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24,000 More Torture Tapes?

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February 19, 2008

Last week, Seton Hall Law School students published Captured on Tape, a report based on government documents released through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. The report reveals that more than 24,000 interrogations of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have taken place, and that most of them were videotaped. Troublingly, the military may be inadvertently taping over this evidence:

“In January 2008, it was brought to my attention that such . . . [recording] systems may have been automatically overwriting video data contained on recording devices, at predetermined intervals,” [Guantánamo’s commander, Rear Adm. Mark H.] Buzby wrote. “That is, only a specified number of days’ worth of recorded data could be retained on the recording devices at a time.”

Such destruction of evidence, even if unintentional, would appear to be in violation of a 2005 court order in Abdah v. Bush, in which U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy ordered the safeguarding of “all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay.”

The Washington Post reports that military officials have a different take on Seton Hall’s findings:

Military officials familiar with interrogations at the prison of a group of 14 high-value detainees over the past 16 months — including five of the six charged with criminal conspiracy on Monday— said those sessions were monitored through video cameras but not recorded. But they declined to comment on any taping of hundreds of others at the prison.

The existence – or not – of interrogation tapes, has been the subject of scandal already. The deliberate destruction of CIA torture tapes shows how far the Bush administration is willing to go to cover its misdeeds. Last month we asked a district court to hold the CIA in contempt for destroying the tapes, which should have been turned over in response to our Freedom of Information Act request for information about detainees held overseas by the United States. We’re still waiting for the judge to rule.

The ACLU joins with a majority of Americans who believe an independent investigation of the destruction of the CIA torture tapes is needed. An investigation by the Justice Department— which is what’s going on right now — is akin to the fox guarding the henhouse. And foxes aren’t known for their keen sense of ethics.