The CIA Solidifies its Terror Tapes Story–or Tries To

Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane have done good reporting on the terror tape story. But their latest installment reads like an attempt on the part of the CIA to get its story straight. That attempt might work–so long as you don’t read it too closely. (Update: Scott Horton thinks this is a transparent cover story too.)

The story as a whole is full of no-nonsense logical explanations for the CIA’s actions with regards to the terror tapes. For example, Buzzy Krongard provides a very logical explanation for why the CIA took the tapes:

“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.”

In addition, the NYT’s sources claim the CIA took the tapes to document that they weren’t killing Abu Zubaydah specifically, and because they had so rarely interrogated such high level detainees. But then, the risks of keeping the tapes increased, partly because the CIA was using torture and partly because detainees were dying in custody. So the CIA stopped taking tapes and started trying to get rid of those they already had.

This set off a big debate internally in the CIA. CIA General Counsel Scott Muller advised against the tapes destruction. Then CIA’s IG John Helgorsen started investigating the CIA’s interrogation program; an April 2004 report concluded some of the CIA’s methods amounted to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. After Muller and Tenet left and Porter Goss and John Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez came in, those trying to protect the interrogators attempted to get approval for destroying the tapes again. Goss objected (the story says). But a year later, as Congress was passing the McCain Amendment banning torture, Rodriguez made the decision to destroy the tapes. And remarkably, Goss did not discipline Rodriguez, even though he claims to have opposed the tapes’ destruction.

It’s all a neat, logical story, isn’t it? It all explains the whole chronology such that American taxpayers won’t fault the CIA for trying to do the right thing, right?

Except it remains a vague story full of holes.

Why Tape Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, but not Ramzi bin al-Shibh or any others?

For example, the story gets really vague as it moves away from events related exclusively to Abu Zubaydah and to events covering other top Al Qaeda detainees. It suggests the taping was closely connected to Zubaydah’s gunshot wounds when he was taken into custody, a way of documenting that, if he died, the interrogation wasn’t responsible.

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, … they set up video cameras to record his every moment: asleep in his cell, having his bandages changed, being interrogated.

But that doesn’t explain their decision to tape interrogations–or not–with other Al Qaeda detainees. The story admits that the CIA also taped interrogations with a-Nashiri.

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

But it doesn’t explain why they would tape interrogations of al-Nashiri. Was he, too, injured in his capture? Contemporary reports don’t say he was. And if al-Nashiri’s interrogations were taped, then why weren’t Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s interrogations (and note, bin al-Shibh was also taken in a gunfight)?

Why tape al-Nashiri after the tapes became risky?

The question of why and whom they taped becomes more curious when you consider the timing. The story provides a vague description of when taping started and when it ended, at first suggesting it started shortly after Zubaydah’s capture and lasted just months.

… in the spring of 2002, … they set up video cameras to record [Abu Zubaydah’s] every moment:


… worry drove the decision to begin taping interrogations — and to stop taping just months later, after the treatment of prisoners began to include waterboarding.

Stories elsewhere have reported that waterboarding started after the August 1 Bybee Memo authorized it. If so, that would suggest they started to reconsider keeping the tapes in August, because they were waterboarding.

But then the story connects the stop of taping with the deaths of some detainees in November and December 2002.

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 Afghanistan.

And it suggests that, by this point, the CIA had already stopped keeping tapes.

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.

But this is precisely the timeframe when al-Nashiri was captured and turned over to the US, which is reported (even to the 9/11 Commission) as occurring in early November (the "two weeks ago") would be November 9.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi in his mid-thirties who is suspected of being the mastermind behind the USS Cole bombing in Oct. 2000, was captured nearly two weeks ago, Fox News has learned, by an unidentified foreign government which turned him over to the United States.

So the CIA would have you believe that they reconsidered taping interrogations as soon as the waterboarding started in August 2002. So why did they tape al-Nashiri’s interrogations, which didn’t start until at least three months after they started reconsidering the taping, at a time when the CIA seemed to be moving toward over-writing the tapes?

Note, the NYT’s handy graphic timeline hides this issue, by suggesting that al-Nashiri was captured at the same time as Zubaydah. I guess the story wouldn’t look so logical and innocent if you saw that al-Nashiri’s interrogations started in the same month a detainee died in CIA custody, huh?

What connection is there between the detainee deaths and the decision to stop taping?

