The New York Times reported in an article published today that the 9/11 Panel study found that the CIA withheld tapes of its interrogation program. Although the report did not opine that withholding the tapes was illegal, it certainly underscores a disturbing pattern of conduct by an organization intent on preventing any transparency whatsoever into its operations.
Moreover, the 9/11 Panel Study, when read in conjunction with the current congressional investigation on the CIA’s interrogation techniques, show that the government’s reasoning for the destruction of the tapes — i.e., to protect the agents’ identity — is suspect. Indeed, the government’s strained attempt to portray its destruction of the tapes as an aberrant act by a misguided military official obstructs the more poignant issue that the CIA’s destruction and withholding of tapes is part of a larger, institutionalized pattern of misconduct.
It’s time that the CIA stop hiding behind legal mumbo jumbo and start cooperating with the body of government, Congress, meant to act as a constitutional check behind its activities. But given its course of conduct, you have to ask yourself whether “cooperating” and following the “spirit of the law” is outside their official vocabulary. Maybe someone should remind them that the CIA is not above the law.
Something perhaps even more interesting than the withholding of tapes has come out of this. Apparently, the CIA does have a “few” tapes of interrogations done in other countries. What are we really talking about when the CIA says “interrogations done in other countries”? No, not job interviews, but extraordinary rendition.
Congress should grow some cojones and demand for a review of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. After all, when the U.S. government forcibly takes a terror suspect and brings that individual to another country to be interrogated, and that individual is subsequently tortured, then the U.S. is vicariously liable for those acts which are foreseeable. Of course, we are talking about more than simply the legal concept of foreseeability, but rather a planned program by the CIA to use torture — either at their own hands or its partners — as a method of interrogation in the name of “safety” and the “war on terror.”
Mark Mansfield, the C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency had gone to “great lengths” to meet the commission’s requests, and that commission members had been provided with detailed information obtained from interrogations of agency detainees. “Because it was thought the commission could ask about the tapes at some point, they were not destroyed while the commission was active,” Mr. Mansfield said.
Intelligence officials have said the tapes that were destroyed documented hundreds of hours of interrogations during 2002 of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, two Qaeda suspects who were taken into C.I.A. custody that year. According to the memorandum from Mr. Zelikow, the commission’s interest in obtaining accounts from Qaeda detainees in C.I.A. custody grew out of its attempt to reconstruct the events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Its requests for documents from the C.I.A. began in June 2003, when it first sought intelligence reports describing information obtained from prisoner interrogations, the memorandum said. It later made specific requests for documents, reports and information related to the interrogations of specific prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah and Mr. Nashiri.
In December 2003, the commission staff sought permission to interview the prisoners themselves, but was permitted instead to give questions to C.I.A. interrogators, who then posed the questions to the detainees. The commission concluded its work in June 2004, and in its final report, it praised several agencies, including the C.I.A., for their assistance. Abbe D. Lowell, a veteran Washington lawyer who has defended clients accused of making false statements and of contempt of Congress, said the question of whether the agency had broken the law by omitting mention of the videotapes was “pretty complex,” but said he “wouldn’t rule it out.”
Because the requests were not subpoenas issued by a court or Congress, C.I.A. officials could not be held in contempt for failing to respond fully, Mr. Lowell said. Apart from that, however, it is a crime to make a false statement “in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch.” The Sept. 11 commission received its authority from both the White House and Congress.
On Friday, the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and to Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, asking them to preserve and produce to the committee all remaining video and audio recordings of “enhanced interrogations” of detainees in American custody.
Signed by Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, the letter asked for an extensive search of the White House, C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies to determine whether any other recordings existed of interrogation techniques “including but not limited to waterboarding.”
Government officials have said that the videos destroyed in 2005 were the only recordings of interrogations made by C.I.A. operatives, although in September government lawyers notified a federal judge in Virginia that the agency had recently found three audio and video recordings of detainees.
Intelligence officials have said that those tapes were not made by the C.I.A., but by foreign intelligence services.