WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. senators disagreed on Sunday over whether an independent counsel is needed to probe the CIA’s destruction of videotapes showing terrorist suspects subjected to severe interrogation techniques.
Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat and presidential candidate, said on ABC’s “This Week” that an independent review of the affair may be necessary.
“I think the easiest, straightest thing to do is to take it out of the political realm, appoint a special prosecutor and let them decide, and call — call it where it is,” said Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Is there a criminal violation? If there is, proceed. If not, don’t,” said Biden.
The Justice Department said on Saturday it opened a preliminary investigation to determine whether there is enough reason to launch a full investigation into whether the CIA violated obstruction of justice laws by destroying the tapes.
The CIA disclosed last week the tapes were made in 2002 as part of a secret detention and interrogation program that began when suspected al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah was arrested. The taping ended later in 2002 and were destroyed in 2005.
Critics of the U.S. interrogation program say that methods like “waterboarding,” in which suspects are made to believe they are drowning, amount to torture.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey has authority to appoint special prosecutors to conduct investigations of high-level administration officials.
Sens. John Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Congress should conduct the probe, not an independent counsel.
“I don’t think there’s a need for a special counsel, and I don’t think there’s a need for a special commission,” said Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“It is the job of the intelligence committees to do that,” he said.
Sens. Diane Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, agreed on CNN’s “Late Edition” that a special counsel is not necessary for now.
“This is going to be the first time the new attorney general will have an opportunity to show his independence and I think we should let that play out,” Feinstein said
“Before everybody rushes to judgment, let the investigation take its place,” she added.
Reporting by Nancy Waitz, editing by David Wiessler