ACLU Calls for Independent Prosecutor to Investigate Destruction of CIA Interrogation Tapes

December 7, 2007 12:00 am

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Says Possible Cover-Up of Potential Criminal Activity Needs to Be Examined

WASHINGTON – With the news yesterday that the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the brutal interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects, the American Civil Liberties Union calls on Attorney General Mukasey to appoint an independent counsel to investigate, and if appropriate, prosecute any potential criminal activity. One of the tapes, made in 2002, purportedly shows the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who U.S. officials have acknowledged was subjected to waterboarding. The CIA destroyed the tapes in November 2005.

“The CIA’s destruction of these tapes shows complete disdain for the rule of law. This reeks of a deliberate cover up of potential criminal activity by the CIA, and the videos could have shown once and for all that the CIA does indeed torture,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.

The CIA reportedly withheld knowledge of the tapes’ existence from federal prosecutors and the 9/11 Commission, both of which specifically asked for depictions of interrogations. The government also failed to produce the tapes as part of an ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in which a federal judge ordered the release of any documentation pertaining to treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. ACLU lawyers are considering appropriate next steps in that ongoing litigation. CIA officials claim the tapes were destroyed partly out of concern that showing the brutal interrogation methods could expose the agency to legal risks. Somewhat ironically, news of the tapes’ destruction came on the same day that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) added an amendment to the 2008 intelligence authorization bill that applies the Army Field Manual to all government agencies, including the CIA. The Army Field Manual prohibits specific acts of torture and abuse, including waterboarding, and also authorizes an array of specific interrogation tactics.

“For what reason would the CIA destroy these videotapes other than to cover up criminal acts committed during the brutal interrogations depicted on these tapes?” asked Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The failure to turn over these tapes raises the kind of questions that only an independent prosecutor can investigate.”

In June 2004, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft sent 21 referrals of possible violations of federal anti-torture laws by civilian interrogators to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. To date, the Justice Department has not brought any indictments based on these referrals.

Fredrickson added, “Attorney General Mukasey refused to comment on waterboarding and brutal interrogation methods during his confirmation hearings, but he cannot duck the issue any longer. This is his opportunity to restore Americans’ faith in government. The Department of Justice has failed to do its job of investigating and prosecuting possible violations by civilians in the past. Now three and a half years later, it is time to turn the matter over to an independent investigator.”

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