CIA Once Again Buries Information on Abu Zubaydah’s Torture

I have long pointed out the close connection between the CIA’s OIG report on torture and the tapes of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation. The key dates are:

January 2003: CIA IG begins investigation into detainee interrogation.

February 10, 2003: Jane Harman writes a letter recording CIA Counsel Scott Muller drawing a connection between the torture tapes and the CIA IG investigation.

You discussed the fact that there is videotape of Abu Zubaydah following his capture that will be destroyed after the Inspector General finishes his inquiry

May 2003: CIA IG reviews the torture tapes at black site.

May 2004: CIA IG completes investigation, finding that CIA interrogation techniques are "cruel and inhumane."

May 2004: CIA and White House discuss destroying the tapes of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation.

November 9, 2005: Most complete report of IG investigation appears, revealing the "cruel and inhumane" conclusion.

Mid-November 2005: Torture tapes destroyed.

While there are surely other reasons why the CIA destroyed the torture tape, one thing the destruction of the tapes did was to eliminate one key piece of evidence that led the CIA’s own IG to conclude that the CIA’s interrogation methods were cruel and inhumane.

Well, over the course of the DOJ’s IG investigation into interrogation techniques, the CIA once again prevented investigators from accessing information–this time in the form of an interview of Abu Zubaydah–that would contribute to a conclusion that interrogation treatment was cruel and inhumane. In a footnote, DOJ’s IG report reveals that it interviewed High-Value Detainees at Gitmo, but that CIA refused to let DOJ’s IG to interview Abu Zubaydah.

When the OIG investigative team was preparing for its trip to GTMO in early 2007, we asked the DOD for permission to interview several detainees, including Zubaydah. The DOD agreed, stating that our interviews would not interfere with their attempts to obtain any intelligence from the detainees, including Zubaydah. However, the CIA Acting General Counsel [John Rizzo] objected to our interviewing Zubaydah. [three lines redacted]

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“It Smells Like a Cover-Up”

So sayeth one of Pincus and Warrick’s two sources describing the content of John Rizzo’s testimony. Mind you, that source remains anonymous, because "those in attendance were pledged to secrecy about the session." Of course, that didn’t prevent Crazy Pete Hoekstra from blabbing to the NYT and others about it, but he’s never believed that laws on secrecy should apply to him as well as staffers. Though, since I beat up Pincus yesterday for helping Bennett tamper with this investigation, let me just say that he offers, by far, the most interesting tidbit about Rizzo’s testimony.

Two of those at the hearing said that Rizzo said that after the tapes were made in 2002, lawyers at the CIA discussed the possibility that the FBI and the 9/11 Commission might want to see them.

If Rizzo has testified that lawyers at the CIA knew the 9/11 Commission might want to see the terror tapes, it strongly reinforces Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton’s claim that,

There could have been absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone at the C.I.A. — or the White House — of the commission’s interest in any and all information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot. Yet no one in the administration ever told the commission of the existence of videotapes of detainee interrogations.

In fact, lawyers at the CIA knew that the 9/11 Commission would want to see these specific tapes. Which I guess is why George Tenet has lawyered up.

Meanwhile, the battle between Rodriguez, Rizzo, and Goss seems to be heating up. Bob Bennett specifically named Rizzo and Goss to the NYT as those who should have told Rodriguez to retain the tapes.

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Shorter Rizzo to Rodriguez: Well, If You’re Not Going to Testify, I Will Screw You

Remember how I suggested that this passage from Pincus’ love letter to Bob Bennett and his client Jose Rodriguez might be targeted to (among others) Porter Goss and John Rizzo?

"In 2003 the leadership of intelligence committees were told about the CIA’s intent to destroy the tapes. In 2005, CIA lawyers again advised the National Clandestine Service that they had the authority to destroy the tapes and it was legal to do so. It is unfortunate," Bennett continued, "that under the pressure of a Congressional and criminal investigation, history is now being revised, and some people are running for cover."

Well, here’s what Rizzo had to say to that.

 "I told the truth," Rizzo said in a brief appearance before reporters.

