Tapes of harsh CIA interrogations were destroyed in November 2005.

Tapes of harsh CIA interrogations were destroyed in November 2005.

Tapes of harsh CIA interrogations were destroyed in November 2005.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 7 2007 6:03 AM

Interrogate

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with news that the CIA destroyed at least two tapes that documented how two high-level al-Qaida operatives were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques. The WP says the destruction took place in November 2005 and the NYT gets word that it was done partly out of fears that the interrogators could face legal consequences for their actions. There are disagreements over how much Congress was told about the tapes and questions of whether the CIA withheld information from the courts and the Sept. 11 commission.

USA Todayleads with the long-awaited speech by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney about faith and religious tolerance. In a sign of how much hype was surrounding the event, all the other papers front the speech, where, as the NYT and LAT note, the word "Mormon" was used only once, though Romney did defend his faith and vowed not to step back from it. But Romney assured voters that "no authorities of my church" would ever affect his decisions as president. Reviews are mixed, and the LAT says some believe there isn't much he can say to persuade skeptical evangelical voters. The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with word that the new head of the International Monetary Fund plans to cut the staff by 15 percent. It's part of a plan to reduce the IMF's deficit and keep the organization "relevant" at a time when many developing countries "have little need for IMF aid."

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The NYT had the interrogation tapes story first and reporter Mark Mazzetti had apparently been working on it for several weeks. The agency was informed of the upcoming story and CIA Director Michael Hayden subsequently sent a message to employees informing them of the tapes, which he said were created as an "internal check." Both the WP and NYT report that it appears the former head of the agency's clandestine operations  ordered the tapes destroyed. Hayden said they were destroyed because of fears that if they were leaked, they would pose a security threat to "your CIA colleagues." But the Washington director of Human Rights Watch said that's nonsense because "millions of documents in CIA archives, if leaked, would identify CIA officers."

Hayden also said congressional oversight committees had been told of the tapes and they were informed that they were going to be  destroyed. But figuring out who knew what and when is a little difficult. The Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee at the time said he didn't remember being informed of the tapes, let alone their destruction. The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee said lawmakers didn't learn of the destruction until  one year later, while the top Democrat in the House committee at the time said she warned the CIA against destroying the tapes. (And we're only learning of this now?) Whatever the case, the lawmakers weren't the only ones out of the loop. The NYT reports that even Porter Goss, who was CIA director at the time, was not told the tapes were going to be destroyed "and was angered to learn that they had been."

One of the prisoners showed in the tape was Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee taken into CIA custody after Sept. 11, who is believed to have been subjected to water-boarding. None of the papers seems to know the identity of the second prisoner. Besides bringing back the debate over interrogation techniques, news of the CIA tapes has caused many to question whether the agency purposefully withheld information. Although some of the papers do publish quotes from outside experts such as: "The destruction of these tapes suggests an utter disregard for the rule of law," ( LAT) none of them ever come out and say CIA officials might have broken the law.

The destruction appears to have taken place right when the CIA was ordered to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for interrogation records and it was also during increased scrutiny of the prison program. (The fact that the WP's Dana Priest published her famous story on the CIA's black sites on Nov. 2, 2005, should at least raise some eyebrows.) The CIA said it didn't withhold information from the Sept. 11 commission because its members didn't specifically ask for tapes, but the NYT quotes a commission member saying they asked for precisely this type of material. The WP and NYT mention that there are also questions of whether the tapes should have been turned over to the judge overseeing the case of suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, but the CIA said they weren't relevant.

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Everyone notes that, as if on cue, House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on a spending bill that would forbid the CIA from using harsh interrogation techniques. The full House and Senate still have to pass the measure, which is likely to face veto threats.

The NYT fronts, and everyone mentions, word that President Bush wrote a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, in which he reminded the man he had once called a "pygmy" that the two nations could enjoy full normalized relations if his country discloses all its nuclear programs. The LAT says Bush is trying to use his "personal involvement" to ensure progress in the six-nation talks and the NYT notes it's a sign that the administration doesn't want to lose one of its few "tangible diplomatic accomplishments." The WSJ takes a wider view and points out that this is just the latest example of how the administration has changed its tactics to deal with several foreign policy issues.

Over in the NYT's op-ed page, Ayaan Hirsi Ali wonders "where are the [Muslim] moderates?" She points to three recent events where "we have seen Islamic justice enacted in ways that should make Muslim moderates rise up in horror." But the groups that are quick to denounce anyone who is seen as offending Islam said nothing of these recent events, including when a woman in Saudi Arabia who said she was raped was sentenced to 200 lashes. "If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from [Saudi Arabia] then what exactly makes them so moderate?"

The NYT fronts a look at how several airlines will begin to test some sort of Internet service in the coming months. An analyst tells the paper that "2008 is the year when we will finally start to see in-flight Internet access become available." While many welcome the access, there are also fears this could give rise to voice calls and the "prospect of dozens of chatty passengers," although many airlines said they would not allow them.

The WSJ reports that fans are joining Hollywood's picket lines to get a chance to meet and talk to the people who work on the shows they love. And they're not the only ones. Students and others hoping to break into the industry are also marching along and seeking advice from the experienced strikers.

Unlikeliest endorsement: The NYT publishes a brief Associated Press story that reports Gennifer Flowers (yes, that one) said she might consider throwing her support behind Hillary Clinton. "I would love to see a woman president," she said. "I just didn't think it would be her."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.