The CIA destroyed almost 100 videotapes of terror suspect interrogations, far more than previously acknowledged, the Obama administration said yesterday as it began disclosing details of post-September 11 Bush-era actions.
The interrogations were a highly contentious issue during the administration of former President George W. Bush, with many Democrats and other critics saying that some methods used amounted to torture, which Bush and other officials rejected. A criminal prosecutor is wrapping up his investigation in the matter.
Monday's acknowledgment involved a civil lawsuit filed in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union, a civil rights advocacy group, seeking more details of the interrogation programs after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks against the United States.
"The CIA can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed," said the letter by Acting US Attorney Lev Dassin. "Ninety-two videotapes were destroyed."
It is not clear what exactly was on the recordings. The government's letter cites interrogation videos, but the lawsuit against the Defense Department also seeks records related to treatment of detainees, any deaths of detainees and the CIA's sending of suspects overseas, known as "extraordinary rendition."
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters he had not spoken to President Barack Obama about the report but called the news about the videotapes "sad" and said Obama was committed to ending torture while also protecting American values.
ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said the CIA should be held in contempt of court for holding back the information for so long.
"The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systematic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court's order," Singh said in a statement.
CIA spokesman George Little said the agency "has certainly cooperated with the Department of Justice investigation. If anyone thinks it's agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don't know the facts."
The details of CIA interrogations, and the existence of tapes documenting those sessions, have become the subject of long fights in a number of different court cases. In the trial of Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, prosecutors initially claimed no such recordings existed, then acknowledged after the trial was over that two videotapes and one audiotape had been made.
The letter, dated March 2 to Judge Alvin Hellerstein, says the CIA is now gathering more details for the lawsuit, including a list of the destroyed records, any secondary accounts that describe the destroyed contents, and the identities of those who may have viewed or possessed the recordings before they were destroyed.
But the lawyers also note that some of that information may be classified, such as the names of CIA personnel that viewed the tapes.
"The CIA intends to produce all of the information requested to the court and to produce as much information as possible on the public record to the plaintiffs," states the letter.
John Durham, a senior career prosecutor in Connecticut, was appointed to lead the criminal investigation out of Virginia.
He had asked that the requests for information in the civil lawsuit be put on hold until he had completed his criminal investigation. Durham asked that he be given until the end of February to wrap up his work, and has not asked for another extension.
Durham's spokesman, Tom Carson, had no immediate comment.
The criminal investigation into the CIA's videotapes included interrogations of al-Qaida lieutenant Abu Zubaydah and another top al-Qaida leader. They were destroyed, in part, to protect the identities of the government questioners at a time the Justice Department was debating whether the tactics used during the interrogations — which are believed to have included waterboarding — were illegal.Reuse content