( AFP ) - US government lawyers flatly denied Friday that videotapes destroyed by the CIA contained any scenes of the torture of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, in a keenly watched court hearing here.
"It is inconceivable that the destroyed tapes could have been about abuse, mistreatment or torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay," lawyer Jody Hunt, representing the White House, told the court.
US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy had summoned attorneys for the government and for "war on terror" prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to give oral arguments on whether the agency violated his 2005 order to preserve any possible evidence of detainee mistreatment at the US prison camp in Cuba.
The scandal came to light earlier this month when CIA chief Michael Hayden told staff in a letter that in 2005 the agency had destroyed tapes showing the interrogations of two Al-Qaeda suspects.
Hunt said the tapes were made in 2002 and that neither of the two men shown in them "was at Guantanamo Bay during the taping of these videos."
But a lawyer for one "war on terror" suspect held at Guantanamo Bay, Yemeni national Mahmoad Abdah , who was not shown in the destroyed tapes, called for the court to order an investigation into whether the government violated the order by destroying the videos.
"Where there is smoke there is fire," lawyer David Remes said.
"The revelation of the CIA's destruction (of the tapes) raises serious questions about whether the government has complied with the court's order ... and its more general obligations" to preserve evidence.
"The government's destruction of potentially relevant evidence ... raises our concern about its handling of other relevant evidence," including in Abdah's case, he argued.
In 2005, judge Kennedy had ordered the preservation of "any evidence of torture, mistreatment and abuse of detainees" who were at Guantanamo Bay at the time of the order in June 2005.
The tapes reportedly show the suspects undergoing waterboarding , in which prisoners are subjected to a process of simulated drowning that is widely considered torture.
Friday's hearing comes as the controversy has put the administration of US President George W. Bush on the defensive.
Bush has refused to comment on the destruction of the tapes, saying he would await the results of inquiries first, but he has repeatedly insisted that the US does not use torture.
"I am going to reserve judgment until I find out the full facts," he told a press conference Thursday.
Pointing to investigations at the CIA, US Justice Department, and oversight by the US Congress, the president said the probes "will end up enabling us all to find out what exactly happened."
Hunt said Friday that if the Washington court opened its own inquiry it would "compromise" the Justice Department's investigations. "It would be unwise," he told the court.
Bush has also said he had no recollection of learning about the existence of the recordings until Hayden briefed him about the controversy two weeks ago.
The CIA is already smoothing the way for ongoing investigations into the destruction of the tapes, a spokesman said Thursday.
"As Director Hayden said, CIA will cooperate fully with these inquiries and will be as forthcoming as possible. It is a priority and we intend to move forward on all fronts," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield told AFP.
The New York Times this week, citing unnamed administration and intelligence officials, said four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the CIA in 2003 and 2005 on whether to keep the videotapes.
Kennedy ended Friday's hearing to consider the arguments and did not say when a decision on a possible court investigation would be made.