CIA threw out 92 videotapes of terror suspects

Inquiry into destruction is nearing end

By Carrie Johnson and Joby Warrick
Washington Post / March 3, 2009
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WASHINGTON - The CIA got rid of 92 videotapes depicting the harsh interrogations and confinement of "high value" Al Qaeda suspects, government lawyers disclosed yesterday, as a long-running criminal inquiry of the tapes' destruction inched toward a conclusion that is not expected to result in charges against CIA operations employees, three sources said.

Jose Rodriguez, the agency's directorate of operations chief, gave an order to destroy the recordings in November 2005, as scrutiny of the CIA and its treatment of terrorism suspects intensified. The agency's director at the time, Michael Hayden, argued that the tapes posed "a serious security risk" because they contained the identities of CIA participants in Al Qaeda interrogations. Until yesterday, the exact number of destroyed tapes was not known. Agency officials have said they stopped taping detainees six years ago.

Federal prosecutor John 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. Durham and FBI agents working alongside him conducted a lengthy session last week with a person who worked closely with Rodriguez at the time of the tapes' destruction, according to sources who have followed the case. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned, they added.

Durham appears unlikely to secure criminal indictments against Rodriguez and other agency operations personnel involved in the conduct, the sources said. In recent months, the prosecutor has focused attention on CIA legal advisers who reviewed court directives and on agency lawyers who told Rodriguez that getting rid of the recordings was sloppy and unwise but that it did not amount to a clear violation of the law, the sources said. Durham has obtained internal e-mails and memos that detail the substance of the interrogations chronicled on the destroyed tapes, they said.

At issue are recordings that chronicle the interrogation of two senior Al Qaeda members, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed 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 US District Judge Leonie Brinkema for information to prepare for the sentencing of Zacharias Moussaoui around the same time that CIA operations officials made the decision to order that the tapes be destroyed, the sources said.

Human rights advocates and public interest groups pressed for more details and demanded that the CIA be sanctioned. "The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident," said Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Singh said the ACLU had secured a court order in September 2004, more than a year before the tapes were eradicated, directing the agency to preserve materials related to the interrogation of prisoners overseas. "It's about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law," she said.

CIA officials rejected the assertion that the agency had sought to hide evidence from investigators and said they had cooperated fully with the Justice Department investigation.

"If anyone thinks it's agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don't know the facts," spokesman George Little said.

Many of the agency employees who met with Durham over the past year did so voluntarily, without the threat of a subpoena or an appearance in front of a grand jury. That may make it easier for Durham to report his findings to Justice Department leaders and for them to release his conclusions to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, confirmed last week that her panel intends to broaden its investigation to encompass the entire history of the CIA's interrogation program. The new inquiry will delve into the origins of decisions to use harsh techniques and will also assess whether the controversial methods worked, congressional officials said.

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