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December 11, 2007
CIA Lawyers Approved Destruction of Interrogation Tapes
The New York Times is reporting that the destruction of the interrogation tapes showing CIA personnel using "severe" methods of questioning was authorized by attorneys for the clandestine Directorate of Operations:
The former intelligence official acknowledged that there had been nearly two years of debate among government agencies about what to do with the tapes, and that lawyers within the White House and the Justice Department had in 2003 advised against a plan to destroy them. So much discussion and interagency hand wringing over a couple of interrogation tapes?
But the official said that C.I.A. officials had continued to press the White House for a firm decision, and that the C.I.A. was never given a direct order not to destroy the tapes.
“They never told us, ‘Hell, no,’” he said. “If somebody had said, ‘You cannot destroy them,’ we would not have destroyed them.” The former official spoke on condition of anonymity because there is a continuing Justice Department inquiry into the matter.
He said he was sympathetic to Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the former chief of the clandestine branch, who has been described by intelligence officials as having authorized the destruction of the tapes. The former official said he was concerned that Mr. Rodriguez was being unfairly singled out for blame in the destruction of the tapes.
The former official said Mr. Rodriguez decided in November 2005 that he had sufficient authority to destroy the interrogation videos, based on the written authorization given to him from lawyers within the branch, then known as the Directorate of Operations.
Even though they show "waterboarding" of the suspect, that particular technique was not technically illegal at the time it was carried out. However, there is little doubt that at the time they were destroyed, Congress and the courts were looking into the "enhanced interrogation techniques" being used by the CIA and that the tapes would have had evidentiary value in at least one criminal trial and possibly other civil suits:
In a related legal action, lawyers representing 11 inmates of the American military detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, filed an emergency motion on Sunday seeking a hearing on whether the government has obeyed a 2005 judge’s order to preserve evidence in their case. There has been speculation regarding the idea that the tapes were destroyed not for what was shown but because of what was admitted to by the suspect, Abu Zubaydah. Investigative journalist Gerald Posner had the story back in 2003 in his best selling book Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11:
The C.I.A.’s destruction of tapes “raises grave concerns about the government’s compliance with the preservation order entered by this court,” the lawyers, David H. Remes and Marc D. Falkoff, wrote in their motion. The June 2005 order, signed by Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr., of the United States District Court in Washington, required the government to “preserve and maintain all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment and abuse of detainees” at Guantánamo.
That preservation order, one of several issued in Guantánamo cases, may be relevant to the C.I.A. videotapes, Mr. Remes said. He noted that the government has said that “a senior Al Qaeda lieutenant” reported seeing one of his Guantánamo clients in Afghanistan, raising the possibility that the statements on the destroyed videotapes may be relevant to his case.
Zubaydah, wounded when he was captured in Pakistan, was fooled in a fake flag operation to believe that the Saudis held him. Instead of being afraid of the ‘Saudis,’ he demanded to talk to three Saudi princes (one, the nephew of the King, who happened to be in the U.S. on 9/11). He gave his interrogators the private cell phone numbers of all 3. He did the same regarding the chief of Pakistan's air force. From what we know of the Saudis and Pakistanis, this would not be beyond the realm of the possible.
After the U.S. told the Saudis and Pakistanis of Zubaydah's finger pointing, all four men had tragic 'accidents.' The King's nephew died of complications from liposuction at the age of 43. A day later, the 41 year old Prince named by Zubaydah died in a one-car accident on his way to the funeral of the King’s nephew. The third named prince, age 25, died a week later of "thirst," according to the Saudi Royal Court. And shortly after that, the chief of Pakistan’s air force died when his plane exploded with his wife and 15 of his top aides on board
Is this what the CIA was trying to hide - conceal to the point that they would destroy the tapes without White House approval and knowing they may be evidence in civil and criminal proceedings?
We will probably never know.