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CIA Destroyed Videotapes of Interrogations


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.



And I'm Melissa Block.

The CIA has confirmed that it destroyed videotapes showing the interrogations of two al-Qaida suspects. That confirmation came in advance of a story set to appear in the New York Times.

The videotapes were made in 2002. The CIA says they were destroyed in 2005 to protect the safety of the CIA interrogators. Mark Mazzetti was about to break the story for the New York Times. He joins us now.

And Mark, who was being interrogated in these videotapes?

Mr. MARK MAZZETTI (Correspondent, The New York Times): We know that at least one of the detainees was Abu Zubaydah, who was the first detainee in CIA custody. He was captured in 2002. The second one, we're still a bit unclear on, but there were only three CIA detainees who were captured in 2002. The CIA statement said today that the tapes were made in '02.


BLOCK: And did these tapes show the suspects being waterboarded, the technique known as waterboarding?

Mr. MAZZETTI: We know that the tapes show harsh interrogation tactics, what the CIA calls enhanced interrogation tactics. We are still pinning down whether it was actually waterboarding. We have some sources who tell us yes.

BLOCK: Why was the CIA videotaping these interrogations in the first place?

Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, the CIA put out a statement today that said it was done in part for safety, in part to show that CIA officers were following procedure. It was the early days of the program, when they were still testing out new techniques. So they believe that they needed to record these interrogations and document them for future reference.

BLOCK: And again, when they say they destroyed the tapes in 2005, they're, again, saying that was for safety concerns. What else did the CIA director, Michael Hayden, say about why they decided to destroy those tapes?

Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, he said that they decided to destroy them because they were worried that these could leak out and that CIA officers could be put at risk. Several officials and former officials who we've spoken to said, another reason was that there was a great concern that CIA officers could be put in legal jeopardy, because in 2004, 2005, there was a great deal of legal and congressional scrutiny into the CIA interrogation program. There were officers who were concerned that they might actually have been doing something illegal, even though it was approved by the Justice Department at the time. You recall the Congress was considering - really pressing hard on undoing the CIA program. So there was a real - a lot of concern then. Also, because it came about four or five months after Abu Ghraib.

BLOCK: Was it, in fact, legal though for the CIA to destroy these videotapes once they've made them?

Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, that's a good question. The CIA says everything they did was legal. They said that they've cleared it internally with their inspector general, and that it's their intelligence, they're allowed to destroy it. But there's some real questions because twice, they told a federal - in one case, a federal judge, in one case the September 11th Commission, that they didn't have videotapes.

The September 11th Commission asked for tapes or other documentary evidence of high-value detainees, and several commission members we talked to said they were told by the CIA that there were no tapes that existed.

Separately, the - in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, a federal judge ordered the CIA to hand over any recordings they had of certain CIA detainees. And twice, in 2003 and 2005, the CIA said that they didn't have tapes.

BLOCK: So those requests were made, theoretically, before those tapes were destroyed?

Mr. MAZZETTI: That's correct. That's correct. The tapes were not destroyed until, I believe, late 2005, though both of those requests had taken place before that.

BLOCK: Mark Mazzetti, national security correspondent for the New York Times. Mark, thanks very much.

Mr. MAZZETTI: Okay. Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.