CIA Destroyed Torture Tapes After CIA IG Report Concluded U.S. Violated Laws
The CIA destroyed videotapes that showed its agents subjecting high-level al-Qaeda detainees to waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods after the agency’s inspector general issued a classified report in the spring of 2004 that concluded the techniques used on the prisoners “appeared to constitute cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, as defined by the International Convention Against Torture.”
In a little known Jan. 10, 2008 declaration in response to a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union to hold the CIA in contempt for destroying the videotapes, the CIA provided insight into CIA Inspector General John Helgerson’s report and revealed that he viewed the torture tapes.
“In January 2003, [Office of Inspector General] OIG initiated a special review of the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. This review was intended to evaluate CIA detention and interrogation activities, and was not initiated in response to an allegation of wrongdoing,” the declaration says. “During the course of the special review, OIG was notified of the existence of videotapes of the interrogations of detainees. OIG arranged with the NCS to review the videotapes at the overseas location where they were stored.
“OIG reviewed the videotapes at an overseas covert NCS facility in May 2003. After reviewing the videotapes, OIG did not take custody of the videotapes and they remained in the custody of NCS. Nor did OIG make or retain a copy of the videotapes for its files. At the conclusion of the special review in May 2004, OIG notified DOJ and other relevant oversight authorities of the review’s findings.”
According to a Nov. 9, 2005, story in The New York Times published the same month the tapes were destroyed, “Helgerson also raised concern about whether the use of the techniques could expose agency officers to legal liability.”
“They said the report expressed skepticism about the Bush administration view that any ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment under the treaty does not apply to CIA interrogations because they take place overseas on people who are not citizens of the United States,” the New York Times reported.
“The officials who described the report said it discussed particular techniques used by the CIA against particular prisoners, including about three dozen terror suspects being held by the agency in secret locations around the world,”the New York Times reported.” They said it referred in particular to the treatment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is said to have organized the Sept. 11 attacks and who has been detained in a secret location by the CIA since he was captured in March 2003. Mr. Mohammed is among those believed to have been subjected to waterboarding, in which a prisoner is strapped to a board and made to believe he is drowning.
The destruction of the videotaped interrogations, which were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission, were destroyed in November 2005, after The Washington Post published a story that first exposed the CIA’s use of so-called “black site” prisons overseas to interrogate terror suspects, using techniques that were not legal on US soil. The Post’s story discussed the harsh methods the CIA used when questioning detainees. However, it’s unknown whether the Post’s story directly led to the destruction of the videotapes.
It is widely believed that the videotapes were destroyed to cover-up illegal acts. It is also believed that the tapes were destroyed because Democratic members of Congress who were briefed about the tapes began asking questions about whether the interrogations were illegal, according to Jane Mayer, author of the book The Dark Side and a reporter for The New Yorker magazine.
“Further rattling the CIA was a request in May 2005 from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, to see over a hundred documents referred to in the earlier Inspector General’s report on detention inside the black prison sites,” Mayer wrote in her book. “Among the items Rockefeller specifically sought was a legal analysis of the CIA’s interrogation videotapes.
“Rockefeller wanted to know if the intelligence agency’s top lawyer believed that the waterboarding of [alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu] Zubayda and [alleged 9/11 mastermind] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as captured on the secret videotapes, was entirely legal. The CIA refused to provide the requested documents to Rockefeller. But the Democratic senator’s mention of the videotapes undoubtedly sent a shiver through the Agency, as did a second request the made for these documents to [former CIA Director Porter] Goss in September 2005.”
The videotapes were destroyed in November 2005, the same month that the Washington Post published a front-page story about CIA black prison sites where the interrogations took place and were filmed. Also in November 2005, the New York Times published a story about Helgerson’s classified report into the agency’s interrogation methods.
One person who assisted CIA Inspector General John Helgerson with his probe was Mary O. McCarthy, who alleged CIA officials lied to members of Congress during an intelligence briefing when they said the agency did not violate treaties that bar, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees during interrogations, according to a May 14, 2006, front-page story in The Washington Post.
“A CIA employee of two decades, McCarthy became convinced that ‘CIA people had lied’ in that briefing, as one of her friends said later, not only because the agency had conducted abusive interrogations but also because its policies authorized treatment that she considered cruel, inhumane or degrading,” The Washington Post reported.
McCarthy “worried that neither Helgerson nor the agency’s Congressional overseers would fully examine what happened or why.” Another friend said, “She had the impression that this stuff has been pretty well buried.” The Post story reported, “In McCarthy’s view and that of many colleagues, friends say, torture was not only wrong but also misguided, because it rarely produced useful results.”
In April 2006, ten days before she was due to retire, McCarthy was fired from the CIA for allegedly leaking classified information to the media, a CIA spokeswoman told reporters at the time.
In her book, Mayer wrote that the “2004 Inspector General’s report, known as a “special review,” was tens of thousands of pages long and as thick as two Manhattan phone books. It contained information, according to one source, that was simply “sickening.” The behavior it described, another knowledgeable source said, raised concerns not just about the detainees but also about the Americans who had inflicted the abuse, one of whom seemed to have become frighteningly dehumanized. The source said, “You couldn’t read the documents without wondering, “Why didn’t someone say, ‘Stop!’”
According to Mayer, Vice President Dick Cheney stopped Helgerson from fully completing his investigation. That proves, Mayer contends, that as early as 2004 “the Vice President’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in The [interrogation] Program.”
“Helgerson was summoned repeatedly to meet privately with Vice President Cheney” before his investigation was “stopped in its tracks.” Mayer said that Cheney’s interaction with Helgerson was “highly unusual.”
Cheney has admitted in several interviews over the past month that he personally “signed off” on waterboarding three terrorist detainees.
In October 2007, former CIA Director Michael Hayden ordered an investigation into Helgerson’s office, focusing on internal complaints that the inspector general was on “a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.”