CIA Breakdown Kept Recordings From Terror Trial

An apparent breakdown in communication at the CIA caused its analysts to submit inaccurate declarations in the case against convicted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, keeping taped interviews with enemy combatants from being reviewed in the case.

That admission came in the form of a highly redacted letter, classified Top Secret, sent from the federal prosecutors to the trial and appeals judges on the case.

The prosecutors noted that a CIA attorney informed them in September that the agency found one tape pertaining to the case, and after the prosecutors requested a more extensive review, the CIA found an additional video tape and one audio tape.

"The fact that audio/video recording of enemy combatant interrogations occurred, and that the United States was in possession of three of those recordings is, as noted, inconsistent with factual assertions in CIA declarations," the letter noted.

The CIA had submitted declarations from 2003 to the court, stating that no recordings of interrogations existed. "The existence of the video tape however is at odds with statements in two CIA declarations submitted in this case," the letter states.

The letter blacks out the names of the enemy combatants in question but notes, "We are unaware of recordings involving the other enemy combatants at issue in this case. … Further, the CIA came into possession of the three recordings under unique circumstances involving separate national security matters unrelated to the Moussaoui prosecution."

Moussaoui, who was arrested one month before the Sept. 11 attacks in August 2001, delayed his trial until 2006 by seeking to interview 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and Mustafa Al Hawsawi, one of the key financers of 9/11. Moussaoui is the only person to be indicted in the United States in connection with the attacks.

Eventually, after protracted legal proceedings, the CIA and Justice Department allowed written statements submitted by top al Qaeda detainees at the Moussaoui trial.

The Justice Department letter asserts that the interrogations had no impact on Moussaoui's prosecution. "Like the first video tape, the contents of the second video tape and the audio tape have no bearing on the Moussaoui prosecution -- they neither mention Moussaoui nor discuss the Sept. 11 plot."

In conclusion, the letter notes, "The errors in the CIA declarations at issue, although unfortunate, did not prejudice Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty, reiterated his guilt in substantial admissions in the penalty phase and ultimately received a life sentence after the jury declined to sentence him to death."

The letter is dated Oct. 25, 2007, and was released Tuesday.

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