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Context of 'March 2, 2009: CIA Admits to Destroying 92 Videotapes of Interrogations'

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Abu Zubaida.Abu Zubaida. [Source: New York Times]The CIA begins interrogating captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), using some aggressive techniques that are commonly considered to be torture. Zubaida was initially interrogated by the FBI using traditional rapport-building techniques, and many believe the FBI was obtaining valuable information (see Late March through Early June, 2002). But he is being held at a secret CIA prison in Thailand (see March 2002), and soon a new CIA team comes in and takes over (see Mid-April 2002). This team, led by controversial psychologist James Elmer Mitchell, uses such extreme methods that the FBI completely withdraws its personnel (see Mid-April-May 2002), and even some CIA personnel leave in disgust (see Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002). By mid-May, Mitchell’s detractors are gone and the gunshot wounds Zubaida sustained during his capture have stabilized, so Mitchell begins applying even more aggressive interrogation techniques. [Posner, 2003, pp. 186, 191; Suskind, 2006, pp. 110-115] According to one psychologist involved in Zubaida’s interrogation, Mitchell argues that Zubaida needs to be reduced to a state of “learned helplessness.” Reserve Air Force Colonel Steve Kleinman, an experienced interrogator very familiar with Mitchell, will later say that “learned helplessness was his whole paradigm.… It starts with isolation. Then they eliminate the prisoners’ ability to forecast the future—when their next meal is, when they can go to the bathroom. It creates dread and dependency. It was the KGB model. But the KGB used it to get people who had turned against the state to confess falsely. The KGB wasn’t after intelligence.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] Journalist Ron Suskind will later claim: “According to CIA sources, [Zubaida] was waterboarded, a technique in which a captive’s face is covered with a towel as water is poured atop, creating the sensation of drowning. He was beaten, though not in a way to worsen his injuries. He was repeatedly threatened, and made certain of his impending death. His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuous noise and harsh lights.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 115] The New York Times will later claim: “At times, Mr. Zubaida, still weak from his wounds, was stripped and placed in a cell without a bunk or blankets. He stood or lay on the bare floor, sometimes with air-conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, Mr. Zubaida seemed to turn blue. At other times, the interrogators piped in deafening blasts of music by groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” [New York Times, 9/10/2006] Zubaida will reportedly later tell the Red Cross that he was also kept for a prolonged period in a cage, known as a “dog box,” so small that he unable to stand. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] The CIA will claim that these aggressive methods are very effective, and soon it will begin using them on many other detainees. But others will later suggest that Zubaida gave up far less valuable information under torture than he did with the FBI’s rapport-building techniques (see June 2002). The legal authority to conduct these types of interrogations is unclear. The CIA is being advised by Michael Chertoff at the Justice Department, but there will be no formal legal opinion permitting the techniques until August 2002. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, James Elmer Mitchell, Abu Zubaida, Steve Kleinman

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Shortly after his arrest in the United Arab Emirates in early October 2002 (see Early October 2002), al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is taken to an unknown location and tortured. He is waterboarded, which is a technique simulating drowning that is widely regarded as torture. He is only one of about three high-ranking detainees waterboarded, according to media reports (see May 2002-2003). [Associated Press, 12/11/2007] Much will later be written about the torture and interrogation of other top al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaida, but next to nothing is publicly known about what happens to al-Nashiri in the months after his arrest. However, in late 2007 it will be reported that at least some of his interrogations were videotaped by the CIA (see Spring-Late 2002) and his waterboarding was videotaped. [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] But these videotapes will later be destroyed in controversial circumstances (see November 2005). The waterboarding likely takes place in Thailand, because the videotape of al-Nashiri’s torture will be destroyed there in 2005 (see November 2005). [Newsweek, 6/28/2008]

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The Central Intelligence Agency destroys videotapes of the interrogations of two high-ranking detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, which were made in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). One anonymous senior intelligence official later claims that “Several hundred hours” of videotapes are destroyed. [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] The tapes are destroyed at the CIA station in Thailand by station chief Michael Winograd, as Zubaida and al-Nashiri apparently were tortured at a secret CIA prison in that country. [Newsweek, 6/28/2008; Associated Press, 7/26/2010] The decision to destroy the tapes is apparently made by Jose Rodriguez, chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, despite previous advice not to destroy them (see November 2005). However, some accounts will suggest that Rodriguez received clearance to destroy the tapes (see December 7, 2007). [New York Times, 12/8/2007] The CIA’s treatment of detainees has recently come under increased scrutiny. As the Wall Street Journal will later remark, “the Abu Ghraib prison pictures were still fresh, the existence of secret CIA prisons had just been revealed, and politicians on Capitol Hill were talking about curtailing ‘extreme techniques,’ including the Central Intelligence Agency’s own interrogation tactics.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/10/2007] Beginning on November 2, 2005, there are some pivotal articles revealing details about the CIA’s handling of detainees, suggesting that some of them were illegally tortured (see November 2-18, 2005). According to a 2007 statement by future CIA Director Michael Hayden, the tapes are destroyed “in the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them” and because they apparently pose “a serious security risk”; if they were leaked, they could be used for retaliation by al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] However, this rationale will be questioned when the destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see December 6, 2007). Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will call this “a pathetic excuse.… You’d have to burn every document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory.” CBS News will offer an alternative explanation, saying that the tapes are destroyed “to protect CIA officers from criminal prosecution.” [CBS News, 12/7/2007] CIA Director Porter Goss and the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, are allegedly not notified of the destruction in advance, and Rizzo will reportedly be angry at this failure. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] But Newsweek will later claim that Goss and Rizzo were involved in extensive discussions with the White House over what to do with the tapes. Goss supposedly thought there was an understanding the tapes would be saved and is upset to learn they have been destroyed (see Between 2003-Late 2005 and Before November 2005). [Newsweek, 12/11/2007] Congressional officials responsible for oversight are not informed for a year (see March 14, 2007). A White House spokeswoman will say that President Bush has “no recollection” of being made aware of the tapes’ destruction before 2007 (see December 11, 2007). It is also unclear whether the Justice Department is notified in advance or not. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] The CIA still retains tapes of interrogations of at least one detainee (see September 19 and October 18, 2007).

