' to head up the investigation. But will mob-buster John Durham be tough enough to take on the Central Intelligence Agency and possibly even the White House?

 "He's a very solid guy," New York journalist Lucy Komisar told PressTV in a satellite interview,  "In fact one of his big successes was putting away a Republican governor for corruption. He's also gone up against the FBI in Boston that was using mob informants in a way that ended up having some people killed that the FBI should have been protecting. So he doesn't have a problem going after the agencies of government, powerful agencies at that."

Durham will be investigating whether the CIA broke any laws when it destroyed the tapes that reportedly showed two high profile al-Qaeda prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah, being subjected to waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning.

According to a former CIA agent who spoke to ABC News late last year, Zubaydah broke after just 35-seconds.

Mukasey ordered the investigation based on a court order issued in 2005 that demanded the preservation of all evidence related to interrogations at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and criticism from the U.S. September 11th Commission which claims the CIA deliberately obstructed their investigation regarding the interrogation of suspects.

The commission told The New York Times that the CIA ignored their requests for information and did not notify them regarding the existence of the tapes.

 "The commission went to the CIA and asked for anything that would shed light on al-Qaeda and its leaders," Komisar told PressTV,  "they were not told about these tapes and they asked in many different ways if there was any other information that they should have received."

The case will likely bring the subject of torture back into sharp focus, and also highlight the question of America's secret prison network, sometimes referred to as the American Gulag.

 "We know there are at least eight of them," Komisar said,  "they are or were in Afghanistan, in Thailand and in a number of former East European countries, but we're not getting any official information and it really depends on whether or not the people who have the information stonewall when Durham conducts his grand jury."

Komisar explained that in the U.S. a grand jury is necessary to bring an indictment in a very serious criminal case.

 "A grand jury's proceedings are conducted in secret and the testimony that is taken is secret. So it really depends now on whether or not the administration people, the CIA people, are willing to talk," she said.

But, Komisar pointed out that refusing to give information to a grand jury can result in a charge of contempt and even a jail sentence.  "So this will be a difficult problem for a number of people," Komisar said.

One of the first to face questioning will be former CIA official Jose Rodriquez who has been called to appear on Jan. 16.

 "He's been a CIA guy for some 30 years," Komisar said,  "He was at various times the station chief in Argentina, Colombia and Mexico. He was the one who gave the order for the tapes to be destroyed, so if anyone is going to take the fall it is going to be him."

Komisar said the main question now, however, is what he is being told by the people in government, and when or if he gets indicted.

 "President Bush is in office for another year and he has a very interesting habit of issuing pardons to people who are clearly guilty of serious crimes," Komisar said.

The clear intimation is that Rodriquez might be encouraged to fall on his sword for the sake of the agency, and then receive a pardon from the White House. But according to earlier reports, it's not only the reputation of the Langley-based spy agency that is at stake.

President Bush has been accused of lying in regard to his knowledge of the tapes and their destruction. If Durham's investigation reveals proof of Bush's dishonesty, that could open up the way for impeachment.

 "Technically yes," agreed Komisar,  "but the problem is this is an election year and the Democrats and Republicans are busy fighting over who is going to be the successor. So I am not sure that members of Congress, even Democratic members would want to get involved in a fight over impeachment. It would be a big distraction and it might bring down a lot of criticism on the Democrats, and they don't want that."

* This is based on television interview conducted by author and first broadcast on PressTV on Thursday, 3rd January, 2008