Which raises another question. We know the CIA was still taping–at least some detainees–in November 2002 because the CIA taped al-Nashiri, who wasn’t captured until November. So did they tape the CIA detainee who died in custody in November? And if so, did they destroy that tape?

The story suggests a vague relationship between the start of torture and the deaths in custody.

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 prisoners.

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.

Using their original stated logic for taping the interrogations (that is, you tape the interrogations to prove the interrogations didn’t kill a detainee), it seems that this coincidence of events would raise the importance of taping interrogations. You’d want to tape all interrogations, to prove that any deaths occurred for some other reason.

Though, the exposure to extreme cold is one of the interrogation methods that has been approved by the CIA. So that November death may well have been caused by what was considered a legal interrogation method.

Which might explain things: the CIA stopped taping interrogations because those tapes included proof that approved interrogation methods were killing people.

What did Scott Muller advise when and did he include the White House in these discussions?

The timing of the story is also vague as it pertains to then CIA General Counsel Scott Muller’s role. It explains that Scott Muller advised against destroying the torture tapes; the implication is that that happened in late 2002 or early 2003.

Clandestine service 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.

But the story also describes how, in a bid to get political cover for destroying the tapes, Muller briefed "members of the House and Senate oversight committees" on the tapes in February 2003.

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.

Now, first of all, that part of the story still conflicts with Jello Jay Rockefeller’s story–and presumably SSCI as a whole.

Last night, the CIA informed me that it believes that the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee was told of the decision to destroy the tapes in February 2003 but was not told of their actual destruction until a closed committee hearing held in November 2006.

The committee has located no record of either being informed of the 2003 CIA decision or being notified late last year of the tapes having being destroyed. [my emphasis]

That is, Jello Jay claims that the CIA claims that SSCI was informed of the torture tape decision, not that the CIA "floated the idea" of destroying the tapes. But SSCI has no record such a briefing occurred.

Now, let’s even presume that Jello Jay forgot (or that the Vice Chair of SSCI somehow wasn’t among those "members of the House and Senate oversight committees" who were briefed). It still raises interesting timing questions. The story seems to suggest the Muller opposed the destruction for legal reasons, but that in spite of his opposition to the destruction, he was still recruited to go tell Congress they were destroying the tapes, that then Congress opposed the idea, and only then did CIA agree with Muller’s advice not to destroy them.

Also what do you think the chances are that Muller was off briefing Congress but had not yet already discussed the issue with the White House? Did White House involvement lead to the CIA’s decision–over Muller’s claimed opposition–that they were going to inform Congress they were destroying the tapes? And what happened to Nancy Pelosi’s briefing, the one that occurred in 2002 when she was still part of the Gang of Four? The description of when Muller’s advice and the briefing of Congress occurred seems designed to account for a known piece of paperwork–Jane Harman’s letter objecting to the tapes’ destruction–but it ignores a whole lot of other discussions that certainly took place.

In addition to these big questions, the story has some of the familiar questions we’ve been looking at for years: How is it that officers came to Porter Goss and asked for "a firm decision" about the tapes, but walked away believing they could still destroy them? Why is it that, after the CIA decided in 2004 they needed to destroy the tapes, they waited until 2005 to do so.

But there are three more details worth noting in the story.

First, the story backs off earlier claims that Abu Gonzales opposed the destruction of the tapes in the May 2004 briefing that appears to be documented.

The positions Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Addington took are unknown.

Of course, no one has every claimed that Addington opposed the destruction of the tapes.

Second, the article describes Bush as having compartmented himself off from the program.

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.

The story makes it sounds as if Bush was not told of the locations of the secret prisons because the program was so secret that even the President could not be told. Whaaaa??!?!?! I mean, I know the White House (and particularly the Fourth Branch section of it) leaks like a sieve, but this information was not going to be leaked out of the White House. If they didn’t tell Bush about the secret prisons, it was to insulate him from legal responsibility for them. But therein lies the problem: there’s a long history of acceptance of the CIA’s excesses, if the President signs off on it. But in this matter, they specifically prevented Bush from signing off on one aspect of it–no doubt because it was so politically and legally fraught with risk, they didn’t want to expose the President.

Now couple that claim with what I consider–by far–the most revealing part of this story:

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.

I’ve never understood the claim that Dana Priest’s story on the black sites somehow precipitated the destruction of the torture tapes. But this story seems to inadvertantly explain the connection. When her story came out, they moved the detainees.

Now, the NYT has already reported that the tapes were always stored in the same country where the interrogations took place.

The NYT’s article has one more detail of note–again, reporting something that is intuitive, but not something that had been confirmed before, AFAIK. The torture tapes were stored in the country–singular–where the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri took place.

Until their destruction, the tapes were stored in a safe in the C.I.A. station in the country where the interrogations took place, current and former officials said. According to one former senior intelligence official, the tapes were never sent back to C.I.A. headquarters, despite what the official described as concern about keeping such highly classified material overseas.

If the CIA scrambled after Priest’s story to 1) move detainees out of Poland or Romania the Eastern European country in question and 2) to hide any evidence that the US had been torturing detainees on European soil, it would make sense that they would destroy the tapes at the same time (particularly if they were stored at the prison in question). Particularly if the CIA was trying to compartment details about this prison so as to protect the President.

In other words, this strongly suggests they destroyed the tapes–among other reasons–to hide the fact that a European ally was complicit in the torture.

57 replies
  1. Pachacutec says:


    I can’t wait to read as other web sites and outlets claim to break these bits and pieces. You know, remembering it afresh, as if for the first time.

    • emptywheel says:

      Well, presumably Mazzetti and Shane could connect the dots, if I’m right about this being a CYA for Poland as much as anything else. But that may be something they keep secret–after all, Priest never revealed the countries in question. It’s one of those things that Intell types will guard religiously.

  2. drational says:

    And while I am skeptical Gonzales ever opposed tape destruction, this little perjury problem may have changed his mind on November 1, 2005….

    From Jan 6, 2005 Gonzales AG Confirmation Hearing:

    SEN. DURBIN: And so this morning we read in the paper about rendition, an argument made that we took a prisoner whom we could not, should not torture legally and turned him over to a country that would torture him. That would be illegal as well, would it not?
    MR. GONZALES: Under my understanding of the law, yes, sir, that we have an obligation not to render someone to a country that we believe is going to torture them; that is correct.

    SEN. LEAHY: And I probably will take about 15.
    One, I was glad to hear you say to — and I’m — correct me if I misunderstood you, but to Senator Durbin that it is wrong if somebody — if a U.S. personnel turns somebody over to another country knowing they’re going to be tortured. Did I understand you correctly on that?
    MR. GONZALES: I believe that that is the law, and naturally U.S. policy.
    SEN. LEAHY: And so they would be prosecuted, the people who did that?
    MR. GONZALES: Yes, sir. Yes.

  3. mainsailset says:

    A European ally that had also signed onto the Geneva Convention; that had the handshake promise that they could join NATO; whose own peoples knew first hand the horror of state sponsored torture?

  4. drational says:

    Somehow the precursor post to #3 is lost in the ether:

    I am surprised there is no reporting yet of the exact date of torture. Is this perhaps because the leakers don’t want to be busted for corrupting future terror prosecutions when we learn that the destruction happened after the Brinkema inquiry?

    Right now, the 2 day window between November 1 and November 3 to escape obstruction of justice charges is open; not wide, but open. The leakers appear to be pointing to the Priest article as the impetus for destruction, perhaps to distract from the obstruction possibility.

    With respect to orders coming from the EOVP/WHO, it seems if the tapes went extra-executive in the Moussasoui trial, there was a substantial perjury problem for Gonzo, so I still bet on post 11/3 as the destruction date.

    • skdadl says:

      With respect to orders coming from the EOVP/WHO, it seems if the tapes went extra-executive in the Moussasoui trial, there was a substantial perjury problem for Gonzo, so I still bet on post 11/3 as the destruction date.

      May I ask you to run that by me again in slightly longer form? I’m trying to put it together with post 3. Bear of very slow brain here.

      • drational says:

        had to run and did not make a clear point.
        1. They waited until nov05 to destroy.
        2. Destruction by field agents without orders from above would be surprising.
        3. It seems the leakers are indicating the motivation was the priest article and black sites. maybe so.
        4. an alternative motivation might have been to obstruct justice; specifically, on 3nov05 Judge Brinkema asked the prosecutors in the Moussaoui case whether interrogation audio or video existed that related to info from high-value detainees being used in the Moussaoui trial. Eleven days later, the CIA claimed to prosecutors in that trial that it had no such recordings.
        5. So, in addition to concerns about the black sites revelations, the CIA was getting a request in a terror trial for tapes.
        6. It seems possible (if the tapes were not destroyed before 3Nov) that between the CIA request (3nov) and the CIA response that it had no tapes (14nov), there may have been a decision within the CIA on whether to provide tapes.
        7. The 3nov discovery request by Brinkema seemed to incorporate a request for ANY tapes with relevant info. Thus, on 3nov there was a potential for independent (outside the tight compartmentalization) review.
        8. If the CIA sought guidance on whether to respond with the torture tapes, it is possible that they went up the chain of command.
        9. If the request was reviewed by the War Council (Addington/Gonzales/Cheney) they probably appreciated the liability of having the tapes.
        10. Gonzales in particular had risk, owing to his testimony in jan05 that the US did not torture, nor hand captives over to foreign countries for torture.
        11. Thus whereas the existence of tapes and their contents could certainly be declared classified, and the Brinkema review hidden, if the Brinkema request was met with responsive provision of existing tapes, then there was a record of their existence and an judicial oversight impetus for them to never be destroyed.
        12. Although classified, there would now be risk that other oversight (such as congress) might access the tapes and see the torture, and in so doing have a motive to reevaluate Gonzales’ SJC testimony.

        The Priest article increased their value.
        And the Brinkema request threatened to disrupt the tight chain of secrecy and compartmentalization within the executive.

        So I suspect that the Brinkema request was an important motivator for destruction, and I wonder about the date of destruction. If 2nov05, then this theory is off base (and maybe just the priest article spooked them). If after 3nov05, then I wonder whether discovery concerns played a role.

        Regardless, if they were destroyed to conceal from the Brinkema request, then a crime may have been committed. Criminal torture, perjury about torture by Gonzales (who obviously knew about the tapes existence at his AG appointment hearing in jan05) and then criminal obstruction of justice as part of a cover up.
        Hence my skepticism about prior reports suggesting Gonzales was advocating for their preservation. I venture a guess that he wanted them destroyed, especially after 3nov05.

  5. drational says:

    #5 should read “… no reporting yet of the exact date of the destruction of the torture tapes.”

  6. billinturkey says:

    But the story also describes how, in a bid to get political cover for destroying the tapes, Muller briefed “members of the House and Senate oversight committees” on the tapes in February 2003.

    I’m hearing all sorts of parsing in that line…strongly suggests the gang of eight while carefully *not* sayıng so – the line could be true if only 2 Rs were briefed, in confidence, say (which would also be consistent w. Jello Jay’s narrative)

    Not saying that’s how it was…but the words look very carefully chosen.

    • emptywheel says:

      Careful though–we’re definitely only dealing with Gang of Four (that is, Intell Committee leadership, but not House and Senate leadership). But yes, it sure does sound like parsing to me.

  7. oldtree says:

    protect the president from appearing to know about systematic torture and killing of prisoners?
    Hmm, sounds like a hands down conspiracy involving the leader of the country involved directly in the implementation of torture. it doesn’t get more simple when the denial includes information confirmed by the same person

  8. mamayaga says:

    I know that pixie dust works in mysterious ways, but how can the Unitary Executive be compartmentalized off from the results of what we presume was his duly signed order?

  9. MadDog says:

    I’d be willing to bet a tidy sum that Porter Goss, former CIA Director, is one of the MSM’s key sources in spinning this tale.

    Though Goss is never quoted for atribution, it always seems that a viewpoint that piously forgives any of his sins is foremost in the tale being told.

    Must be a relief for Goss to get back in the politico’s saddle by a self-serving whispering campaign instead of having to suck it up like a good CIA Director should.

    There are many knives in the air aimed at a multitude of WH, CIA and DOJ backs. And the majority of those knives seem to be held in Repug hands.

  10. TheraP says:

    Thanks for pointing out all the holes. This story has holes like a sponge. And like a sponge, they hope it will hold water!

  11. grayslady says:

    Just a couple of thoughts on this very thorough and thought-provoking analysis:

    1) Re SSCI briefings: It sounds as though there is a requirement that records be kept of whatever is said in these briefings/meetings, even if they are “closed door.” While I have zero respect for Jay Rockefeller as a member of this subcommittee, I don’t think he’s a deliberate liar. Therefore, if he says there are no records indicating that these statements were ever made to SCCI, then we are left with one of two possible scenarios: either the CIA is lying or else the records of those meetings were purloined.

    2) Re Bush involvement with secret offshore prisons: The quote you use says that Bush was only kept from knowing the specific locations of the prisons, not that he was kept from knowing that there were such prisons. My guess is that this was done not to shelter Bush from any legal implications–because just knowing about the existence of the prisons would have him in hot water–but rather to allow him to carry on conversations with the presidents of Poland, Romania, etc. without ever having to refer to the “help” they were providing, in their own perverse ways, with the so-called GWOT.

    • MrWhy says:

      If two members of SCI were briefed, perhaps together, perhaps separately, does that mean SCI was briefed?

      If briefings took place, but without official records, does that parse to no records exist indicating that the SCI was briefed?

      • grayslady says:

        I’m not an administrative wonk on this. It simply occurs to me, from a common sense viewpoint, that if records of meetings are required to be kept, and if there are no records indicating that the subcommittee ever heard this information, then the likely conclusion is that no formal meeting ever occurred. Otherwise, the comments would be in a record somewhere. It’s my understanding that Rockefeller’s comments refer strictly to SCCI, not the “Gang of Four” or even a lesser number of legislators, whether in the House or the Senate. It all reminds me of Abu G-type testimony–in other words, trying to tap dance around the truth. If someone in the CIA approaches one or more subcommittee members outside of chambers, that hardly constitutes giving the SCCI a briefing. It is what it is, but it certainly doesn’t equate to advising the subcommittee.

  12. MadDog says:

    CIA also taped interrogations with a-Nashiri…

    Then where are his interrogation tapes?

    Are they still useful and as Buzzy says:

    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.”

    The Tale of the Torture Tapes is far from being truly told.

      • MadDog says:

        His are supposed to be the other ones destroyed.

        I must’ve missed that.

        While not at all questioning your perspicacity *g*, do you have a linky where that has been reported/acknowledged?

        • MadDog says:

          EW, ignore my request at 25. Was just reviewing the early NYT articles and found my memory improved. *g*

          Though I have to say that most news focus seems to be on the tapes of Abu Zubaydah, while the tapes of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri seem to get short shrift.

          • emptywheel says:

            That’s part of my point abotu this article. It provides an explanation that might be coherent wrt Zubaydah. But once you factor in the timing of al-Nashiri’s capture, it completely falls apart.

          • phred says:

            The other thing that troubles me with this tape business is there remains a third set of destroyed tapes of an as yet (afaik) unidentified individual. Plus, as Mary pointed out so eloquently the other day, why not tape all of the interrogations? And conversely, if there was a problem with the tapes, why not destroy all of them? None of this adds up.

            Nice job (as always) dissecting this particular article, EW. I think you are spot on that destroying the tapes had as much to do with political/legal cover for an eastern European country as it had to do with the same here at home.

    • IMbobo says:

      Cheney didn’t compartment himself from the program, I assume.

      Cheney’s a much better secret keeper than Bush. You never know what tidbit is going to spew out between Bush’s lips (pretzels, anyone?) when he’s speaking extemporaneously. So I’ll go with greylady @14,

      …to allow him to carry on conversations with the presidents of Poland, Romania, etc. without ever having to refer to the “help” they were providing, in their own perverse ways, with the so-called GWOT.

      And I’ll go one better – to eliminate the risk of it slipping out in public.

  13. TheraP says:

    And what about those tapes the lawyers watched in September? That’s on the record. They existed then. And were they over an extended time period or what?

  14. chrisc says:

    Re: CYA for Poland / Romania
    Poland was admitted to the EU in 2004.
    Romania was approved in Jan 2007.
    If the tapes had surfaced, might this have affected their chances of getting in the EU?

      • emptywheel says:

        One of the things I’ve been thinking of is the allegation that someone form the home country helped us torture our detainees. In the case of Romania, you can certainly understand that former Ceacescu interrogator might have something to teach us.

        • TheraP says:

          Following your theory – and adding in that the number of people in the torture chamber might have only been 2 (in addition to the poor soul being tortured) – that suggests one “torturer” – presumably the Romanian. And another interrogator… someone who could speak the lingo… or knew both languages, that of the tortured soul and that of the torturer. Or do you think the torturer and interrogator had prearranged hand-signals? Unless the Romanian torturers know Arabic.

          As horrible as this is, we need to run the thought experiments: What happened between the folks in those rooms? The torturer/interrogators and their hapless victims.

  15. NMvoiceofreason says:

    “According to one former senior intelligence official, the tapes were never sent back to C.I.A. headquarters, despite what the official described as concern about keeping such highly classified material overseas.”

    “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.”

    So how did the people with spectacular language skills, the top Al Qaeda experts, the psychologists watch the tapes? Were these analysts flown en-masse all across the world? Or were the tapes transmitted to CIA HQ, and thus stored in their computer systems and still available on their backup tapes?

    Holes within holes, within holes, emptywheel.

    • TheraP says:

      Exactly! And how did they did it within the 48 hour time frame? Before the next set of recordings.

      Come on…..

  16. masaccio says:

    One thing I note is that no one thinks that destruction of the tapes was itself illegal. Not one person quoted says that, and all of the people who want to say they were opposed to destruction use words like “risk” (Congresspeople Goss and Harmon), or advice (Bellinger, CIA Director Goss, Muller). In fact, the article suggests that everyone agrees that the destruction was not illegal. Not one person told Rodriguez he could not destroy the tapes.

    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.

    All of the discussions revolve around the wisdom of destruction, and use what looks like cost-benefit analysis.

    This means that the decisive considerations were political: Would the cost of destruction of the tapes exceed the cost of their eventual release and review by the world? I bet they drew the lesson of the Nixon Administration: destruction is always the best course. Better to be thought to be a criminal than to prove it with incontrovertible evidence.

    As much as I like EW’s theory, the fact that the decision was made by the director of operations and not by the head of the agency suggests that the reasons were the mundane explanation we should expect from this crew.

  17. BayStateLibrul says:

    I find this sentence the most troubling:

    The POSITIONS that Mr. Gonzales and Mr Addingtion took are UNKNOWN.

    Unknown my arse, known, but lay in secret, to protect their no-good backsides.
    Whole paragraph follows:

    “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.”

    • bigbrother says:…..s.pdf?rd=1
      Christian de Vos has a paper that is relevant where interrogation becomes torture (inflicting pain to get information) The parsing of ‘we don’t torture’ is masked by the degrees cruel and unusual punishment CIDDT. They cannot not know they are torturing.
      The British tortured the IRA during the London bombings inspite of the UN human rights panel.
      The humane society’s view of animal cruelty is a crime. The justification of the level of cruelty inflicted based on the seriousness of the crime seems to be the rationale. Turn up the pain meter to the limit of tolerance, recover the victim and redo. The process was a film directed by the interrogation team manager’s script. It makes the middle ages torture with rack and thumb screws and all the rest appear amatuerish, less sophisticated.
      Don’t we have to have a trial before we sentence and inflict punishment?

      • mamayaga says:

        Don’t we have to have a trial before we sentence and inflict punishment?

        Lewis Carroll had the Queen of Hearts bellow, “Verdict first, trial later!” and expected child readers to understand the absurdity of it. Amazing that a huge chucnk of the American populace, including all Republican presidential candidates, don’t get it.

  18. merkwurdiglieber says:

    The tangled web analogy is perhaps too trite, but EW has presented an
    overview that suggests someone, or several someones, took no account of
    the ramifications following on this policy. The Libby trial was only a
    warmup for shapes of things to come, we must not allow another Jerry Ford
    moment to spare us the pain from prosecuting these crimes.

  19. BayStateLibrul says:

    Macbeth (the CIA) has seen Banquo’s ghost (Tapes).
    Blood follows blood.
    May it go all downhill from here…

  20. Phoenix Woman says:

    By the way, yet another JAG’s resigned his commission as a result of his disgust with his superiors authorizing waterboarding — a crime for which we were court martialing people during the Vietnam War:

    Thank you, General Hartmann, for finally admitting the United States is now part of a long tradition of torturers going back to the Inquisition.

    In the middle ages, the Inquisition called waterboarding “toca” and used it with great success. In colonial times, it was used by the Dutch East India Company during the Amboyna Massacre of 1623.

    Waterboarding was used by the Nazi Gestapo and the feared Japanese Kempeitai. In World War II, our grandfathers had the wisdom to convict Japanese Officer Yukio Asano of waterboarding and other torture practices in 1947, giving him 15 years hard labor.

    Waterboarding was practiced by the Khmer Rouge at the infamous Tuol Sleng prison. Most recently, the U.S. Army court martialed a soldier for the practice in 1968 during the Vietnam conflict.

    This is why Lindsey Graham’s tapdancing on this is interesting. Graham him self was a former judge advocate general. He KNOWS that waterboarding is torture and illegal (not to mention immoral):

    Sen. Graham, a former military judge advocate, has said before that someone doesn’t “have to have a lot of knowledge about the law to understand this technique violates Geneva Convention Common Article Three.”

  21. nolo says:

    . . .The story makes it sounds as if Bush was not told of the locations of the secret prisons because the program was so secret that even the President could not be told. Whaaaa??!?!?! I mean, I know the White House (and particularly the Fourth Branch section of it) leaks like a sieve, but this information was not going to be leaked out of the White House. If they didn’t tell Bush about the secret prisons, it was to insulate him from legal responsibility for them. . .

    this is — sadly — exactly right.
    this whole thing begins to look like
    a bad plot-riff off of the “national
    ” early-

    except instead of some smashed-up mercedes,
    and slipping-off toupes — many suffered
    unspeakably cruel deaths [and many more will,
    but this time, it’ll be our troops — as it
    becomes clear[er] that we don’t expect our
    enemies to honor the geneva conventions for our guys],
    an ill-considered war spun-out into utter-chaos,
    and most-importantly, whatever moral authority the
    united states president once held, vanished.

    this is the second sunday, in the last three
    weeks, that an EW post has made me feel like i
    need to go back to bed. this whole thing smells
    of rampant war-crimes conspiracies — smells like
    the wharves at lunar-low-tide. . .

  22. bigbrother says:

    The Bybee memo legal analysis of section 2340 code on torture in 2002 is part of Vos’s piece on torture You all really have to read this incredible analysis on your topic. In the bigger picture one does not have to nit pik or parse.
    The first element of torture is detainment
    The second element is a premeditated intention to inflict mental and or physical pain
    The third element is to carry out the plan by inducing pain and depravation of the elements required to protect life and limb (a requirement incumbent on the incarcerators)
    Shoving a drugged suppository up someone and kidnapping them(rendidtion) and shooting them up with LSD and what all falls in the categary of torture and terrorism.
    The administration has admitted to all of this after George Tenet spoke on MSM prime time swearing “we do not torture”
    Now you have admitted coverup. Impeachment is how this is vetted not the corrupt courts.…..s.pdf?rd=1

  23. JodiDog says:

    1. For the CIA, keeping tapes of its operatives at this kind work (not training), was unusual. The CIA is cloaked in secrecy, and its operatives doing their work are also supposed to be kept secret.

    2. In this particular kind of case even more unusual is having a visual record.

    3. Usually in business or in the various Services, there are stated predetermined time frames that such recordings will be kept for, barring some kind of special exclusion.

    4. The above stated, there were reasons to keep the tapes for a short period of time, so they could be studied by experts that weren’t on site when the events took place.

    Finally –the Clandestine Chief acted wisely and bravely in protecting the operatives shown in the tapes, as well as the Service itself.

    Again, I stress that he acted bravely!

    • phred says:

      Not owning up to one’s mistakes is the very definition of cowardice. If this administration, including the CIA, has a defining characteristic it is abject cowardice. Even Goldsmith argues strenuously that the country is being run by a bunch of bedwetters. Who am I to argue with his analysis of the gross incompetence of this administration?

      • JodiDog says:


        the Clandestine Section and Chief were protecting the (CIA) troops. The Chief knew he would probably have trouble, but he did it anyway. That is why I call it bravery.

        The fact that the interrogation was done is a known admitted fact.

        Let’s face it and admit that most here just want the pictures to shock people with, but it would do more than that. It would endanger people that were doing what their Government told them to do.

        It seems like a real turnaround from people that were so outraged that CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name became public, but she put her own face on the cover of Vanity Fair all by herself.

        • bmaz says:

          but she put her own face on the cover of Vanity Fair all by herself.

          That is, of course, a pile of crap. The people that put Plame in the media are Traitor Cheney, Traitor Bush, Traitor Libby and their other traitor friends. As to the precious CIA troops you feign such concern over, they, and their superiors, forfeited their right to “protection” when they agreed to star the government authorized equivalent of a criminal snuff film. There are common and accurate words to describe these people. War criminals.

  24. WilliamOckham says:

    Here a couple of things to remember about all this. First, the CIA had almost no experience with interrogation of prisoners. The decision to base the program on SERE meant that we were using techniques designed to gather false information. One reason to videotape the interrogations was to demonstrate its presumed effectiveness (since our own interrogation experts said it wouldn’t work).

    Second, it is pretty clear that somebody very early on asserted that the torture tapes were beyond the reach of US law. This must have come from OLC because no one disputed it. Congress needs to ask for that opinion.

    • Rayne says:

      The lack of CIA experience in interrogations is why Gladio connections might be of interest here.

      As chris c pointed out, Poland and Romania are late comers to the EU; their politics are quite different from western Europe.

      But I also note the physical flight path from Iraq to these two countries; these two are readily accessible with no flyover western Europe, only over Turkey and countries in which leaked Swiss intelligence documents say CIA had black sites (. They are also a skip-hop-jump from Kosovo, where KFOR Camp Bondsteel is located — a US-operated facility that is off-limits to inspectors from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

      And we also know that these two countries received accommodations from the U.S.

      Further, I note the CPT made inspections in these two countries:

      Poland, in October 2004, and in May 2000

      Romania, in 09/2002 – 02/2003

      Interesting windows…

      While the reports on Poland are available in English, Romania’s report is available only in French. When I have time I will have to translate the Romanian report; I’m afraid my French is just rusty enough that parsing would be tough without help. Is something hiding in plain sight?

  25. Hmmm says:

    I agree, holes and parsing. What has not been said is as important as what has been.

    Even if true, the claim that the tapes were kept only at the interrogation site both (1) does not preclude that the tapes might have been copied and the copies physically transported elsewhere (like to the US), (2) does not preclude that the recordings on the tapes may have been transmitted elsewhere while the originals stayed at the interrogation site, and (3) does not explain how the recently discovered copies — which appear to have been the precipitating event for the entire public disclosure — came into being. In fact, the existence of any copies at all may help to support an analysis either (a) that the original tapes were copied intentionally in specific cases, or (b) that they were copied as part of the ordinary process, or else (c) that the original tapes were stored insecurely; and any of these 3 options would blow the story they’re trying to tell in the NYT article out of the water.

    Similarly: Even if true, the claim that after a certain point the tapes were recycled on a couple-of-days basis hits those same points (1) (2) and (3) above. In fact, it may help to support an analysis that either (a) there was a huge analyst team onsite that was able to fully process everything the detainee said within a couple days (unlikely?), or more likely (b) the original tapes were routinely being copied and/or transmitted elsewhere for analysis and archiving shortly after being shot, so there was no longer any need to retain original recordings indefinitely onsite.

    (One possible reason for making copies: video format conversion from European-style 50 Hz PAL vs. US/Japan-style 60 Hz NTSC — though there are certainly ways to shoot in NTSC while in Europe.)

    • TheraP says:

      more likely (b) the original tapes were routinely being copied and/or transmitted elsewhere for analysis and archiving shortly after being shot, so there was no longer any need to retain original recordings indefinitely onsite.

      I agree. And thanks for your whole post, because it’s pretty much the same thing I’ve been thinking.

      While I would never, ever, participate in such an endeavor as “reviewing torture,” and am dismayed and horrified that any psychologists did participate in such activities, I’ve been considering quite a bit what would be necessary in order for anyone to review the tapes.

      Assuming they are recorded, saved, and transmitted every 48 hours, you have to assume someone going through them simply to extract the important parts. Then you have to assume transcribing followed by translation. And then you’ve got to have people view the tapes along with reading the translations. With written reports, I’d assume… otherwise why bother having experts review them? This would not be a rapid process. It would take a lot of time. I can understand the need to rerecord tapes, rather than just keep sending new tapes. And digital storage is much easier to transport or transmit. But the actual transcribing and then translating, together with the need to analyze by various disciplines would seem to need a great deal of time and effort. So doing it “on site” just totally stretches credibility.

      This argues for other evidence still available elsewhere.

      So, if “tapes were destroyed” that tells us nothing. And the


      of any other information suggests something…. that the other stuff, transcripts and translations and digital saved information probably still must exist… likely in multiple copies.

      The 48 hour recycling process thus seems to be more a function of how much fits on a given tape than anything else. So where is the other info and how/when will it surface?

      • TheraP says:

        the missing ….? in the post above was related to the absence of information about “anything else destroyed” is also information.

  26. Mary says:

    36 – Don’t we have to have a trial before we sentence and inflict punishment?

    Only if you follow the Constitution, which prohibits and excludes from government power the power to engage in Bills of Attainder. One of the claims I’d like to see made to the Sup Ct bc everyone seems to be forgetting that no branch of our government has the right to issue bills of attainder, i.e., to engage in pains and punishments of a person without trial and due process.

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