Destroyed Torture Tapes
revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed at least two
video tapes depicting the torture of prisoners held by the United States
underscores the brazen criminality of the Bush administration. Aside
from the torture itself, the elimination of evidence of brutal interrogation
exposes top CIA and government officials to obstruction of justice charges.
In an article
published on Friday, the New York Times cites several unnamed current
and former government officials in reporting that “at least two
videotapes” were destroyed. The tapes showed the 2002 interrogation
of two prisoners, one of whom was Abu Zubaydah, considered a top member
of Al Qaeda. The other individual was not named.
the government has never officially acknowledged it, Zubaydah, captured
by the CIA in March 2002, was subjected to water-boarding, a form of
torture involving the near drowning and suffocation of the prisoner.
One can only assume that the tapes depict water-boarding or worse forms
and destruction of the tapes was first revealed on Thursday by CIA Director
Michael Hayden in a letter to CIA employees. Hayden issued the letter
only after the government was informed by the New York Times Wednesday
that the newspaper planned to publish an article on the topic.
letter attempts to create a rationale for what was clearly a move to
hide the government’s actions from American and world public opinion
and destroy evidence of criminal activity by CIA operatives and government
officials, up to and including President Bush.
As the CIA
well knew, if the tapes had become public—especially in the aftermath
of the Abu Ghraib revelations—they would have evoked a wave of
shock and revulsion in the United States and around the world, and confirmed
that Abu Ghraib, far from an aberration, was the outcome of US government
the improbable claim that the tapes were destroyed to protect CIA interrogators
from retaliation by Al Qaeda. He wrote in his letter that the CIA halted
the practice of taping interrogations in 2002, after only a few recordings
had been made.
reported that the tapes were destroyed “in part because officers
were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could
expose agency officials to legal risks, several officials said.”
If this statement
is true, it is clear evidence of obstruction of justice. The officials
also “said that CIA officers had judged that the release of photos
or videos depicting his interrogation would provoke a strong reaction.”
That is, the destruction involved a conspiracy to prevent the population
from learning of the actions of the American government.
were destroyed in late 2005, as the extent of the CIA program of abusive
interrogations was first coming to public light. On November 2, 2005,
the Washington Post published the first report on the CIA interrogation
program overseas. Subsequent reports detailed the techniques used, and
on November 18, ABC News reported that one of these techniques was water-boarding.
ABC reported on December 5, 2005 that one of the prisoners involved
in the program was Zubaydah, and that he had been held in a CIA prison
of the tapes also took place in the context of the trial of Zacarias
Moussaoui, accused of conspiring in the September 11 attacks. Moussaoui’s
lawyers wanted to review any videotapes of interrogations of Al Qaeda
members in order to demonstrate that Moussaoui was not involved in plans
for the attacks.
In 2003 and
again in 2005, US District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered the prosecutors
to disclose whether any interrogations had been recorded, but the government
refused to comply. On November 3, 2005, Brinkema asked about videotapes
of specific interrogations. On November 14, the government reported
that it did not have any tapes of these interrogations.
It is not
clear exactly when the tapes were destroyed. According to the Washington
Post, however, the destruction came after the November 14 response to
Brinkema. According a CIA spokesman, the videotapes destroyed were not
among those specifically requested by Brinkema.
the government acknowledged that it had in its possession two videotapes
and one audiotape that it had failed to report in 2005, but again did
not mention the video tapes that it had destroyed. The revelation of
the destroyed tapes is only the latest in a pattern of government misconduct
in the prosecution of Moussaoui.
several other investigations and lawsuits ongoing at the time the tapes
were destroyed. Among these was a Freedom of Information request brought
by the American Civil Liberties Union. In August 2004, a judge ordered
the government to turn over all records relating to interrogation or
explain why the records could not be released.
destroyed, the tapes were also withheld from the commission established
by Bush administration and Congress to investigate the attacks of September
11. The 9/11 Commission issued its final report in 2004, one year before
the tapes were destroyed, but it was never informed of their existence.
quotes Philip Zelikow, who served as executive director of the commission,
as saying, “The commission did formally request material of this
kind from all relevant agencies, and the commission was assured that
we had received all the material responsive to our request. No tapes
were acknowledged or turned over, nor was the commission provided with
any transcript prepared for recordings.”
goes on to report, “Daniel Marcus, a law professor at American
University who served as general counsel for the Sept. 11 commission
and was involved in the discussion about interviews with Qaeda leaders,
said he had heard nothing about any tapes being destroyed. If the tapes
were destroyed, he said, ‘it’s a big deal, it’s a
very big deal,’ because it could amount to obstruction of justice
to withhold evidence being sought in a criminal or fact-finding investigation.”
Commission was from the beginning intended as a whitewash of government
inaction and likely foreknowledge of the terrorist attacks. The fact
that the commission was denied access to interviews of an individual
who was purportedly a close associate of Osama bin Laden only underscores
the fraudulence of its findings.
to depicting torture, it is possible that the interrogation of Zubaydah
included information contradicting the official story of September 11.
This would explain why no transcript of the interrogation was provided
to the commission.
In his letter
to CIA employees, Hayden wrote: “Beyond their lack of intelligence
value—as interrogation sessions had already been exhaustively
detailed in written channels—and the absence of any legal or internal
reasons to kept them, the tapes posed a serious security risk. Were
they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues
who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation
from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”
flat-out lies. The suggestion that there was no reason to keep the tapes
is absurd, as Zubaydah was at the time under US custody and potentially
faced some form of trial or military judicial proceeding. He has since
been transferred to Guantánamo Bay and may be brought before
a military commission. Videotapes of his interrogation would obviously
be one of the most critical pieces of evidence in such proceedings.
