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White House: NYT wrong about CIA tapes

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  • NEW: Times corrects headline saying White House role was "wider than it said"
  • White House denies it misled anyone about tapes' destruction
  • New York Times reports White House lawyers discussed action with CIA
  • Alberto Gonzales, Harriet Miers and Cheney's chief of staff named
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration fiercely disputed an article that appeared in Wednesday's New York Times on the White House's role in the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes, calling it "pernicious and troubling."

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Alberto Gonzales was White House counsel until early 2005, when he became U.S. attorney general.

Citing unnamed administration officials, the Times article says at least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the CIA between 2003 and 2005 over whether to destroy videotapes of the interrogations of two al Qaeda operatives.

Among those involved in the discussions, according to the Times' sources, were former White House counsel and later Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, who succeeded Gonzales as White House counsel.

The others, according to the Times' sources, were David S. Addington, then Vice President Dick Cheney's counsel and now his chief of staff; and John B. Bellinger III, who was the National Security Council's top lawyer until January 2005.

A subheadline on the Times article reads, "White House Role Was Wider Than It Said." Video Watch what a NYT reporter says about the controversy »

"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," a statement from the White House press secretary's office says.

The Times ran a correction in Thursday's paper saying "the White House itself has not officially said anything on the subject, so its role was not 'wider than it said.' "

The White House release Wednesday said administration officials have generally declined to comment on the matter and denied making any misleading statements. It said the "no comment" policy would continue.

"We will instead focus our efforts on supporting the preliminary inquiry under way, where facts can be gathered without bias or influence and later disseminated in an appropriate fashion," it said.

One source told the Times that some officials expressed "vigorous sentiment" for destroying the tapes. Others asserted that no one at the White House supported the tapes' destruction.

However, those same sources said none of the lawyers specifically told anyone to preserve the tapes, the Times reported.

Lawyers representing Gonzales refused to comment to CNN on whether he had any knowledge of the tapes while he served as White House counsel or what advice he may have given regarding them.

The dispute arises the day after U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy ordered a hearing on Friday to determine whether the tapes' destruction violated an order he issued in 2005.

The order commanded the Bush administration to safeguard "all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay."

A memo sent to CIA employees by Director Michael Hayden in early December said the recordings were made as "an internal check" on the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques authorized in 2002 against suspected terrorists.

The tapes showed the use of the techniques on two al Qaeda suspects that year, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The videos reportedly show rough interrogation techniques that critics have called torture, including the use of "waterboarding," which simulates drowning.

The videotapes were destroyed in 2005, "only after it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries," Hayden wrote in his memo.

A U.S. government official said last week that the destruction was ordered by Jose Rodriguez, the head of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, who retired in September. Lawyers for the NCS gave written approval for the move, the official said.

In an emergency request filed Monday, lawyers for a group of 11 Yemeni prisoners held by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, accused the White House of attempting to block outside inquiry into the tapes.

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"Plainly, the government wants only foxes guarding this hen house," attorney David Remes wrote.

In its written reply to Kennedy, Justice Department lawyers argued that the 2005 order didn't apply to those tapes because the prisoners were being held not at Guantanamo Bay, but at secret CIA facilities elsewhere. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Kevin Bohn and Pam Benson contributed to this report.

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