In September 2004, a court first ordered the CIA to produce or identify all records pertaining to the treatment of prisoners in its custody in response to an ACLU lawsuit seeking information about the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody abroad. These orders would have included at least 92 interrogation tapes documenting the harsh interrogation of the two prisoners, Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri.
Despite the orders, the CIA never produced videotapes depicting torture or even acknowledged their existence. Unbeknownst to the public, the tapes were destroyed in November 2005, a year after the court’s first order, although the destruction was not publicly revealed until 2007.
The ACLU moved to hold the CIA in contempt of court for destroying the videotapes, arguing that the agency showed complete disdain for the court and the rule of law itself when it flouted several court orders to produce the videotapes and instead destroyed them.
On August 1, 2011, the court refused to hold the CIA in contempt for the destruction of the tapes, but it sanctioned the CIA by ordering the agency to pay the ACLU’s legal fees in bringing the misconduct to light. The judge also asked the CIA to publish a forthcoming protocol on document-destruction policies, which were developed in response to the ACLU’s litigation, in an effort to prevent similar destruction from occurring again. Because the judge failed to hold the CIA in contempt of court, however, it left unaddressed larger concerns about accountability. The court noted that the ACLU had played an “extraordinary” role in revealing to the public information about the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.