Historien om de ødelagte videobåndene som viste vanntortur av Al Qaida-mannen Abu Zubeydah, har bare såvidt rørt på seg. Den har potensial til å plage president Bush lenge etter at han går av. Det amerikanske politiske systemet har en egen evne til å nøste og ikke gi seg når det først får fatt i en tråd. I Zubeydah-saken er det mange.
Den siste Jason Bourne-filmen ender som kjent i hemmelige CIA-lokaler, hvor han ble trent opp til å drepe totalt ukjente mennesker. Zubeydah-saken inneholder elementer som begynner å minne om Hollywood, skriver Andrew Sullivan. For Bush har selv sagt offentlig at det ble brukt «alternative metoder» under avhørene av Zubeydah. Nå er opptakene av avhørene ødelagt. Hvis presidenten tillot at en fange ble utsatt for ulovlige metoder, og så i ettertid forsøkte å dekke over det, er dette en stor sak.
Bush har selv sagt at avhørene av Zubeydah ga viktig informasjon. Hvis informasjonen er fremskaffet under tortur og så brukt i rettssaker, er fremskaffelsen et juridisk spørsmål. Den som har ødelagt bevisene for fremskaffelsen, har et tilsvarende problem. Autoriteten i begge tilfeller kan være Bush.
But this case is more ominous for the administration because it presents a core example of what seems to be a cover-up, obstruction of justice and a direct connection between torture and the president, the vice-president and their closest aides.
Because several courts had pending cases in which testimony from Zubaydah’s interrogation was salient, the destruction of such evidence triggers a legal process that is hard for the executive branch to stymie or stall – and its first attempt was flatly rebuffed by a judge last week.
Its key argument is a weakly technical one: that the interrogation took place outside US territory – and therefore the courts do not have jurisdiction over it. It’s the same rationale for imprisoning hundreds of suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba – a legal no man’s land. But Congress can get involved – especially if it believes that what we have here is a cover-up.
What are the odds that a legal effective interrogation of a key Al-Qaeda operative would have led many highly respected professionals in the US intelligence community to risk their careers by leaking top-secret details to the press?
What are the odds that the CIA would have sought to destroy tapes that could prove it had legally prevented serious and dangerous attacks against innocent civilians? What are the odds that a president who had never authorised waterboarding would be unable to say whether such waterboarding was torture?
What are the odds that, under congressional grilling, the new attorney-general would also refuse to say whether he believed waterboarding was illegal, if there was any doubt that the president had authorised it? The odds are beyond minimal.
Any reasonable person examining all the evidence we have – without any bias – would conclude that the overwhelming likelihood is that the president of the United States authorised illegal torture of a prisoner and that the evidence of the crime was subsequently illegally destroyed.
Congresswoman Jane Harman, the respected top Democrat on the House intelligence committee in 2003-06, put it as simply as she could: «I am worried. It smells like the cover-up of the cover-up.»
It’s a potential Watergate. But this time the crime is not a two-bit domestic burglary. It’s a war crime that reaches into the very heart of the Oval Office.