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Context of 'December 6, 2007: CIA Pre-empts New York Times Article and Admits Destroying Videos of Detainee Interrogations; Political Outcry Follows'

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The CIA videotapes interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda detainees. The interrogations of at least two detainees are taped. One of the detainees is Abu Zubaida, who helped run a training camp in Afghanistan (see March 28, 2002 and Mid-May 2002 and After). [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] Another is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, chief of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula (see Early October 2002 and (November 2002)). [New York Times, 12/8/2007] The tapes run to a “couple hundred hours,” and mostly show 24 hour a day coverage of Zubaida in his cell. However, some portions show aggressive interrogations, including waterboarding. According to one source, full transcripts are not made, although summaries are drafted and sent back to CIA headquarters. [Fox News, 12/13/2007; Washington Post, 12/18/2007] Another source says the opposite, “A detailed written transcript of the tapes’ contents—apparently including references to interrogation techniques—was subsequently made by the CIA.” [Newsweek, 12/11/2007] However, after tapes of Zubaida and al-Nashiri’s interrogations are destroyed in 2005 (see November 2005), some tapes are still in existence (see September 19 and October 18, 2007), suggesting that either not all tapes of their interrogations are destroyed, or that one or more other detainees are videotaped. Another detainee whose interrogations may be taped is Ramzi bin al-Shibh, because he is the most important remaining al-Qaeda leader who is captured during this time period (see June 13-September 25, 2000 and September 11, 2002). In addition, at least one audio recording is also made. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 pdf file] According to a statement by CIA Director Michael Hayden, the interrogations are recorded because “new” procedures are used during the interrogations and the tapes are “meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the program in its early stages.” The videotaping apparently ends in 2002. [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] Another reason for the videotaping is said to be Abu Zubaida’s poor medical condition - he was shot several times during the operation to capture him. An intelligence official will later say, “There were concerns that there be a record of his medical treatment and condition in the event that he died.” [CBS News, 12/13/2007] However, there are various allegations these detainees are tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After, June 16, 2004, Shortly After September 6, 2006, and March 10-April 15, 2007). Some of the tapes are destroyed in 2005 (see November 2005) and there will be a media and political outcry when this is revealed in 2007 (see December 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Michael Hayden, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Jose Rodriguez.Jose Rodriguez. [Source: CIA]Jose Rodriguez, formerly chief of the CIA’s Latin American division, is appointed head of its rapidly expanding Counterterrorist Center. The appointment surprises some, as Latin America is not at the heart of global counterterrorism efforts and Rodriguez, who cannot speak Arabic, has no experience in the Middle East. In addition, Rodriguez was removed from his position in 1997, after he tried to get the government of the Dominican Republic to drop charges against a person described as a “friend,” and was criticized by the CIA Office of Inspector General for showing a “remarkable lack of judgment” over the affair. [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007] CIA officer Gary Berntsen, who served under Rodriguez as a station chief in an unnamed South American country, will be critical of him in a 2005 book. When Berntsen, an officer with a wealth of counterterrorism experience, took up his position in South America following the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000, Rodriguez greeted him “by saying that he had heard about my successful record of conducting counterterrorism operations, but that would not, repeat not, be my primary mission as a Chief of Station in South America. He stated categorically that he wanted me to conduct normal foreign intelligence collection against traditional targets and no, repeat no, counterterrorism. I was stunned. Had this man been living in a cave the last two years?” Berntsen was also surprised when, after 9/11, he received a message from CIA headquarters asking for volunteers to fight terrorism, and then a message from Rodriguez ordering all Latin American station chiefs not to volunteer. Berntsen will comment: “I didn’t understand… he was ordering me and other highly skilled officers in Latin America not to step forward? Had this guy taken leave of his senses? In a time of national tragedy was he still thinking of how to protect his Division?” [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 69, 71] Rodriguez’s identity is supposedly secret until the summer of 2007, shortly before he retires from the agency. [Associated Press, 8/8/2007] Rodriguez will be put in charge of the Directorate of Operations in 2004, but will become involved in a scandal over the destruction of videotapes of detainee interrogations (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007). [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center, Jose Rodriguez, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Kean (left) and Hamilton (right) of the 9/11 Commission.Kean (left) and Hamilton (right) of the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Doug Mills / New York Times]The 9/11 Commission does not receive video or audio recordings of interrogations of detainees thought to know something about the 9/11 plot (see Spring-Late 2002), even though it is unhappy with the amount and quality of information it is getting from detainees (see Summer 2003) and has a series of meetings with CIA officials to improve access (see November 5, 2003-January 2004). The CIA will indicate that the Commission never asks for the tapes, saying it “went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 Commission,” and that one of the reasons that the tapes are not destroyed until after the Commission releases its final report in 2004 is so that it could have the tapes, if it so desires. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] However, when the tapes’ destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), former 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will dispute this, saying that in hours of negotiations and discussions with the CIA and written requests they make it clear they want all material connected to the interrogations of the relevant detainees. [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007] Kean will say, “They knew what they had and they didn’t give it to us.” [ABC News, 12/7/2007] Hamilton will say, “The CIA certainly knew of our interest in getting all the information we could on the detainees, and they never indicated to us there were any videotapes… Did they obstruct our inquiry? The answer is clearly yes. Whether that amounts to a crime, others will have to judge.” [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Central Intelligence Agency, Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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

