The court session marked the first time the Bush administration has faced a legal hearing about the tapes since CIA chief Michael Hayden disclosed earlier this month that the intelligence agency destroyed videos of officers using harsh interrogation methods while questioning two al-Qaida suspects.
During the hearing, U.S. government lawyers denied that the tapes contained any scenes of the terrorism suspects held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, being tortured.
“It is inconceivable that the destroyed tapes could have been about abuse, mistreatment or torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” lawyer Joseph “Jody” Hunt, representing the White House, told the court, according to Agence France-Presse.
U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy is considering whether to delve into the matter and, if so, how deeply. The Bush administration is urging him to back off during its probe.
“Why should the court not permit the Department of Justice to do just that?” Kennedy asked, according to media accounts of the hearing.
President Bush has refused to comment on the destruction of the tapes, saying he would await the results of investigations. The president has repeatedly insisted that the United States does not torture detainees.
The judge had ordered the government not to destroy any evidence of mistreatment or abuse at Guantanamo. Because the two suspects — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — were being held overseas in secret CIA prisons, however, they are likely not covered by the order, the Associated Press reported.
David Remes, a lawyer for Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay, argued in court that the destruction of the tapes may have violated a court order and may indicate that other evidence was also destroyed, according to the AP. Remes urged the court not to take a back seat to the executive branch, which destroyed the tapes in the first place.
“We have a smoking gun, as it were, with respect to the government’s destruction of potentially relevant evidence,” Remes said.
Kennedy, who was appointed to the bench by President Clinton, did not immediately announce a decision, saying he would take the matter under advisement and rule later. A former prosecutor, he said it was the Justice Department’s job to investigate crimes.