The CIA Asked to Destroy Torture Tapes on Same Day They Claimed They Didn’t Torture

As William Ockham has noted, there is a new–very informative–Vaughn Index and Declaration out. I’ll have much more to say about these. But for now, look at what documents 3 and 4 from the Vaughn Index tell us about the timing of the torture tape destruction.

November 1, 2005: Bill Frist briefed on torture.

November 1, 2005: Dana Priest reveals the use of black sites in Europe. In response, CIA starts moving detainees from the countries in question.

November 3, 2005: Leonie Brinkema inquires whether govt has video or audio tapes of interrogations. CIA IG Report on Manadel al-Janabi’s death completed.

November 4, 2005: Member of Congress writes four page letter to CIA IG.

November 8, 2005: CIA requests permission to destroy torture tapes. CIA reaffirms March 2005 statement that all interrogation methods are lawful. Duncan Hunter briefed on torture. Pete Hoekstra briefed on torture.

November 9, 2005: CIA confirms destruction of torture tapes.  Doug Jehl article on spring 2004 CIA IG report on interrogation methods appears.

November 14, 2005: Govt tells Brinkema it has no audio or video tapes.

That is, the CIA requested to destroy the torture tapes in email on November 8, 2005. They confirmed the destruction on November 9. Not surprisingly, after Leonie Brinkema had asked about videotapes. But also right in the middle of debates about McCain’s Detainee Treatment Act. And note that briefing for Crazy Pete Hoekstra–but not the other Dems in Intelligence Committee leadership–on the same day that CIA started asking to destroy the torture tapes.

51 replies
  1. WilliamOckham says:

    This whole thing is interesting. There was discussion of destroying the tapes as far back as late 2002. Especially interesting is this one (Doc 13) from 11/19/2002:

    This is a five-page cable from CIA headquarters to field discussing the disposition of all the videotapes, and theduties of the CIA attorney who is visiting the field to review the tapes.

    • emptywheel says:

      Remember that OGC–almost certainly John Rizzo–reviewed the tapes at that time, to see whether the cables said what the videos showed.

      And remember that at some point some of the tapes got broken. Oops.

      So I’m guessing they did the review, realized they had a problem, but then those tapes became an official document. Note that they seem to have drafted a reply to Jane Harman, but may not have sent it, in response to her comments about torture and destroying the torture tapes.

      Looking at this, I simply don’t see how Durham hasn’t already convicted, much less indicted, some of these fuckers.

        • Jeff Kaye says:

          I’d note that Durham has also been fingered (by CIA) as using FOIA exemptions [b(1), b(3), b(7)(A)] to keep some of the docs from being partially released (see multiple docs, e.g., Doc 3, the 11/8/05 cable “from the field to CIA Headquarters requesting permission to destroy 92 videotapes”). (Pardon me if this already pointed out)

          Re the 12/3/2002 Doc 8 cable from CIA HQ to the field, “discussing the destruction of videotapes and other classified material at a field facility”, are these the same videotapes? What is the other destroyed classified material? Again, the Agency says it was prepared to release this 2pg cable “in part,” but Durham intervened claiming exemption b(7). It certainly looks as if this refers to an earlier destruction of videotapes, which had been queried in late Nov 2002, as noted by WO above.

          Of interest, the 7/28/05 email from a CIA atty to his client regarding the DNI’s position re “the destruction of the videotapes”. At the time, the Dir. of National Intelligence was John Negroponte (Doc #27). This must be a reference to the letter Negroponte supposedly wrote advising against the destruction of the tapes. The email from the CIA atty would be very interesting to read, and demonstrates internal deliberation on Negroponte’s warning. I think Spencer reported on this, too, back then. In all, as is consensus here, a tremendous record of conspiracy and cover-up by CIA. But they are above the law, n’est pas? Can anyone ever really prove otherwise?

          Having read the whole Vaughn release, one is struck by the concern re the videos as early as April 2002. By September 2002, the “field” wants the video (or some of them?) destroyed. (Mitchell and/or Jessen getting quaky feet.) There is a formal request for destruction on 12/20/2002 (doc 42). HQ wants a “random review”. The question of what would make the tapes “an official record” occurs in early 2003. There are various discussions on destruction of tapes, including discussions with “groups of interest” re disposition of the tapes, and also, as noted above, by July 2005, with the DNI.

          I see all this is in the great ACLU timeline, noted by WO above.