On November 3, 2005, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA about recordings of interrogations of detainees who are related to the Moussaoui case. Eleven days later, the CIA again incorrectly claims to prosecutors in that trial that it has no such recordings. The CIA made a similar claim in 2003 (see May 7-9, 2003), but in fact the CIA secretly videotaped detainee interrogations in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). Some of these videotapes are destroyed this month (see November 2005), however it is unknown if the destruction takes place before or after this date. In late 2007, the CIA will reveal that it did have some videotapes after all and prosecutors will finally be able to view some of them (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). But it will also be revealed that most of the videotapes were destroyed (see December 6, 2007). Prosecutors will later claim that neither the video nor the audio recordings contained material relevant to the Moussaoui trial, and some of the content of the interrogations was provided during discovery. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 pdf file; Reuters, 11/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Leonie Brinkema, Zacarias Moussaoui, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Following the destruction of videotapes made by the CIA showing the interrogation of al-Qaeda detainees (see Spring-Late 2002 and November 2005), the CIA’s Office of General Counsel conducts a review of the circumstances of destruction, as well as any other investigations and preservation obligations at the time the tapes were destroyed. Although the review’s conclusions are not known, the existence of the review is made public in a Justice Department letter obtained by the Associated Press after news of the tapes’ destruction breaks in 2007 (see December 6, 2007). [Associated Press, 12/8/2007] There is no indication that any action is taken against Jose Rodriguez, who will later be said to be the CIA officer responsible for the tapes’ destruction (see After November 2005).

Entity Tags: Office of General Counsel (CIA), Central Intelligence Agency, John Rizzo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In mid-September 2007, the CIA informs the prosecution team from the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial that it has one video recordings of a high-ranking detainee interrogation. The CIA had previously claimed it had no video recordings of any interrogations when in fact it did (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The CIA then initiates a review and unearths another video and an audio recording several days later. The prosecutors will subsequently inform the judge, but say that the error did not influence the outcome of the trial, as Moussaoui pleaded guilty, but the death penalty was not imposed. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 pdf file; Reuters, 11/13/2007] Lawyers who prosecuted Zacarias Moussaoui view these two videotapes and listen to the one audiotape. The names of the one to three detainees who were recorded are not known. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 pdf file] However, they were enemy combatants that could not testify at the trial, and substitutions for testimony were submitted in the trial on behalf of five enemy combatants: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Khallad bin Attash, Hambali, and Mohamed al-Khatani. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 pdf file; Reuters, 11/13/2007] Shortly after this, the CIA discloses that it had destroyed some similar videotapes in 2005 (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007). Apparently this indicates some videotapes have survived the destruction.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA “erroneously” misled the court and the lawyers involved in the ongoing prosecution of 9/11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui (see April 22, 2005), it admits in a letter released today. In court declarations on May 9, 2003 and on November 14, 2005, the CIA stated it had no recordings of interrogations of “enemy combatants.” Now it admits it had two video tapes and one audio tape. Moussaoui’s lawyers want the tapes as part of his defense. The federal prosecutors say they just recently learned of the tapes, but they have been assured by the CIA that the tapes have no bearing on Moussaoui’s case, and no one on the tapes mentions either Moussaoui or the 9/11 plot. The prosecutors assert that, while the CIA errors are “unfortunate,” no harm was done to Moussaoui, who pled guilty and is serving a life sentence for his complicity in the attacks (see May 3, 2006). The letter, which has been heavily censored for public consumption, reads in part, “We bring the errors to the court’s attention… as part of our obligation of candor to the court.… The government will promptly apprise the court of any further developments.” [Reuters, 11/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a statement released by CIA Director Michael Hayden, the CIA admits that it has destroyed videotapes of interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see Spring-Late 2002 and November 2005). [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] The statement is apparently released to preempt a New York Times article on the verge of publication that would have revealed the destruction. [Washington Post, 12/7/2007] The fact that the CIA had videoed detainee interrogations was made public a few weeks previously (see November 13, 2007). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 pdf file] According to several former intelligence officials, there is concern that the tapes could have set off controversies about the legality of the interrogations and generated a backlash in the Middle East. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] Numerous political figures condemn the destruction in strong terms. For example, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says, “We haven’t seen anything like this since the 18½-minute gap in the tapes of President Richard Nixon,” and, “What would cause the CIA to take this action? The answer is obvious—coverup.” Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says, “What is at stake here goes to the heart of the rule of law and justice in America.” Human rights activists are also angry, and an Amnesty International spokesman says, “It falls into a pattern of measures that have been taken that obstruct accountability for human rights violations.” [CBS News, 12/7/2007; ABC News, 12/7/2007] Both the Justice Department and the CIA’s Inspector General initiate preliminary inquiries. The House and Senate intelligence committees also start investigations. [Los Angeles Times, 12/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden, Amnesty International

