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Federal Judge Probing Destruction of CIA Tapes

White House lawyers were heading to a federal court Friday to ask a judge to hold off on looking into destroyed CIA videotapes of terror suspect interrogations.

The hearing comes amid objections from the Justice Department, which claims the court could disrupt its own investigation into the tapes.

U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy is presiding over a lawsuit brought by Guantanamo Bay prisoners challenging their detention. He's ordered the government not to destroy evidence of mistreatment or abuse at the Navy base in Cuba.

The hearing marked the first time that administration lawyers were to speak in public and under oath about the matter since the CIA disclosed this month it destroyed the tapes of officers using tough interrogation methods while questioning two al-Qaida suspects.

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 tapes could be covered by a more general rule prohibiting the destruction of any evidence that could be relevant to a case.

For example, if the tapes showed Zubaydah discussing any of the detainees in Kennedy's case, their destruction could have been prohibited.

Lawyers for both sides have filed classified documents regarding the tapes. That means there is a good chance Kennedy already knows whether the videos are relevant to his case.

If the judge believes the CIA destroyed the tapes to keep them from being used in court, he could side with the detainees' lawyers and order the government to disclose all the evidence it has collected, including any other evidence in addition to the tapes that has been destroyed.

He could order government officials to testify in court about the tapes, which were created in 2002 and destroyed in 2005.

The government has strongly urged against this move, saying it would disrupt a joint Justice Department-CIA investigation into the tapes. In court documents, acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey S. Bucholtz was concerned that Kennedy might order testimony that "could potentially complicate the ongoing efforts to arrive at a full factual understanding of the matter."

A congressional investigation is also underway. The CIA invited Capitol Hill investigators to the agency's Virginia headquarters Thursday to begin reviewing documents and records relating to the videotapes.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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