WASHINGTON - Lawyers for Jose Rodriguez told Congress the former CIA official won't testify about the destruction of CIA videotapes without a promise of immunity, two people close to the tapes inquiry said yesterday.
Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, had ordered that the tapes, which show the CIA interrogation of two Al Qaeda suspects, be destroyed in 2005. Rodriguez is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Jan. 16.
Defense lawyer Robert Bennett told lawmakers, however, that he would not let Rodriguez testify because of the criminal investigation into the case. Without a promise of immunity, anything Rodriguez said at the hearing could be used against him in court.
The discussions were described to the Associated Press by two people close to the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were to be private.
The CIA has acknowledged that it destroyed the videos, and the Bush administration has urged Congress and the courts to stay out of the tapes inquiry while the Justice Department investigates.
US District Judge Henry H. Kennedy agreed yesterday not to hold hearings.
He said the Justice Department had promised a thorough investigation, and he saw "no reason to disregard the Department of Justice's assurances."
Congress, however, has refused to back off and had planned to make Rodriguez one of the first witnesses in its investigation.
It was unclear whether Bennett issued a formal request for immunity or merely told the committee that Rodriguez would not testify without it.
Reached by telephone last night, Bennett said he would have no public comment on the matter. A spokesman for the committee also declined to comment.
Lawmakers are typically reluctant to grant immunity requests because doing so could torpedo a criminal investigation.
Anything Rodriguez spoke about would be off-limits to the Justice Department, as would any secondary evidence built on his testimony.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently appointed a prosecutor to conduct a criminal investigation into destruction of the tapes.
John Durham, a career public corruption and organized crime prosecutor, has a reputation for being independent.
Durham is investigating whether destroying the tapes amounted to obstruction of justice or violated any court orders.
Kennedy and others had ordered the Bush administration not to destroy any evidence of mistreatment or abuse of terrorism suspects being held at the US naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But the two suspects interrogated on video - Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - were not held at Guantanamo. They were interrogated in secret CIA prisons overseas.