Levin compares destruction of CIA tapes to Watergate

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Sen. Carl Levin compared the Central Intelligence Agency's 2005 destruction of detainee interrogation videotapes to Watergate on Wednesday, as he vowed to introduce new legislation in the final days of his last term.

The Detroit Democrat said White House approval of allowing the CIA to destroy videotapes of interrogation of terror detainees was similar to the 1972 break-in at the Watergate complex of Democratic Party offices that brought down President Richard M. Nixon in 1974.

The destruction of the tapes came as Levin was pressing for an independent commission in Congress to investigate detainee policies and reports of abuses. The proposal was narrowly defeated; a day after the vote, the tapes were destroyed.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on harsh treatment of detainees by the CIA, released Tuesday, disclosed that the agency was worried about Levin's efforts.

The CIA's acting general counsel John Rizzo wrote that "Sen. Levin's proposal for a 9/11-type outside commission to be established on detainees seems to be gaining some traction, which obviously would serve to surface the tapes' existence. ... I think I need to be the skunk at the party again and see if the director is willing to let us try one more time to get the right people downtown on board with the notion of our destroying the tapes."

Levin cited Rizzo's email that sought permission from "downtown" — an apparent reference to the White House.

"It reminds me of Watergate," Levin told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. Levin called the episode "one striking example of CIA efforts to evade oversight."

He said the lengthy report showed the tactics "violated our values this nation has long stood for, while adding little benefit to our security. Torture is never the American way. Concealing the truth is never the American way. Our nation stands for something better. Our people deserve something better — they deserve an intelligence community that conducts itself according to the law, according to basic human values, and with the safety of our troops in mind. And they deserve better than intelligence tactics that are likely to produce useless lies instead of valuable intelligence."

Levin said U.S. troops were "jeopardized" because U.S. intelligence officers tortured terrorists in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

"They are going to face (torture) and we aren't going to have any defense," Levin said. He also said "more false leads than good leads" came from torture, which uses up valuable resources. "People who are being tortured will say anything."

A group of former CIA officials launched a website Tuesday called CIASavedLives.com to defend the agency against the Senate Democratic report. They argue the report politicizes interrogation tactics that were disclosed to key oversight lawmakers and that the program was authorized and legal.

Despite having a handful of days left in office, Levin said he has several bills he is considering introducing, including one on reforming commodity practices. They were the subject of hearings in front of the permanent subcommittee on investigations that he chairs. He also plans to make his farewell address on Thursday, but it could be pushed back until Friday.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com