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Why CIA Tapes Created & Destroyed

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    Tapes by CIA Lived and Died to Save Image By Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti The New York Times http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/123007Y.shtml Washington - If
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2008
      Tapes by CIA Lived and Died to Save Image
      By Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti
      The New York Times

      Washington - If Abu Zubaydah, a senior operative of Al Qaeda, died
      in American hands, Central Intelligence Agency officers pursuing the
      terrorist group knew that much of the world would believe they had
      killed him.

      So in the spring of 2002, even as the intelligence officers flew
      in a surgeon from Johns Hopkins Hospital to treat Abu Zubaydah, who
      had been shot three times during his capture in Pakistan, they set up
      video cameras to record his every moment: asleep in his cell, having
      his bandages changed, being interrogated.

      In fact, current and former intelligence officials say, the
      agency's every action in the prolonged drama of the interrogation
      videotapes was prompted in part by worry about how its conduct might
      be perceived - by Congress, by prosecutors, by the American public and
      by Muslims worldwide.

      That worry drove the decision to begin taping interrogations - and
      to stop taping just months later, after the treatment of prisoners
      began to include waterboarding. And it fueled the nearly three-year
      campaign by the agency's clandestine service for permission to destroy
      the tapes, culminating in a November 2005 destruction order from the
      service's director, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr.

      Now, the disclosure of the tapes and their destruction in 2005
      have become just the public spectacle the agency had sought to avoid.
      To the already fierce controversy over whether the Bush administration
      authorized torture has been added the specter of a cover-up.

      The Justice Department, the C.I.A.'s inspector general and
      Congress are investigating whether any official lied about the tapes
      or broke the law by destroying them. Still in dispute is whether any
      White House official encouraged their destruction and whether the
      C.I.A. deliberately hid them from the national Sept. 11 commission.

      But interviews with two dozen current and former officials, most
      of whom would speak about the classified program only on the condition
      of anonymity, revealed new details about why the tapes were made and
      then eliminated. Their accounts show how political and legal
      considerations competed with intelligence concerns in the handling of
      the tapes.

      The discussion about the tapes took place in Congressional
      briefings and secret deliberations among top White House lawyers,
      including a meeting in May 2004 just days after photographs of abuse
      at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had reminded the administration of the
      power of such images. The debate stretched over the tenure of two
      C.I.A. chiefs and became entangled in a feud between the agency's top
      lawyers and its inspector general. The tapes documented a program so
      closely guarded that President Bush himself had agreed with the advice
      of intelligence officials that he not be told the locations of the
      secret C.I.A. prisons. Had there been no political or security
      considerations, videotaping every interrogation and preserving the
      tapes would make sense, according to several intelligence officials.

      "You couldn't have more than one or two analysts in the room,"
      said A. B. Krongard, the C.I.A.'s No. 3 official at the time the
      interrogations were taped. "You want people with spectacular language
      skills to watch the tapes. You want your top Al Qaeda experts to watch
      the tapes. You want psychologists to watch the tapes. You want
      interrogators in training to watch the tapes."

      Given such advantages, why was the taping stopped by the end of
      2002, less than a year after it started?

      "By that time," Mr. Krongard said, "paranoia was setting in."

      The Decision to Tape

      By several accounts, the decision to begin taping Abu Zubaydah and
      another detainee suspected of being a Qaeda operative, Abd al-Rahim
      al-Nashiri, was made in the field, with several goals in mind.

      First, there was Abu Zubaydah's precarious condition. "There was
      concern that we needed to have this all documented in case he should
      expire from his injuries," recalled one former intelligence official.

      Just as important was the fact that for many years the C.I.A. had
      rarely conducted even standard interrogations, let alone ones
      involving physical pressure, so officials wanted to track closely the
      use of legally fraught interrogation methods. And there was interest
      in capturing all the information to be gleaned from a rare resource -
      direct testimony from those who had attacked the United States.

      But just months later, the taping was stopped. Some field officers
      had never liked the idea. "If you're a case officer, the last thing
      you want is someone in Washington second-guessing everything you did,"
      said one former agency veteran.

      More significant, interrogations of Abu Zubaydah had gotten
      rougher, with each new tactic approved by cable from headquarters.
      American officials have said that Abu Zubaydah was the first Qaeda
      prisoner to be waterboarded, a procedure during which water is poured
      over the prisoner's mouth and nose to create a feeling of drowning.
      Officials said they felt they could not risk a public leak of a
      videotape showing Americans giving such harsh treatment to bound

      Heightening the worries about the tapes was word of the first
      deaths of prisoners in American custody. In November 2002, an Afghan
      man froze to death overnight while chained in a cell at a C.I.A. site
      in Afghanistan, north of Kabul, the capital. Two more prisoners died
      in December 2002 in American military custody at Bagram Air Base in

      By late 2002, interrogators were recycling videotapes, preserving
      only two days of tapes before recording over them, one C.I.A. officer
      said. Finally, senior agency officials decided that written summaries
      of prisoners' answers would suffice.

      Still, that decision left hundreds of hours of videotape of the
      two Qaeda figures locked in an overseas safe.

      Clandestineservice officers who had overseen the interrogations
      began pushing hard to destroy the tapes. But George J. Tenet, then the
      director of central intelligence, was wary, in part because the
      agency's top lawyer, Scott W. Muller, advised against it, current and
      former officials said.

      Yet agency officials decided to float the idea of eliminating the
      tapes on Capitol Hill, hoping for political cover. In February 2003,
      Mr. Muller told members of the House and Senate oversight committees
      about the C.I.A's interest in destroying the tapes for security reasons.

