The White House on Wednesday made a rare public demand for a formal correction from the New York Times for implying that it had misled the US public over the destruction of CIA interrogation videos.
The US Justice Department, the White House, and US lawmakers have all launched probes after CIA chief Michael Hayden revealed earlier this month that the agency in 2005 destroyed tapes of interrogations of two Al-Qaeda suspects.
Hayden said the recordings, made in 2002, were destroyed to protect the identities of CIA agents, but the news outraged lawmakers and human rights groups who charges the agency may be covering up possible torture.
Late Tuesday, the Times reported that four top White House lawyers were more involved than previously acknowledged in the decision.
Citing current and former administration and intelligence officials, which it did not name, the Times said that the four took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003 and 2005 on the question of whether to keep recordings of the sessions with two Al-Qaeda operatives.
"The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged," it said.
The Times cited "conflicting accounts" as to whether any of the lawyers supported destroying the tapes, but cited one former top intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter as saying that "there had been 'vigorous sentiment' among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes."
Other officials told the Times that no-one at the White House called for destroying the tapes -- but that no White House lawyer ordered that they be preserved or warned that destroying them might be illegal.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino angrily denounced the Times's sub-headline -- "White House Role Was Wider Than It Said" -- in a highly unusual written statement that demanded a formal correction.
"The New York Times' inference that there is an effort to mislead in this matter is pernicious and troubling, and we are formally requesting that NYT correct the sub-headline of this story," she said.
Perino said that the White House has simply refused to comment on the matter beyond saying that US President George W. Bush did not recall being aware of the videos or the decision to destroy them prior to being briefed recently.
While the White House often seeks corrections or clarifications of media accounts, it is unusual for such a demand to be made publicly and in a formal written statement released to other outlets.
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