A federal judge refused on Wednesday to delve into the destruction of CIA interrogation videos, saying there was no evidence the Bush administration violated a court order and the Justice Department deserved time to conduct its own investigation.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy was a victory for the Bush administration, which had urged the courts not to wade into a politically charged issue already being investigated by the Justice Department, CIA and Congress.
The CIA has acknowledged last month that in 2005 it destroyed videos of officers using tough interrogation methods while questioning two al-Qaida suspects. Lawyers for other terrorism suspects quickly asked Kennedy to hold hearings, saying the executive branch had proved itself unreliable and could not be trusted to investigate its own potential wrongdoing.
Kennedy disagreed, ruling that attorneys hadn't "presented anything to cause this court to question whether the Department of Justice will follow the facts wherever they may lead and live up to the assurances it made to this court."
Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently appointed a prosecutor to conduct a criminal investigation into destruction of the tapes. John Durham, a career public corruption and organized crime prosecutor, has a reputation for being independent.
Kennedy, a former prosecutor who was appointed to the bench by President Clinton, said he had been assured that the Justice Department would report back if it found evidence that a court order had been violated.
"There is no reason to disregard the Department of Justice's assurances," Kennedy said.
Attorney David Remes had said a judicial inquiry might involve testimony from senior lawyers at the White House and Justice Department. Government attorneys, appearing in court Dec. 21, said such hearings would disrupt and possibly derail the Justice Department inquiry.
Lawyers for other terrorism suspects have filed similar requests before other judges. While Kennedy's decision doesn't require those judges to follow suit, it will help bolster the Justice Department's argument that they should not wade into the investigation.
Kennedy had ordered the government not to destroy any evidence of mistreatment or abuse of detainees held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But the two suspects interrogated on video Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were not held at Guantanamo Bay. They were interrogated in secret CIA prisons overseas.
Kennedy said Wednesday he saw no evidence those tapes were covered by his court order.
Remes, who represents Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay, argued that destruction of the tapes may have violated a more general rule prohibiting the government from destroying any evidence that could be relevant in a case, even if not directly noted in a court order.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press