March 2nd, 2009
03:47 PM ET

92 interrogation tapes destroyed by CIA

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/27/cia.senate/art.panetta.gi.jpg caption="CIA Chief Leon Panetta inherits the issue of the destroyed interrogation tapes. Panetta says he does not plan to use coercive interrogation techniques on terrorist detainees."]

Pam Benson
CNN National Security Producer

The CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of detainee interrogations, according to a court document filed by the government on Monday. The disclosure marks the first time the specific number of tapes has been made public.

The tapes were made in 2002 and showed the interrogations of two suspected al Qaeda leaders, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. According to former CIA officer John Kiriakou, some of the videos showed harsh interrogations including the use of waterboarding, which is said to simulate drowning and is considered by most people to be a form of torture.

Government officials have said the tapes were destroyed in November 2005 at the orders of Jose Rodriguez, the then head of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, with the approval of NCS lawyers.

The tape destruction is currently under investigation by John Durham, a federal prosecutor.

The disclosure of nearly 100 tapes came as part of a federal court proceeding in New York City involving an American Civil Liberties Union motion to hold the CIA in contempt of court for destroying the tapes. Prosecutor Durham had requested and received a stay on the ACLU motion while his investigation was underway.

Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin wrote in a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein that Durham had not requested a continuation of the stay following the February 28th expiration.

"The CIA can now identify... ninety-two videotapes were destroyed," wrote Dassin.

Dassin also told the court the CIA was now collecting information describing each of the destroyed tapes, as well as written accounts of the tapes and the identities of the people who viewed or possessed the recordings. "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, wrote Dassin.

In a written statement, the ACLU said the government's letter proves the CIA is in contempt. "The large number of videotapes confirms the agency engaged in a systemic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court's order."

Then CIA director Mike Hayden wrote in a December 2007 memo to staff the tapes were made as "an internal check" on the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques and the decision to destroy the tapes was made "only after it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and relevant to any internal, legislative or judicial inquires." Hayden said there were detailed written notes on the interrogations.

Prosecutor John Durham's spokesman would not comment on the status of Durham's criminal investigation into the tape destruction. Tom Carson told CNN, "That investigation is ongoing so we are not commenting on any specific aspects of it."

Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. jim WA

    as americans we are supposed to set the example, not stoop to 3rd world standards, spent my 4 yrs in the military back in the sixties. and i fully realize that the other guys dont always follow the geneva convention, but that doesnt give us the right to stoop to their standards, it means that our cia needs to do a much better job of gathering information,they need to step up to the plate and get better at spying, god knows as taxpayers we spend very very large summs of money for them to do that. Another thought is if we are a Christian society then we need to act like it instead of just talk about it.

    March 3, 2009 at 12:51 am |
  2. Jim Warren

    There is a difference between publicly disclosing government records, versus retaining – in a properly secure manner – records of how agencies conduct the public's business.

    If records were "disappeared" in violation of records-keeping statutes – whether by CIA agents or by posterior-covering politicians – then the violators should be prosecuted ... just as though the USA actually followed the much-hyped "rule of law".

    March 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm |
  3. sharon, sydney, cape breton, ns

    I am sure there is always the chance and the high probability that destroying so many tapes did involve some sort of cover up. But does anyone know how long tapes such as those are supposed to be kept after they've surved their purpose. Any chance there were potential national securtiy secrets on them and had to be destroyed?
    –ever the optimist 🙂

    March 2, 2009 at 4:54 pm |
  4. Joanne Pacicca, Solvay, NY

    The ACLU? Of course, they will indict a ham sandwich!

    Since when does the CIA have to disclose secrets?

    What is the meaning of "covert operation" in this post-Bush ear?

    March 2, 2009 at 4:19 pm |