          Re Rizzo (Bob @17 and EW @19) – Doc 40 says there’s a draft memo by CIA OGC on 12/23/2002 re the disposition of the AZ tapes. That’s Rizzo, right? or are we talking about John Fredman here?

          I’d note, and have mentioned it before, that when Fredman was at that 10/2/2002 Gitmo “Counter Strategy Meeting”, for which we have the minutes, the following came up re the question of videotapes, and until we see some of these docs is the closest we have to a contemporary insiders view of the issue circa late 2002 (Becker is Dave Becker of DIA, LEA is “law enforcement agency, and basically stands for FBI, Fredman is John Fredman, then chief counsel to the CIA’s counter-terrorism center:

          — At this point a discussion about whether or not to video tape the aggressive sessions, or interrogations at all ensued.

          Becker: Videotapes are subject to too much scrutiny in court. We don’t want the LEA people in aggressive sessions anyway.

          LTC Beaver: LEA choice not to participate in these types of interrogations is more ethical and moral as opposed to legal.

          Fredman: The videotaping of even totally legal techniques will look “ugly”.

          Becker: (Agreed)

          Superlative work, EW, WO, and all! Special thanks to ACLU!

        • MadDog says:

          Re Rizzo (Bob @17 and EW @19) – Doc 40 says there’s a draft memo by CIA OGC on 12/23/2002 re the disposition of the AZ tapes. That’s Rizzo, right? or are we talking about John Fredman here?

          It wouldn’t be Fredman since he was General Counsel over at the CIA’s CTC (CounterTerrorism Center) and not at the CIA’s OGC.

      • phred says:

        Perhaps Durham subscribes to the notion that if the President told him to, then there is no offense. Isn’t that essentially what DoJ said about Gonzo in the article fatster linked earlier? Here’s an excerpt:

        A major reason that Gonzales escaped criminal charges, according to people close to the investigation, was that he was willing to do something that he had steadfastly refused to even contemplate before: admit that many of his most controversial decisions, first as White House counsel, and later, as Attorney General, in authorizing, overseeing, and concealing the eavesdropping program were done at the specific directive of former President Bush.

        With an attitude like that, who can be surprised by Durham’s lack of action? Obama’s DoJ isn’t just looking forward, they have unilaterally suspended the rule of law.

  2. bmaz says:

    Yeah, another Captain Renault moment. Did we previously have the exact date of operative request and destruction? Seems like we just had it narrowed down to a range before, but maybe I am forgetting.

    At any rate, there is simply no way to look at that sequence and not find bad faith and specific intent. Unless, of course, you are John Durham I guess.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Yup. Captain Renault had trouble deciding whether the torture tapes “committed suicide” or were shot “while trying to escape”. Regardless, they are unavailable for inspection by the Red Cross. I suppose the obstruction charge’s SOL has passed. How nice.

  3. Jim White says:

    there is simply no way to look at that sequence and not find bad faith and specific intent

    Aw c’mon. No one could have anticipated that anyone in CIA might engage in a bit of misdirection…

    • bmaz says:

      If you are a prosecutor looking at this case and cannot find a charge to bring immediately, it is NOT an abundance of prosecutorial discretion, it is a complete lack of balls. Either that, you are in the bag or you have been ordered not to.

  4. bmaz says:

    And “broken tapes” by no means removes evidentiary viability. If they are tapes and have not been demagnetized, they are still forensic evidence.

    • qweryous says:

      ” If they are tapes and have not been demagnetized, they are still forensic evidence.”

      Some prosecutors might think that the demagnetized tapes were forensic evidence. They could have an expert determine WTF happened to ‘accidentally’ break/erase/destroy the tapes that had previously been documentary evidence.

      Was it just a subset of the tapes that were the victim of an ‘accident’, or did several different types of ‘accidents’ occur?

      Were there certain types of content that were ‘accident prone’?

  5. emptywheel says:

    Also, remember that Jello Jay Rock had requested the OGC report on the torture tapes in 2005, not long before the torture tapes were destroyed. I think that November 4 letter might be him (or maybe Harman??).

      • WilliamOckham says:

        The older Vaughn index that ew links to says that the Nov. 4, 2005 letter was partially released, but I can’t find it (still looking)… There was letter from Carl Levin on 10/25/2005….

  6. bobschacht says:

    How much you wanna bet John Rizzo is deeply implicated? The guy who still has Obama’s ear on Intel matters. Conflict of interest?

