"A Missed Chance for Accountability" is how The New York Times described last week's federal court decision failing to hold the CIA in contempt of the court for destroying the videotapes that documented the agency's torture of prisoners in its custody. The Times editorial states:
Imposing civil contempt would not have interfered with the agency's current operations or required payment of a fine or damages. But it would have provided official acknowledgement that the conduct of C.I.A. officials was grossly improper, which is crucial to preventing a recurrence by successors.
The judge opted for a milder response. He sanctioned the agency by ordering it to reimburse the A.C.L.U.'s legal fees. The judge also directed the agency to publish its new document destruction policies. These are positive steps. But without a contempt citation, they fail to adequately address profoundly troubling behavior by a powerful agency and to deter that conduct in the future.
Last week's ruling was the end of a long road for the contempt motion, which we filed in December 2007 after the CIA revealed that it had destroyed videotapes of "enhanced" interrogations from 2002 (days before the Times was to publish a story revealing the same fact). (Check out our interactive timeline for a breakdown of key events related to the videotapes.)
The videotapes, which depicted the torture — including waterboarding — of CIA detainees Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were responsive to the ACLU's 2004 Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information regarding the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas.