This is been much blogged elsewhere, but in case you missed it, read the blockbuster New York Times story on the CIA’s decision first to hide then to destroy two videotapes of detainee interrogations. Highlights:
The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about its secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.
The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terrorism suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. The tapes were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks, several officials said.
In a statement to employees on Thursday, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, said that the decision to destroy the tapes was made “within the C.I.A.” and that they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value.
The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui or to the Sept. 11 commission, which was appointed by President Bush and Congress, and which had made formal requests to the C.I.A. for transcripts and other documentary evidence taken from interrogations of agency prisoners.
The disclosures about the tapes are likely to reignite the debate over laws that allow the C.I.A. to use interrogation practices more severe than those allowed to other agencies. A Congressional conference committee voted late Wednesday to outlaw those interrogation practices, but the measure has yet to pass the full House and Senate and is likely to face a veto from Mr. Bush.
Current and former intelligence officials said that the decision to destroy the tapes was made by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who was the head of the Directorate of Operations, the agency’s clandestine service. Mr. Rodriguez could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Two former intelligence officials said that Porter J. Goss, the director of the agency at the time, was not told that the tapes would be destroyed and was angered to learn that they had been.
Hayden released a statement claiming that leaders of Congressional oversight committees had been briefed about the destruction of the tapes. Yet the two highest ranking members of the House Intelligence Committee in 2005 told the Times that they had not been briefed.
In his statement, General Hayden said the tapes were originally made to ensure that agency employees acted in accordance with “established legal and policy guidelines.” He said the agency stopped videotaping interrogations in 2002.
“The tapes were meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the program in its early stages,” he said. He said they were destroyed only after the agency’s Office of the General Counsel and Office of the Inspector General had examined them and determined that they showed lawful methods of questioning.
Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said General Hayden’s claim that the tapes were destroyed to protect C.I.A. officers “is not credible.”
“Millions of documents in C.I.A. archives, if leaked, would identify C.I.A. officers,” Mr. Malinowski said. “The only difference here is that these tapes portray potentially criminal activity. They must have understood that if people saw these tapes, they would consider them to show acts of torture, which is a felony offense.”
Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, has been pushing legislation in Congress to have all detainee interrogations videotaped so officials can refer to the tapes multiple times to glean better information.
Mr. Holt said he had been told many times that the C.I.A. did not record the interrogation of detainees. “When I would ask them whether they had reviewed the tapes to better understand the intelligence, they said, ‘What tapes?’,” he said.