    I seem to recall that this directive was brought up here at the wheel house some weeks ago.

    Bob in AZ

    • emptywheel says:

      Actually, I’m not sure. I’ll explain why later.

      But two interesting details.

      1) Before the OGC (so, maybe Rizzo) flew to Thailand to do a review of the tapes, field appears to have been frantically trying to get HQ to let them destroy the tapes. Shortly after OGC did that review, there were more messages about how Field had to keep the tapes.


      2) There was a 2007 memo reviewing what happened to the tapes. THAT DAY, Rizzo’s GC nomination was withdrawn. And within days, Jose Rodriguez retired.

      (Incidentally, there was fresh discussion of destroyting the tapes just shortly after Rodriquez took over as DO).

      • WilliamOckham says:

        If you are referring to documents in the current Vaughn index that have 2007 dates, I think those are typos. The declaration says they only produced the index for documents for these dates:

        (1 April 2002 to 30 June 2003; and 1 June 2005 to 31 January 2006)

      • Garrett says:

        They usually describe documents with language like “from field to headquarters”. But some of those November 2002 documents say “from the field to headquarters.” Don’t know if the distinction is meaningful or not.

  7. BoxTurtle says:

    It’s been clear for awhile that the government possessed conclusive evidence of criminal conduct by members of BushCo. This can just be added to the pile.

    ObamaCo is simply not interested in anything BushCo did. They’ve apologized (more or less) in several international forums claimed they’ve stopped objectionable practices and that settles it.

    All those who thought a USA had any real independence from the Executive, pay attention here. Bmaz is right, this is a very solid case to prosecute. But nobody will touch it.

    Boxturtle (And if they did, Obama would pardon the destroyer before discovery)

  8. qweryous says:

    “The buttons said off and on, forward and backward. I caught on to that fairly fast. I don’t think that I’m so stupid as to erase what is on a tape.”
    Rose Mary Woods in Court testimony November 8, 1973.

    Later it was necessary to demonstrate how twister could be played in an office chair, leading to the ‘stupid’ ‘accident’ that supposedly caused the 18 minute gap.

    Operation Candor…I don’t remember if anyone got the credit for naming that special project. History lesson from when journalists did journalism. What would have Jokeline done with this story?,9171,908267,00.html

    Paging Leon Jaworski for a cleanup in aisle 7… Correction..
    Paging Leon Jaworski for a cleanup of of the previous administration.

  9. ShotoJamf says:

    Is anyone high up in the food chain ever going to do some time in a federal correctional facility? Maybe cell up with Khalid SM? That would be some irony…

    Tapes destroyed? Not very easy to hang this one around the neck of Rose Mary Woods…

    • qweryous says:

      That’s true, Rose Mary Woods won’t git-r-dun this time. I was thinking maybe ‘Fredo splainin how after he crawled out from under the bus that bag-o-tapes got run over. They picked up the pieces..but..
      The timelines are not right for this, and probably no-one will find it necessary to make excuses.

      Keep up the good work, the lies are so numerous they are hard to keep straight ( for the liars).

  10. Mary says:

    That 11-3-05 “inquiry” – was it an order to produce or what, exactly?

    I think an important overlay is that Nov 2005 is when Paul McNulty, who had been riding herd (with no lit experience) on the Moussaoui prosecution in front of Brinkema, started as Gonzales’ 2nd in command.

    McNulty began work as Gonzales’s deputy in November 2005


    So McNulty had been picked and was waiting confirmation when that sensitive inquiry came about.

    So McNulty is being prepped to be Deputy AG while running the Moussaoui prosecution shop, and somehow preservation notices never go out. He leaves prior to Brinkema is making her “inquiry” but not by much. From May 2005 (while McNulty has been nominated and is being prepped) until May 2006 (when Comey’s former Chief of Staff Chuck Rosenberg takes over) the ED Va – handling the Moussaoui case, assisting with the cover up of the CIA tapes and destruction and suppression of evidence, and investigating torture crimes that it pre-decided couldn’t be crimes bc of the OLC opinions authorizing them and bc Paul might not get his gig if the investigation didn’t turn out “right” – was operating under Matt Dummermuth as acting USA.

    Oh, and look at this press release re: Mr. Dummermuth
    who left behind the successful suppression efforts in VA to go take over Iowa. I particularly like the part about how his office worked to “shore up” integrity. Dummermuth was a former intern for Grassley and got the support for the Iowa gig from Grassley’s office. His wife had worked for both Eugene Scalia and for the WH’s

    BTW – it sounds to me like Dummermuth was insanely young and inexperienced to be put in the EDVa slot with everything it had going on then. OTOH, not to forget, Monica Goodling, who couldn’t help wanting to service GWB as her patriotic duty, got her training in how you do things in the ED Va from fall 2004- spring 2005.

    In any event, just a shout out back to what apparently was going on before Rosenberg was put in to handle all the fires breaking out:

    The letter said the [Mousasoui lead] prosecutor, Robert A. Spencer, may have been told of the tapes’ destruction in late February or early March of 2006, just as the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., was beginning its trial on whether Moussaoui would be eligible for the death penalty.

    Spencer, who was one of three prosecutors on the government’s team, “does not recall being told this information,” U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg wrote in the Dec. 18 letter to 4th U.S. Circuit Chief Judge Karen J. Williams.

    Another prosecutor in Rosenberg’s office in Virginia’s eastern district who was not involved in the case “recalls telling (Spencer) on one occasion,” the letter said.

    That second, unnamed, prosecutor learned about the videotapes of Zubaydah “in connection with work he performed in a Department of Justice project unrelated to the Moussaoui case,” the letter said.

    It is unclear what that project was.

    Of course, we know it was the criminal referrals, which apparently were being freely shared around the ED Va offices with prosecutors who were covering up the existence of and impact of torture on their cases from the courts and juries.

    • bmaz says:

      Which all, of course, as it always has, makes the assertions made on the record to Congress that they found “no possible” evidentiary value in any possible proceeding, to be a flat out lie. It has always been thus, from the first moment the existence and destruction of these tapes became known. I am not going to go back over all the other reasons why this is so again; but the thought that there were not crimes in the destruction, as well as false statements and/or perjury crimes in the testimony thereafter, is simply patently absurd.

      • Mary says:

        Yeah, and I guess there’s also no reason for the OPR to concern its pretty little head over why no one every sent out a preservation notice, even when people like the AG and DAG are having chit chats about the evidence being suppressed (as well as sitting on info showing that the prosecution of the Abu Ghraib soldiers as a few bad apples was taking place in bad faith).

        • fatster says:

          I hope you see this.

          Key official in Guantanamo closure plan resigns

          “Phillip Carter, who was appointed deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy in April, said in a brief telephone interview that he was leaving for “personal and family reasons” and not because of any policy differences with the administration. He tendered his resignation Friday, Pentagon officials said”


          Oh, I’m sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with any policy differences or anything else like that.

  11. perris says:

    this is something to look into;

    US discussed Iraq regime change a month after
    Bush took office, senior British officials say

    just how many smoking guns do we need?

    the man ran for office in order to attack Iraq, there is no question about it

  12. KarenM says:

    Oh, good grief! If you want to do anything legally in DC, it takes months if not generations.

    However, if you want to do something illegal, like obstruct justice? A week or two may be all you need to accomplish your goal.

  13. Badwater says:

    As the Unitary Executive, the Decider decided what was and what was not legal. Then, he went on a bike ride. Can Obama even ride a bike? Teabaggers everwhere want to know.

  14. georgewalton says:

    The real CIA no doubt exists somewhere in the murky middle between John Malkovich’s character in In The Line Of Fire and the official narrative that it functions as nothing more than America’s eyes and ears in and around a very dangerous world.

    We’ll never know for sure of course. I doubt that even Obama does.
    But if you start from the assumption that the motivation behind Amercian foreign policy is not the pusuit of democracy, freedom and human rights; that it is instead about the pursuit of a favorable business climate for Wall Street, its mission becomes so much more graspable.

    For one thing, the more ghastly close encounters of the collateral damage kind become ever more clearer than the bullshit that is peddled in the mainstream media.

    The CIA is a tool of the rich and powerful to sustain their political and economic interests. End of story.

    We just don’t know exactly how it all unfolds from day to day.

  15. Hugh says:

    Thanks this is a great use of a timeline. There is no way that Brinkema’s request and the destruction of the tapes are coincidental. Destroy the evidence and lie, that is afterall what the CIA does. The likelihood is that you will never be caught or even if you are it will be far enough down the road that the heat will have gone out of matter and it will be treated more as an academic than a criminal matter.

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