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CIA destroyed 92 tapes of suspect questioning, confinement

The videotapes, which depicted harsh methods used to question 'high value' Al Qaeda suspects, were ordered destroyed in 2005, government lawyers acknowledge.

March 03, 2009|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — The CIA destroyed 92 videotapes depicting harsh interrogation and confinement of "high value" Al Qaeda suspects, government lawyers disclosed Monday.

Meantime, a long-running criminal probe of the tapes' destruction inched toward a conclusion that is unlikely to result in charges against CIA employees, three sources told the Washington Post.

Monday's acknowledgment involved a civil lawsuit filed in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union, which sought details of the interrogation programs that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"The CIA can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed," said the letter submitted in that case by Acting U.S. Atty. Lev Dassin, the Associated Press reported. "Ninety-two videotapes were destroyed."

Then-Directorate of Operations division chief Jose Rodriguez ordered the destruction in November 2005, as scrutiny of the CIA and its treatment of terrorism suspects intensified. The agency's then-director, Michael V. Hayden, argued that the tapes posed "a serious security risk" because they contained the identities of CIA participants in Al Qaeda interrogations.

Federal prosecutor John H. Durham, who was appointed last year to investigate why the tapes were destroyed and whether any court directives were violated, has nearly completed formal interviews with all the key characters. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned, sources told the Post.

Durham appears unlikely to secure criminal indictments against Rodriguez and other agency personnel involved in the conduct, the sources said, and if he did, such cases are notoriously difficult to prove.

At issue are recordings that chronicle the interrogation of two senior Al Qaeda members, Zayn al Abidin Mohamed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, while they underwent a simulated drowning practice known as waterboarding and in less hostile moments as they interacted with agency employees or sat in their prison cells, according to government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the materials remain classified.

Other questions remain, including a request by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema for information to prepare for the sentencing of Zacarias Moussaoui at about around the time that CIA officials made the decision to order the tapes' destruction, the sources said.

Tom Carson, a spokesman for Durham, declined to comment other than to say that the investigation is ongoing.

ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said the CIA should be held in contempt of court for withholding the information for so long.

"The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systematic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court's order," Singh said.

CIA officials rejected the assertion that the agency had sought to hide evidence. "If anyone thinks it's agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don't know the facts," spokesman George E. Little said.

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