WASHINGTON – The CIA made videotapes in 2002 of its officers administering harsh interrogation techniques to two al-Qaida suspects but destroyed the tapes three years later, CIA Director Michael Hayden said Thursday.
Captured on tape were interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and a second high-level al-Qaida member who was not identified, according to two intelligence officials. Zubaydah has been identified by U.S. officials familiar with the interrogations as one of three al-Qaida suspects who were subjected to “waterboarding,” a technique that simulates drowning, while in CIA custody.
The tapes were made to document any confessions the two men might make and to serve as an internal check on how the interrogations were conducted, senior intelligence officials said.
All the tapes were destroyed in November 2005 on the order of Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the CIA’s director of clandestine operations, officials said. The destruction came after the Justice Department had told a federal judge in the case of al-Qaida operative Zacarias Moussaoui that the CIA did not possess videotapes of a specific set of interrogations sought by his attorneys. A CIA spokesman said Thursday that the request would not have covered the destroyed tapes.
The tapes also were not provided to the Sept. 11 commission, the independent panel that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which demanded a wide array of material and relied heavily on classified interrogation transcripts in piecing together its narrative of events.
The startling disclosures came on the same day that House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on legislation that would prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA and bring intelligence agencies in line with rules followed by the U.S. military.
The provision, which needs approval from the full House and Senate, would effectively set a government-wide standard for legal interrogations by explicitly outlawing the use of simulated drowning, forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and other harsh tactics against prisoners by any U.S. intelligence agency.
The proposed ban sets the stage for a potential election-season standoff between congressional Democrats and the Bush administration, which has fought vigorously on Capitol Hill and in the courts to preserve intelligence agencies’ ability to use aggressive interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects.
In a note to agency employees Thursday, Hayden wrote that the decision to destroy the videotapes was made to protect the identities of CIA officers who were clearly identifiable on them.
Hayden said he decided to discuss the tapes publicly because of news media interest and the possibility that “we may see misinterpretations of the facts in the days ahead.” The New York Times said on its Web site that it had informed the CIA on Wednesday night that it was preparing a story about the destroyed tapes.
Agency officials declined to describe the contents of the tapes, but knowledgeable U.S. officials said they depicted hours of interrogations of the two men, both of whom were subject to aggressive interrogation methods. Whether the tapes show waterboarding or any other specific techniques is not clear.