The bi-partisan co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, jointly published an Op-Ed in today's New York Times which contains some extremely emphatic and serious accusations against the CIA and the White House. The essence:
[T]he recent revelations that the C.I.A. destroyed videotaped interrogations of Qaeda operatives leads us to conclude that the agency failed to respond to our lawful requests for information about the 9/11 plot. Those who knew about those videotapes -- and did not tell us about them -- obstructed our investigation.
More strikingly still, they explicitly include the White House at the top of their list of guilty parties:
There could have been absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone at the C.I.A. -- or the White House -- of the commission's interest in any and all information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot. Yet no one in the administration ever told the commission of the existence of videotapes of detainee interrogations.
To underscore the seriousness of their accusations, Keane and Hamilton end with this:
What we do know is that government officials decided not to inform a lawfully constituted body, created by Congress and the president, to investigate one the (sic) greatest tragedies to confront this country. We call that obstruction.
It's hard to imagine a more serious scandal than this. As I noted the other day, it is a confirmed fact that Alberto Gonzales and David Addingtion -- the top legal representatives of George Bush and Dick Cheney, respectively -- participated in discussions as to whether those videotapes should be destroyed. The White House refuses to disclose what these top officials said in those meetings. Did they instruct that the videos should be destroyed or fail to oppose their destruction? The NYT previously quoted one "senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter [who] said there had been 'vigorous sentiment' among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes." Thus, we have evidence that "top White House officials" vigorously argued that these videos should be destroyed. The number one aides to both the President and Vice President both participated in discussions as to whether they should be, almost certainly with the knowledge and at the direction of their bosses.
And now we have the 9/11 Commission Chairmen stating as explicitly as can be that the mere concealment (let alone destruction) of these videos constituted the knowing and deliberate obstruction of their investigation into the worst attack on U.S. soil in our history. Combined with the fact that the videos' destruction almost certainly constitutes "obstruction of justice" with regard to numerous judicial proceedings as well, we're talking here about extremely serious felonies at the highest levels of our government.
Both legally and politically, it's hard to imagine a more significant scandal than the President and Vice President deliberately obstructing the investigation of the 9/11 Commission by concealing and then destroying vital evidence which the Commission was seeking. Yet that's exactly what the evidence at least suggests has occurred here.
What possible justification is there for the White House to refuse to say what the role of Addington, Gonzales, Bush and Cheney was in all of this? Having been ordered by Bush's new Attorney General not to investigate, are the Senate and House Intelligence Committees (led by the meek Silvestre Reyes and the even meeker Jay Rockefeller) going to compel answers to these questions? In light of this Op-Ed, do Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee think the White House should publicly disclose to the country the role Bush and Cheney played in the destruction of this evidence? If there are any reporters left who aren't traipsing around together in Iowa, it seems pretty clear that this story ought to be dominating the news.
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.