CIA Cable “Granting Permission” to Destroy Torture Videotapes Surfaces [Updated]
A January 8 release of documents in the ACLU FOIA lawsuit seeking materials related to the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogators using “enhanced interrogation techniques” has revealed the first evidence of a precise instruction for the destruction of those tapes.
According to Rachel Myers at the ACLU, while there was previous evidence of requests from the “field” that the videotapes be destroyed, this is our first verification of the exact date CIA headquarters gave its approval.
The approval came in the form of “a two-page cable discussing a proposal and granting permission to destroy the videotapes.” (emphasis added) The cable was sent from “HQ” to the “Field” on November 8, 2005, the same day an earlier request was made from the “Field”. Confirmation of the destruction of the tapes was already revealed in a cable “from the field to CIA headquarters, confirming the destruction of the videotapes.” (11/20/2009 Vaughn Index 4).
Requests for destruction of interrogation videotapes, and discussions around such an action are documented as far back as September 2002 (11/20/2009 Vaughn Index 55). It’s presumed that these requests came from the Thailand CIA black site where Abu Zubaydah had been an experimental victim of the new so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, which were based on stress inoculation torture survival schools for the military, known as SERE. Psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, formerly of SERE and its parent agency, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA)[, have been identified as being key figures in implementing the program.]
The new cable has been withheld, citing numerous FOIA “exemptions,” as have hundreds of other such pieces of evidence, including emails and draft memoranda, by the CIA. Its existence is revealed as part of a Vaughn index of withheld documents, wherein some description of the document is given, in addition to the reasons for withholding the document.
The “permission” cable is Document 154 in Part 6 of the latest Vaughn release/dump. It’s on pg. 13 out of 35 (all doc links are PDF). A full timeline on the CIA videotape destruction actions, which has not however been updated for the latest crop of documents, has been put together by the ACLU. All the documents released thus far can be accessed here.
Emptywheel has been covering this issue from the beginning. For instance, see this relevant story, wherein EW reports that “The CIA Asked to Destroy Torture Tapes on Same Day They Claimed They Didn’t Torture.”
Meanwhile, the investigation into the destruction of the videotapes, with prosecutor John Durham leading, has languished for over two years now. While justice is supposed to be blind and disinterested, the investigation will probably go nowhere unless public pressure is put on the Department of Justice and the Obama administration to hold the torturers accountable.
UPDATE (1/16/10): The ACLU has written up a preliminary review of the outstanding new finds in the latest CIA FOIA release, including a brief discussion of the “permission” cable that was the subject of this article. See the article at the ACLU’s Blog of Rights. Among the new details adding to the torture narrative:
The conversation about destroying the tapes began during the torture of Abu Zubaydah. Two cables sent from the black site to CIA headquarters on August 19, 2002 discuss “lessons for the future based on CIA experience” and an August 20, 2002 cable discusses “a proposed policy regarding the use of videotapes in interrogations”….
… after the July 38 [sic], 2003 Principals meeting, the question of the tapes “seemed settled” until the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos in April 2004. In fact, the Vaughn index shows the conversation continuing even during this period, with a sequence of emails around September 22, 2008 [sic – most likely a typo for 2003] “concerning a draft memo on the destruction of the videotapes” and a February 19, 2004 email with attachment “concerning the legalities as to whether the CIA is legally required to retain the videotapes”….
There are numerous emails in the days leading up to destruction of the videotapes on November 8, 2005, just after the Washington Post published Dana Priest’s front-page exposé of CIA secret prisons and the day before The New York Times published a story on the CIA inspector general’s damning report. The CIA is clearly bracing for these leaks: on October 31,  there is a 13-page email chain “discussing whether to publically acknowledge the counterterrorism program” and on November 1,  an email with attachment “that discusses the Agency’s detention and interrogation program from a legal standpoint.” There are communications orchestrating how the agency will talk about the destruction of the tapes…
The article also lists the 10 documents withheld due to FOIA exemption (b)(7)(a), which relates to their use in an ongoing criminal investigation (Durham). In addition, there are three documents withheld for Congressional consultation. ACLU notes “that there is a substantial paper trail surrounding the destruction of the videotapes.”
We know Durham has been down that trail. Where is his investigation going?
(Note: This update includes an editorial fix to a previous fragment of a sentence at the end of paragraph four above.)