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CIA Tape Scandal Grows

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February 7, 2008

On Monday, CIA director Michael Hayden admitted that the CIA waterboarded three prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah. Today The New York Times reports that documents released yesterday in the government’s case against Zacarias Mossaoui show that the federal court judge on the case, Leonie Brinkema, was actively seeking information on the Zubaydah’s interrogation when the CIA destroyed the videotapes depicting his interrogation in 2005. The Times writes:

The court documents…appear to contradict a statement last December by Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, that when the tapes were destroyed in November 2005 they had no relevance to any court proceeding, including Mr. Moussaoui’s criminal trial.

…The new documents also raised new questions about a letter sent to Judge Brinkema in October by prosecutors in the Moussaoui case.

In that letter, [government] prosecutors acknowledged that two declarations filed in the case by C.I.A. officials were inaccurate. The C.I.A. officials had denied the existence of video or audiotapes of interviews of certain Qaeda suspects, but the letter said the C.I.A. in fact had two videotapes and one audiotape of interrogations.

When the tapes scandal first broke, it seemed the CIA had violated two other district court orders regarding the safeguarding of evidence on the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. The AP discusses how the government wriggled out of accountability for those two.

But the CIA is in violation of another court order as well: after the CIA tape destruction revelation, we asked a district court to hold the CIA in contempt for destroying the tapes, which should have been turned over to us in our Freedom of Information Act request for information about detainees held overseas by the United States. Former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean discussed our case with Keith Olbermann in December:

Keith, what’s missing in mentioning just two, is there is actually a third court order that I think is much more troubling for the administration in many ways because the judge in the Freedom of Information Act case brought by the ACLU looking at all the treatment of all the detainees asked that they preserve the record and this happened again in June of 2005, well before the destruction….So I think that’s one to watch.

Our FOIA request covers all detainees: whether they’re in Guantanamo, Bagram, or any of the “black sites” operated by the CIA. We filed our FOIA request on Oct. 7, 2003 to the Departments of Defense, State, Justice (including the FBI), and the CIA. (You can see the progression of our FOIA request on www.aclu.org/torturefoia.) The ACLU request was made after the tapes were allegedly created in 2002, but before their destruction was just a bad idea.

Finally, a poll we released yesterday shows that a majority of Americans think an independent prosecutor, not the Department of Justice, should conduct the investigation into the destruction of the CIA torture tapes and whether senior White House officials had authorized the CIA to torture prisoners during interrogations.

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