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Public Statements

The Destruction of CIA Tapes

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

THE DESTRUCTION OF CIA TAPES -- (Senate - December 07, 2007)


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I wish to express my serious concern over the Central Intelligence Agency's confirmation that videotapes depicting brutal interrogation techniques were destroyed.

First, it is important that we note the broader context of this debate. The United States of America is a nation born out of a struggle against tyranny, and our founding legal document asserts that the rule of law applies to all men and women, and all branches and agencies of government. We are not a perfect Nation, but our national greatness is marked by our ability to rise above our imperfections through our allegiance to our values and to the rule of law. Time and again, America has triumphed because of the contrast we draw to tyranny. We are a nation that set captives free, shut down torture chambers, and extended freedom and international law to more of humanity.

Now, we are engaged in a new kind of conflict. And the question that we have faced since September 11, 2001, is how we are going to respond to the shadowy, stateless, terrorist enemies of the 21st century.

Tragically, the Bush administration has too often chosen to respond to this enemy by abandoning our values and ignoring laws that it deems inconvenient. So we have seen excessive secrecy, indefinite detention, warrantless wire-tapping, and `enhanced interrogation techniques' like simulated drowning that qualify as torture through any careful measure of the law or appeal to human decency. For each of these new policies, we have seen dubious legal reasoning that does not stand up to the harsh light of review or the sound judgment of our Constitution.

Yesterday, we learned that in November 2005, the CIA destroyed videotapes of its interrogations of two prominent al-Qaida suspects, including a close Osama bin Laden associate Abu Zubayadah. Media reports suggest that these videotapes depict brutal interrogation techniques, and could certainly be relevant to ongoing investigations and inquiries. Furthermore, these videotapes were not provided to the 9/11 Commission, which made a broad set of requests for classified documents--including interrogation tapes and transcripts--that would have included information about the 9/11 attacks.

The CIA has argued that these tapes needed to be destroyed to protect the identities of the interrogators. Our government must go to any length necessary to protect the identities of those who serve in a covert capacity. But the CIA keeps scores of classified material--including videotapes--while protecting the identities of its agents. This raises serious questions about whether the tapes were destroyed to protect the nature of the interrogation, rather than the identity of the interrogator.

This incident deserves further congressional oversight and inquiry--neither the CIA nor this interrogation program is immune to our laws. This is yet another chapter in a dark period in our constitutional history. Now, it is time to turn the page. That is why I was heartened to learn that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have reached agreement on including a requirement in the Intelligence authorization bill that subjects CIA interrogators to the guidelines on interrogation included in the U.S. Army Field Manual. It would be a grave disappointment--though not surprising--if this important step forward were subject to a veto threat from the President. That must not deter the Congress from moving forward. We have a responsibility to act.

We should not have a separate interrogation program whose methods are so abhorrent that they cannot stand up to scrutiny. We should not have to find ways of ignoring or averting our own laws to defend our country. Torture does not work. Torture violates our laws. And torture sets back the standing and moral leadership that America needs to triumph in this global struggle. Our values and laws are not inconvenient obstacles to the defense of our national security--they can and must be a guiding force in our response to terrorism.

Today is Pearl Harbor day--a date when our Nation was subjected to a terrible surprise attack, and when a generation of Americans answered the call to defend our security and extend the cause of freedom. More than 6 years after 9/11, we are still struggling to define our own response to our generation's terrible surprise attack. As we defend America, let us learn the painful lessons of these last few years, and enlist our values and our Constitution in this first great struggle of the 21st century.


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