WASHINGTON (AFP) — US lawmakers on Sunday blasted the CIA for destroying interrogation tapes of terror suspects, saying it would damage America's standing and feed suspicions about possible torture.
A day after the Justice Department said it had opened a preliminary inquiry into the affair along with the CIA's internal watchdog, presidential hopefuls and lawmakers from both parties condemned the disposal of the videotapes.
"What this does in a larger sense is it harms the credibility and the moral standing of America in the world again," said Senator John McCain, a Republican contender for the White House who was abused as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"There will be skepticism and cynicism all over the world about how we treat prisoners and whether we practice torture or not," McCain told Fox television.
With Democrats and human rights groups charging President George W. Bush's administration may have tried to cover up past abuse, the revelation has revived debate about how President George W. Bush's administration has treated terror suspects.
CIA director Michael Hayden, who was not leading the agency when the tapes were destroyed in 2005, will face questions about interrogation methods on Tuesday when he is due to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the panel's chairman, John Rockefeller, told CBS television.
Amid expectations the Justice Department would eventually launch a full-blown probe, members of intelligence committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives said they would also investigate why the tapes were destroyed and what Bush and his aides knew about it.
"Burning tapes, destroying evidence ... I don't know how deep this goes. Could there be obstruction of justice? Yes," Republican Senator Chuck Hagel said on CBS.
"How far does this go up in the White House, who knew it? I don't know," Hagel said.
The White House has stopped short of denying any involvement in the affair, after the CIA admitted last week to the destruction of the tapes in light of a New York Times report.
Aides said that Bush "has no recollection" of being told about the tapes before the CIA chief briefed him last week.
Senator Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential hopeful, said an independent counsel should investigate the incident instead of the newly-appointed attorney general, Michael Mukasey, who has sidestepped questions about whether "waterboarding" constitutes torture.
"He's the same guy who couldn't decide whether or not waterboarding was torture, and he's going to be doing this investigation," Biden told ABC television.
Rights groups and Democratic lawmakers say waterboarding -- which simulates drowning -- amounts to torture and should be banned.
The Bush administration refuses to divulge what methods are allowed for interrogations of terror suspects but insists that the United States does not torture.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that a bipartisan group of members of Congress, including House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was given a detailed briefing about the CIA's interrogation techniques as early as 2002 and mainly approved of them.
The videotapes made in 2002 reportedly showed harsh interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who were among the first suspects interrogated by the CIA after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The storm over the tapes dealt another blow to US intelligence services still trying to recover from the debacle over alleged weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the main justification for the US-led 2003 invasion. No such weapon stockpiles were found.
The spy agencies were also under fire from conservative lawmakers and commentators over an intelligence report last week saying Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, contrary to previous US allegations.
Newt Gingrich, a former Republican Speaker, charged on Sunday the intelligence report's conclusions were shaped by former State Department employees who oppose Bush's policies.
"I think they deliberately undermined the administration. I think this is the equivalent of a coup d'etat by the bureaucracy," Gingrich told ABC.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »