CIA Destroyed 92 Interrogation Tapes

Agency admits it destroyed more tapes than was previously believed.

March 2, 2009, 12:46 PM

March 2, 2009— -- The CIA has destroyed nearly 100 interrogation tapes of terror suspects, a number far greater than was previously acknowledged by the agency.

The agency's admission came in new documents filed in a lawsuit seeking details about the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody outside the country.

The agency "can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed" stated a letter from government attorneys to the judge presiding over the case. "Ninety-two videotapes were destroyed."

The tapes purportedly show CIA agents using harsh interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, on terror suspects. The Obama administration has condemned that technique, with Attorney General Eric Holder calling it torture.

"The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systemic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court's order," American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Amrit Singh said in a statement.

He added that it's "time to hold the CIA accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law." Motions filed in the case have been pending for more than a year.

But CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the number of tapes revealed in the court documents does not contradict past statements.

"We never said publicly how many tapes from the agency's detention program were destroyed, so it's wrong for people to claim the figure is higher than before," he said. "That's just not true."

"If anyone thinks it's agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don't know the facts," Gimigliano's statement concluded.

The March 2 letter, addressed to U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein, indicated that the CIA is culling more records pursuant to the case but noted that some of the information might be classified.

In addition to the ACLU's lawsuit, the CIA has been under fire since December 2007, when then-CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged that the agency had destroyed several interrogation tapes in 2005.

Those recordings, made three years earlier, featured interrogations of two detainees, including key al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah.

After divulging the news of the 2005 tape destruction, then-director Hayden acknowledged that there were more tapes beyond those originally discovered in connection with the Moussaoui appeal, though did not give an exact number of tapes involved.

Hayden had said that tapes were no longer of value to the agency, and were destroyed to keep the identities of the interrogators confidential. He also said that the agency notified the appropriate lawmakers about the action.

The Justice Department is investigating the 2005 tape destruction, and John Durham, the career prosecutor tasked with the inquiry, is expected to wrap up his probe soon.

It's not clear when the other tapes were destroyed, but the ACLU contends that those tapes should have been turned over pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request it filed, and claims the tapes were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission.

Additionally, before the trial of the only terror suspect indicted in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CIA had told the Justice Department that it did not have any interrogation tapes.

Moussaoui Appeal Reveals CIA Tape Information

Zacarias Moussoui pleaded guilty to terror charges, and a federal judge sentenced him to life in prison in 2006.

But Moussaoui's lawyers have filed an appeal, contending that government officials withheld evidence from his defense, and that the CIA had submitted inaccurate declarations to the U.S. District Court that no recordings of detainee interrogations existed.

In late 2007, court documents filed in the appeal revealed that the CIA had obtained three recordings "under unique circumstances involving separate national security matters unrelated to the Moussaoui Prosecution."

Government attorneys submitted transcripts to the court, but said it was unclear from the court documents whether the tapes still existed.

In his statement, CIA spokesman Gimigliano said that the tapes mentioned in the 2007 filings in the Moussaoui case are not the same as the tapes referred to in the ACLU suit.

"Those three tapes still exist.  It's a separate issue," he said.

As for the most recent admission from the CIA concerning the 92 destroyed tapes, Moussaoui's legal team had learned of their existence as much as a month ago.

In transcripts declassified and released late last Friday, Moussaoui's lawyers say that the revelation that there "could be a whole bunch of other tapes" should cause the case to be sent back to the court that originally handled the case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is currently considering that request.

Last summer, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey notified lawmakers that he would not appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the actions of CIA interrogators.

Noting that Justice Department lawyers had authorized the controversial techniques, Mukasey said in a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., that "it would be unwise and unjust to expose to possible criminal penalties those who relied in good faith on those prior Justice Department opinions."

ABC News' Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.

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