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaida, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., CIA Bangkok Station, John Rizzo, Porter J. Goss, Michael K. Winograd, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

In a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein regarding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit against the US Defense Department, the Justice Department informs Hellerstein that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of prisoner interrogations. The CIA’s previous admissions of the number of destroyed videotapes were far smaller (see November 2005). [Re: ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al, 3/2/2009 pdf file] The CIA confirms that the tapes showed what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on a number of detainees. The Justice Department adds that it will provide a list of summaries, transcripts, and memoranda related to the destroyed tapes, though the American Civil Liberties Union notes that a previous list was almost entirely redacted. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/6/2009] The disclosure comes as part of a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction. As the investigation comes to a close, observers expect that no charges will be filed against any CIA employees. The agency’s Directorate of Operations chief, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the recordings destroyed in November 2005 (see November 2005); former CIA Director Michael Hayden argued that the tapes posed “a serious security risk” because they contained the identities of CIA participants in al-Qaeda interrogations. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned. It is believed that the tapes show, among other interrogation sessions, the waterboarding of two detainees, Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)). Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are outraged at the destruction of the tapes. “The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident,” says Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It’s about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law,” she adds. CIA spokesman George Little says the destruction of the tapes was not an attempt to break the law or evade accountability. “If anyone thinks it’s agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don’t know the facts,” Little says. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that her panel intends to conduct a broader investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., US Department of Justice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, George Little, US Department of Defense, Alvin K. Hellerstein, Dianne Feinstein

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Court documents filed by the government show that the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes specifically depicting two detainees being tortured by interrogators. Though the CIA has previously admitted to destroying 92 videotapes (see March 2, 2009), this is the first time it has admitted that some of the tapes showed detainees being tortured. The agency does not use the word “torture,” but instead uses the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” According to the heavily redacted classified document: “There are 92 videotapes, 12 of which include EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques] applications. An OGC [Office of General Counsel] attorney reviewed the videotapes” and the CIA’s “OIG [Office of Inspector General} reviewed the videotapes in May 2003.” The document, along with others, are filed pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit begun by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has asked that the CIA be found in contempt for destroying the videotapes, a motion that is still pending. The videotapes were destroyed to prevent disclosure of evidence showing that CIA interrogators actively tortured detainees, using waterboarding and other methods. The destruction is under investigation by acting US Attorney John Durham (see January 2, 2008). The two detainees depicted in the videotapes are Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both of whom were waterboarded by the CIA (see March 2002, April - June 2002, and (November 2002)). The document describing the destroyed videotapes says “interrogators administered the waterboard to Al-Nashiri.” The videotapes are believed to have been made at the CIA’s secret detention center in Thailand. The CIA has promised to release more information about the videotapes by March 20. However, according to acting US Attorney Lev Dassin, “to date, the CIA is not aware of any transcripts of the destroyed videotapes.” An unredacted version of the inventory of the destroyed videotapes will only be made available for the ACLU to view behind closed doors in court: “This inventory identifies the tapes and includes any descriptions that were written on the spine of the tapes.” Much of the information sought by the ACLU will remain classified, Dassin says. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says the “government is needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA’s use of torture—including waterboarding—is no secret. This new information only underscores the need for full and immediate disclosure of the CIA’s illegal interrogation methods. The time has come for the CIA to be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.” Author and reporter Jane Mayer believes the tapes were destroyed at least in part because Democratic members of Congress briefed on the tapes began inquiring whether the interrogations of Zubaida and al-Nashiri were legal. [Public Record, 3/6/2009]

Entity Tags: John Durham, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, Lev Dassin, Amrit Singh, Jane Mayer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Marcy Wheeler, an author and progressive blogger whose research is used by mainstream media to flesh out its coverage of the torture controversy (see April 18, 2009), discovers a footnote in a recently released Justice Department memo (see May 10, 2005 and April 16, 2009) that proves US interrogators sometimes exceeded the restrictions laid down on waterboarding by this and other Justice Department legal opinions. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/17/2009] The memo was dated May 10, 2005 and was issued by Steven Bradbury, then the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 pdf file] Wheeler writes: “In other words, the interrogators were dumping water on [Abu Zubaida]‘s and KSM’s [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s] faces and repeating that treatment over and over and over. Without any legal authorization to do so, no matter how bogus.… And note, this is precisely why the torture tapes were destroyed (see March 2, 2009 and March 6, 2009). CIA has admitted that the guys waterboarding Abu Zubaida broke the law. That tape was the irrefutable evidence of who did what.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/17/2009] She adds: “There’s been a lot of discussion about whether those who did what the OLC memos authorized should be prosecuted. But in the case of those who waterboarded [KSM and Abu Zubaida], that’s irrelevant, because they did things the OLC memos didn’t authorize.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Abu Zubaida, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Steven Bradbury

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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