Which doesn’t sound like it was all too helpful for Rodriguez’ little story. Read more

The Dubious Timeline from Pincus’ Love Letter to Bob Bennett

I’ve already ranted about how irresponsible it was for Walter Pincus and Joby Warrick to publish Bob Bennett’s statement on behalf of Jose Rodriguez–a statement that Rodriguez refused to give under oath without immunity–on the same day that John Rizzo testifies before Congress. Nothing like assisting the obstruction of an ongoing investigation. But now that I’ve done my ranting (and enjoyed the sun), here is another rant about the dubious timeline offered in Pincus and Warrick’s article.

The article alternates between vague and specific in curious fashion. For example, the article specifies that the taping started in August and ended in December 2002.

According to interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. officials familiar with the debate, the taping was conducted from August to December 2002 to demonstrate that interrogators were following the detailed rules set by lawyers and medical experts in Washington, and were not causing a detainee’s death.

That detail directly contradicts the date offered in the CIA’s previous attempt to straighten out its story on the terror tapes, which claimed the taping started in spring 2002.

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.

Now, there are two big reasons why the CIA might want to change that date. First, the CIA wasn’t authorized to torture until August 2002–so the later date magically makes any torture that happened legal, at least according to OLC. In addition, we know that Abu Zubaydah identified Padilla in the first several weeks of his captivity. By claiming no tapes were taken before August, the CIA pretends that any claim from Padilla regarding the tapes is irrelevant, since (if they really weren’t taken until August), the tapes would have no evidence relevant to Padilla’s case.

But here’s the problem with the new dates, beyond just the contradiction with the CIA’s earlier story: the CIA still wants you to believe they took the tapes to prove they weren’t killing Abu Zubaydah. But by August, he had already been under medical treatment for four months, presumably well beyond the time they needed to prove they weren’t killing Zubaydah.

And the changing date is all the more suspicious since Zubaydah’s health remains one of the chief reasons the WaPo’s sources give for stopping the taping.

By December 2002, the taping was no longer needed, according to three former intelligence officials. "Zubaida’s health was better, and he was providing information that we could check out," one said.

If the tapes were precipitated on Zubaydah’s health, then why didn’t they start until August, according to this latest iteration of the CIA story? Read more

A Cheap Ploy to Avoid Giving Testimony, Jose Rodriguez

Today’s article from Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus answers a lot of questions we’ve been asking about the torture tapes–the biggest being that the tapes were stored and destroyed in Thailand. And it has a lot of interesting details I’ll return to in a follow-up post, after I enjoy some rare MI sun with my dog. But the most important detail readers should take away is its function, as suggested by the following two passages. First, the recognition that John Rizzo will testify before HPSCI today.

John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s acting general counsel, is scheduled to discuss the matter in a closed House intelligence committee hearing scheduled for today.

And second, the incorporation of long excerpts from a written statement from Bob Bennett to present Jose Rodriguez’ justifications for his actions.

Those three circumstances pushed the CIA’s then-director of clandestine operations, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., to act against the earlier advice of at least five senior CIA and White House officials, who had counseled the agency since 2003 that the tapes should be preserved. Rodriguez consulted CIA lawyers and officials, who told him that he had the legal right to order the destruction. In his view, he received their implicit support to do so, according to his attorney, Robert S. Bennett.


Rodriguez, whom the CIA honored with a medal in August for "Extraordinary Fidelity and Essential Service," declined requests for an interview. But his attorney said he acted in the belief that he was carrying out the agency’s stated intention for nearly three years. "Since 2002, the CIA wanted to destroy the tapes to protect the identity and lives of its officers and for other counterintelligence reasons," Bennett said in a written response to questions from The Washington Post.

"In 2003 the leadership of intelligence committees were told about the CIA’s intent to destroy the tapes. In 2005, CIA lawyers again advised the National Clandestine Service that they had the authority to destroy the tapes and it was legal to do so. It is unfortunate," Bennett continued, "that under the pressure of a Congressional and criminal investigation, history is now being revised, and some people are running for cover." [my emphasis] Read more