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

Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) says that he did not know about the destruction of CIA videos of detainee interrogations (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007). [US Congress, 12/7/2007] This contradicts a statement by CIA Director Michael Hayden saying that, “Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] The CIA says that the committee was informed of the destruction in November 2006, but, “A review of the November 2006 hearing transcript finds no mention of tapes being destroyed.” [US Congress, 12/7/2007] The House Intelligence Committee was apparently informed in March 2007. [CBS News, 12/7/2007] However, the committee will say to Hayden that, “The notification came in the form of an offhand comment you made in response to a question,” and, “We do not consider this to be sufficient notification.” [US Congress, 12/7/2007] There is also a dispute over what happened when the committees were first informed of the videos’ existence. Hayden says, “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] Some political leaders were informed of the tapes in 2003, but urged that they not be destroyed (see November 2005).

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Central Intelligence Agency

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

President George Bush says he was unaware that the CIA had videotaped detainee interrogations. The CIA had videotaped some interrogations in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002), but the tapes were destroyed in late 2005 (see November 2005), and this was disclosed five days previously (see December 6, 2007). Bush says, “My first recollection of whether the tapes existed or whether they were destroyed was when [CIA Director] Michael Hayden briefed me.” [ABC News, 12/11/2007] Bush took an interest in information coming from one of the detainees who was videotaped, Abu Zubaida (see Late March 2002), and normally a president would be informed about activities like the detainee interrogations. However, there appears to have been a long-standing deliberate policy of keeping Bush out of the loop regarding aggressive interrogation methods to protect him from any adverse consequences that might arise (see April 2002 and After).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Following the release of a set of Bush administration memos about torture (see April 16, 2009) and the discovery that militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times in one month (see April 18, 2009), some commentators recall comments made by former CIA officer John Kiriakou.
Kiriakou's Media Blitz - In late 2007, shortly after the CIA admitted destroying videos of Zubaida (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), Kiriakou toured media outlets, saying that Zubaida had only been waterboarded once (see December 10, 2007 and December 11, 2007). New York Times reporter Brian Stelter writes the most comprehensive treatment of Kiriakou’s “media blitz,” in an article entitled “How ‘07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate.” He points out that Kiriakou’s claim of only one waterboarding was “repeated by dozens of broadcasts, blogs, and newspapers” and “quickly ricocheted around the media.” This despite the fact that Kiriakou was not present at the black site where Zubaida was interrogated, and only learned of his treatment from reading accounts from the field. This injected the claim of one waterboarding into the public debate without the CIA having to make it itself. When asked about the false claim, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano replies: “This agency did not publicly disclose the frequency with which the waterboard was used, noting only that it was employed with three detainees. If reporters got that wrong, they weren’t misled from here.”
Waterboarding Was Necessary - In addition, Kiriakou said that at the time it did produce results and he had thought it was necessary then, statements that were repeated and amplified around the media. The net effect of his interjection in the debate was to make the torture seem much less harsh than it really was, diverting criticism away from the CIA. [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
CIA Media Plant? - Numerous other commentators will make similar points. For example, in a piece entitled “John Kiriakou: CIA Media Plant?” Foreign Policy magazine commentator Annie Lowery says: “It all seems a bit strange to me, and leads to one obvious possibility: John Kiriakou—telegenic and well-spoken John Kiriakou, who never went to jail for blasting state secrets on television—was told the story to tell and released onto an unsuspecting public. It’s an impression the CIA will have difficulty dulling now.” [Foreign Policy, 4/28/2009]
Kiriakou Admits He Was Wrong - In 2010, Kiriakou will publish a book and in it he will mention in passing that his earlier claims were wrong. He did not take part in Zubaida’s interrogation and he was wrong about Zubaida being only waterboarded one time, and about him freely confessing afterwards. He will claim that he was a dupe used by the CIA to promote disinformation, writing, “In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own.” [Foreign Policy, 1/26/2010]

Entity Tags: John Kiriakou, Paul Gimigliano, Brian Stelter, Central Intelligence Agency, Annie Lowery

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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