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CIA discloses news that it destroyed interrogation video tapes

CIA director Hayden says the agency did not want to compromise agents' security.

By David Montero / December 7, 2007

The CIA disclosed Thursday that it destroyed two videotapes that showed agents using highly controversial interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. The revelation is certain to heat up the debate over the treatment of terrorism suspects as well as the CIA's decisionmaking in the case.

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The CIA, though asked for evidence taken from interrogations, had never disclosed the existence of the tapes, The New York Times says.

The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui or to the Sept. 11 commission, which had made formal requests to the C.I.A. for transcripts and any other documentary evidence taken from interrogations of agency prisoners.
C.I.A. lawyers told federal prosecutors in 2003 and 2005, who relayed the information to a federal court in the Moussaoui case, that the C.I.A. did not possess recordings of interrogations sought by the judge in the case.

The CIA decided to make the destruction of the tapes public after The New York Times informed the agency it was preparing a story on Friday, the paper reports. It adds:

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques.
The destruction of the tapes raises questions about whether agency officials withheld information from Congress, the courts and the Sept. 11 commission about aspects of the program.

The CIA says it destroyed the tapes to safeguard the identity of undercover employees. The Washington Post reports these comments from CIA director Michael V. Hayden to agency employees:

"Beyond their lack of intelligence value – as the interrogation sessions had already been exhaustively detailed in written channels – and the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them, the tapes posed a security risk," Hayden said. "Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them to and their families to retaliation from al-Qaeda and it sympathizers."

Although the CIA says it was acting to protect its employees, Reuters reports, by destroying the tapes, the organization has increased concerns about its already controversial interrogation program, according to some observers.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said the tapes' destruction was another troubling aspect of the interrogation program. "The damage is compounded when such actions are hidden away from accountability," he said in a statement.