The AP’s “Most Complete Published Account” that Leaves Out Torture
The AP’s DOJ and intelligence writers have a story out on the Durham investigation that purports to be “the most complete published account” of the destruction of the torture tapes. Only, it ignores key details that have already been published which paint a much more damning picture of the tapes and their destruction.
First, the news. The AP story does reveal the following new details:
- The name of the guy in Thailand–then station chief Mike Winograd–involved in the destruction of the tapes
- The news that the guy who destroyed the torture tapes–former CTC and Clandestine Services head Jose Rodriguez–is still lurking around Langley as a contractor with Edge Consulting
- The observation that Rodriguez did not include the two CIA lawyers who “approved” the torture tape destruction (Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger, who have been identified before) on his order to destroy them, which is perceived within CIA as highly unusual
- The hint that prosecutors may use Sarbanes-Oxley to establish the requirement to keep the tapes as well as the detail that John Durham has prosecuted two of the only half a dozen cases that have used this Sarb-Ox provision
- A list of reasons why all the requests that should have covered the tapes purportedly don’t:
_In early May 2003, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema told the CIA to reveal whether there were interrogation videos of any witnesses relevant to the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was charged as a Sept. 11 conspirator. But that order didn’t cover Zubaydah, who Brinkema ruled was immaterial to the Moussaoui case, so the CIA didn’t tell the court about his interrogation tape.
_A judge in Washington told the agency to safeguard all evidence related to mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. But Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were held overseas at the time, so the agency regarded the order as not applicable to the tapes of their interrogations.
_A judge in New York told the CIA to search its investigative files for records such as the tapes as part of a Freedom of Information Act suit. But the CIA considered the tapes part of its operational files and therefore exempt from FOIA disclosure and did not reveal their existence to the court.
_The Sept. 11 commission asked for broad ranges of documents, but never issued a formal subpoena that would have required the agency to turn over the tapes.
As such, the story adds valuable insight into the strategies that John Durham may be using to prosecute Jose Rodriguez and others.
But the story buys into certain well-cultivated CIA myths that obscure some other important details of the story:
- The story replicates CIA’s favored narrative about why the tapes were made–“to prove that interrogators followed broad new rules Washington had laid out”–and why they were destroyed–to protect the identities of officers involved in the interrogation.
- The story presents Winograd’s justification for destroying the tapes–“the inspector general had completed its investigation and McPherson had verified that the cables accurately summarized the tapes”–without any discussion of the fact that McPherson acknowledged evidence of tampering with the tapes during the IG Report and couldn’t say whether the techniques reflected the guidance given to the torturers.
- The story ignores all evidence of earlier destruction of evidence and cover-up of criminal acts.
- This claim–“The White House didn’t learn about the tapes for a year, and even then, it was somewhat by chance”–is either further evidence of a cover-up or simply false.
Let’s start with the primary fiction–that the tapes were designed solely “to prove that interrogators followed broad new rules Washington had laid out.” Aside from indications they were used for research purposes about the efficacy of the methods they were using, this claim suffers from a fundamental anachronism. After all, when the taping started on April 13, 2002, Washington had not yet laid out the broad new rules ultimately used to authorize Abu Zubaydah’s torture on August 1, 2002. Bruce Jessen didn’t even complete his proposed interrogation plan until three days after taping started.
Although, if “Washington” had indeed given Abu Zubaydah’s torturers broad rules three and a half months before the Bybee Memo was signed–reports have said that Alberto Gonzales authorized that treatment on a day to day basis–then that by itself would provide an entirely different logic for why the tapes were made and then destroyed (which is sort of the argument Barry Eisler makes in his book Inside Out).