As for the
question of security, it would be a simple matter to obscure the identity
of the interrogators in any videotape, if this were really the government’s
concern. According to Hayden’s logic, the CIA would have to destroy
any document in its possession identifying CIA interrogators, to prevent
them from being leaked.
character of Hayden’s attempt to justify the tapes’ destruction
only serves to highlight the criminal intentions of the government.
Complicity of the Democratic Party
question emerges from these revelations: Who knew about the tapes and
their destruction, and when did they know it? The answer to this question
points to the complicity of the entire political establishment in the
cover-up of torture.
In his letter,
Hayden declared, “The decision to destroy the tapes was made within
CIA itself.” Hayden’s claim that the decision to eliminate
the evidence was entirely internal to the CIA is almost certainly a
lie. It is highly unlikely that the tapes were destroyed without the
knowledge and approval of top administration officials.
to the New York Times, the decision was made by Jose Rodriguez—a
long-time CIA operative who at the time occupied the high-ranking position
of head of the Directorate of Operations, in charge of clandestine and
covert actions. Until shortly before his retirement in September, Rodriguez’s
identity was classified.
report quotes “two former intelligence officials” as saying
that then-CIA director Porter Goss—Rodriguez’s direct superior—was
not told of the decision and was angered when he learned of the tapes’
For his part,
Bush was quick to issue a carefully hedged denial of knowledge. White
House spokesman Dana Perino said on Friday that Bush “has no recollection
of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday.”
The CIA has
said that it received direct authorization to use the methods employed
in the videos, though the form of this authorization has never been
released to the public. This position was reiterated by Hayden on Wednesday,
when he wrote in his letter, “Before [the interrogation procedures]
were used, they were reviewed and approved by the Department of Justice
and by other elements of the Executive Branch.”
that ultimate responsibility for any actions depicted in the videos
lies with Bush, Cheney, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and others
in the administration. In this sense, the videos are more damaging even
than the photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib, which the government
could claim was the unauthorized behavior of a few individuals.
repeatedly declared that the US does not “torture,” but
the tapes would provide incontrovertible proof that it does.
insisted, “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress
were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention
to dispose of the material.” This would include the ranking members
of the Senate and House intelligence committees at the time, Democratic
Representative Jane Harman and Senator Jay Rockefeller, and the Republican
chairmen, Representative Pete Hokestra and Senator Pat Roberts.
Hoekstra denied any knowledge of the tapes, but remarks from Harman
and Rockefeller confirm Hayden’s account.
Press reported that Harman was “one of only four members of Congress
informed of the tapes’ existence,” and cited her as saying
she “objected to the destruction when informed of it in 2003.”
told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad
idea and urged them in writing not to do it,” Harman said.
This is a
dodge. Harman, and therefore the Democratic Party, knew of the tapes
in 2003, but decided not to inform the American people or do anything
to expose the government’s policy of torture. This knowledge was
withheld from the American people throughout the Abu Ghraib scandal,
which began in 2004. The tapes’ existence was known by leading
Democrats two years before the American people were first made aware
that the US government had used water-boarding.
The AP goes
on to report, “While key lawmakers were briefed on the CIA’s
intention to destroy the tapes, they were not notified two years later
when the spy agency went through with the plan.” It reports that
Rockefeller “only learned of the tapes’ destruction in November
Even if one
were to accept this account as true, it means that the Democrats have
known for over a year that these tapes were destroyed but decided to
say nothing about it.
2006, Rockefeller voted, along with 11 other Democrats in the Senate,
for the Military Commissions Act. Both that act and the Detainee Treatment
Act, passed in December 2005, included provisions shielding CIA operatives
and Bush administration officials from prosecution for torture and other
beginning of the Bush administration, the Democratic Party has played
a critical role in facilitating the massive attack on democratic rights
and legal constraints. It has helped confirm the nomination of all the
administration officials who have spearheaded a policy of torture—including
Hayden and, most recently, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who was
approved by a Democratic-controlled Senate despite his refusal to denounce
water-boarding as torture.
of the Democrats in covering up the existence and destruction of the
videotapes means that any investigation will be a whitewash. On Friday,
Rockefeller said the Senate Intelligence Committee would “review
the full history and chronology of the tapes, how they were used and
the reasons for destroying them, and any communication about them that
was provided to the courts and Congress.” Senator Edward Kennedy
called on the Justice Department—headed by Mukasey—to open
are now pushing for a bill that would bar the CIA from using “enhanced
interrogation techniques,” knowing full well that if passed—which
appears unlikely—it will simply be vetoed by Bush.
the destruction of the CIA torture tapes constitutes a sufficient basis
for impeachment of top government officials. It comes on top of revelations
of massive domestic spying and illegality. It was done by a government
that routinely violates and ignores laws, launches illegal wars of aggression,
and conspires against the democratic rights of the American people.
But the Democratic
leadership has resolutely, since winning control of both houses of Congress
over a year ago, ruled out any impeachment investigation. No serious
hearings or investigations have been carried out into the Bush administration’s
torture program and other brazen violations of American and international
law under the Democratic Congress.
be fall-out from the destruction of the videos. Some lower-level individuals
may be made fall guys for the White House and the CIA. But the Bush
administration is counting with good reason on the Democrats to keep
things under control.
revelation underscores the lawless character of the clique around Bush
and the immense dangers it represents to the democratic rights of the
people. It also highlights the Democratic Party’s lack of any
serious commitment to the defense of democratic rights. These rights
can be defended only through the independent political mobilization
of the working population against the two-party political establishment
and the US ruling elite whose interests it serves.
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