The CIA’s admission that it filmed the interrogation of terrorism suspects and then destroyed the tapes will kill any chances of convictions, attorneys representing Guantanamo Bay prisoners say. “First, it’s a criminal offence to destroy evidence,” said Clive Stafford Smith of the legal group Reprieve. “Second, if you do, the American case law is quite clear: the charges get dismissed against the individual if it’s evidence that would have helped the defense.” Stafford Smith, who represents seven Guantanamo inmates, said, “Now, because they’ve tortured them, they’ve made the job of putting them on trial very much more difficult.”
Human rights groups roundly condemned the CIA’s actions. Jameel Jaffer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said in a statement: “Apparently the CIA believes that its agents are above the law.”
Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First said: “At the same time Congress was passing laws to reinforce the ban on torture and other inhuman treatment of prisoners, it appears the CIA was destroying evidence of its own use of these illegal methods. Can there be a more telling admission that the CIA knew what it was doing was wrong?” She said the US Congress should demand—by subpoena if necessary—any evidence of CIA prisoner abuse not already destroyed.
The decision to destroy two videotapes documenting the use of waterboarding against Abu Zubaydah and another supposed al-Qaeda detainee was made in November 2005—just as the media were starting to focus on the existence of the secret CIA prison network. CIA director Michael Hayden told agency employees in a statement Dec. 6—one day after he learned the New York Times intended to publish an article on the destroyed videotapes: “The tapes posed a serious security risk. Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaeda and its sympathizers.”
The order to destroy the tapes reportedly came from José Rodriguez Jr, then “deputy director of operations,” of head of the CIA’s clandestine missions. Hayden said the interrogations were filmed in 2002 after George Bush authorized the use of harsh interrogation, including waterboarding, against al-Qaeda suspects. “The agency was determined that it proceed in accord with established legal and policy guidelines,” Hayden wrote. “So, on its own, CIA began to videotape interrogations.”
But human rights attorneys remain skeptical of assurances. “I am confident that abusive interrogation techniques are going on even as we have this conversation,” Stafford Smith told Reuters. (Reuters, The Guardian, Dec. 7)
See our last post on the torture scandal.