      But both Porter J. Goss, then a Republican congressman from
      Florida and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and
      Representative Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat,
      thought destroying the tapes would be legally and politically risky.
      C.I.A. officials did not press the matter.

      The Detention Program

      Scrutiny of the C.I.A.'s secret detention program kept building.
      Later in 2003, the agency's inspector general, John L. Helgerson,
      began investigating the program, and some insiders believed the
      inquiry might end with criminal charges for abusive interrogations.

      Mr. Helgerson - now conducting the videotapes review with the
      Justice Department - had already rankled covert officers with an
      investigation into the 2001 shooting down of a missionary plane by
      Peruvian military officers advised by the C.I.A. The investigation set
      off widespread concern within the clandestine branch that a day of
      reckoning could be coming for officers involved in the agency's secret
      prison program. The Peru investigation often pitted Mr. Helgerson
      against Mr. Muller, who vigorously defended members of the clandestine
      branch and even lobbied the Justice Department to head off criminal
      charges in the matter, according to former intelligence officials

      "Muller wanted to show the clandestine branch that he was looking
      out for them," said John Radsan, who served as an assistant general
      counsel for the C.I.A. from 2002 to 2004. "And his aggressiveness on
      Peru was meant to prove to the operations people that they were
      protected on a lot of other programs, too."

      Mr. Helgerson completed his investigation of interrogations in
      April 2004, according to one person briefed on the still-secret
      report, which concluded that some of the C.I.A.'s techniques appeared
      to constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under the
      international Convention Against Torture. Current and former officials
      said the report did not explicitly state that the methods were torture.

      A month later, as the administration reeled from the Abu Ghraib
      disclosures, Mr. Muller, the agency general counsel, met to discuss
      the report with three senior lawyers at the White House: Alberto R.
      Gonzales, the White House counsel; David S. Addington, legal adviser
      for Vice President Dick Cheney; and John B. Bellinger III, the top
      lawyer at the National Security Council.

      The interrogation tapes were discussed at the meeting, and one
      Bush administration official said that, according to notes of the
      discussion, Mr. Bellinger advised the C.I.A. against destroying the
      tapes. The positions Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Addington took are unknown.
      One person familiar with the discussion said that in light of concerns
      raised in the inspector general's report that agency officers could be
      legally liable for harsh interrogations, there was a view at the time
      among some administration lawyers that the tapes should be preserved.

      Looking for Guidance

      After Mr. Tenet and Mr. Muller left the C.I.A. in mid-2004, Mr.
      Rodriguez and other officials from the clandestine branch decided
      again to take up the tapes with the new chief at Langley, Mr. Goss,
      the former congressman.

      Mr. Rodriguez had taken over the clandestine directorate in late
      2004, and colleagues say Mr. Goss repeatedly emphasized to Mr.
      Rodriguez that he was expected to run operations without clearing
      every decision with superiors.

      During a meeting in Mr. Goss's office with Mr. Rodriguez, John A.
      Rizzo, who by then had replaced Mr. Muller as the agency's top lawyer,
      told the new C.I.A. director that the clandestine branch wanted a firm
      decision about what to do with the tapes.

      According to two people close to Mr. Goss, he advised against
      destroying the tapes, as he had in Congress, and told Mr. Rizzo and
      Mr. Rodriguez that he thought the tapes should be preserved at the
      overseas location. Apparently he did not explicitly prohibit the
      tapes' destruction.

      Yet in November 2005, Congress already was moving to outlaw
      "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners, and The
      Washington Post reported that some C.I.A. prisoners were being held in
      Eastern Europe. As the agency scrambled to move the prisoners to new
      locations, Mr. Rodriguez and his aides decided to use their own
      authority to destroy the tapes, officials said.

      One official who has spoken with Mr. Rodriguez said Mr. Rodriguez
      and his aides were concerned about protection of the C.I.A. officers
      on the tapes, from Al Qaeda, as the C.I.A. has stated, and from
      political pressure.

      The tapes might visually identify as many as five or six people
      present for each interrogation - interrogators themselves, whom the
      agency now prefers to call "debriefers"; doctors or doctor's
      assistants who monitored the prisoner's medical state; and security
      officers, the official said. Some traveled regularly in and out of
      areas where Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremists are active, he said.

      Apart from concerns about physical safety in the event of a leak,
      the official said, there was concern for the careers of officers shown
      on the tapes. "We didn't want them to become political scapegoats," he

      According to several current and former officials, lawyers in the
      agency's clandestine branch gave Mr. Rodriguez written guidance that
      he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that such a move would
      not be illegal.

      One day in November 2005, Mr. Rodriguez sent a cable ordering the
      destruction of the recordings. Soon afterward, he notified both Mr.
      Goss and Mr. Rizzo, taking full responsibility for the decision.

      Former intelligence officials said that Mr. Goss was unhappy about
      the news, in part because it was further evidence that as the C.I.A.
      director he was so weakened that his subordinates would directly
      reject his advice. Yet it appears that Mr. Rodriguez was never
      reprimanded. Nor is there evidence that Mr. Goss promptly notified
      Congress that the tapes were gone.

      The investigations over the tapes frustrate some C.I.A. veterans,
      who say they believe that the agency is being unfairly blamed for
      policies of coercive interrogation approved at the top of the Bush
      administration and by some Congressional leaders. Intelligence
      officers are divided over the use of such methods as waterboarding.
      Some say the methods helped get information that prevented terrorist
      attacks. Others, like John C. Gannon, a former C.I.A. deputy director,
      say it was a tragic mistake for the administration to approve such

      Mr. Gannon said he thought the tapes became such an issue because
      they would have settled the legal debate over the harsh methods.

      "To a spectator it would look like torture," he said. "And torture
      is wrong."



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