Senior US senators and congressmen are pressing for a criminal investigation of the CIA for obstruction of justice after it admitted destroying two videotapes showing apparently abusive interrogations of al-Qa’ida suspects in 2005.
The digital recordings apparently show a team of CIA agents subjecting Abu Zubayadh, the agency’s first detainee, and another suspect to abusive interrogation. The tapes were apparently destroyed because CIA officers feared prosecution for torture, which is a felony under US law.
“We haven’t seen anything like this since the 18-minute gap on the tapes of Richard Nixon,” said Senator Edward Kennedy who accused the CIA of “a cover-up.” He called on the Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate.
Congresswoman Jan Harman said that in early 2003, she had warned the CIA not to destroy any videotapes dealing with interrogation practices.
“To my knowledge, the Intelligence Committee was never informed that any videotapes had been destroyed,” Ms Harman, said.
Senator John Rockefeller, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there must be a review of “the full history and chronology of the tapes, how they were used, and the reasons for destroying them”.
White House officials declined to comment.
A US expert on torture said he believed the digital recordings show CIA interrogation teams carrying out torture including waterboarding or partial drowning of al-Qa’ida suspects in detention centres not on US soil. The interrogations probably took place in Jordan or Egypt where the US has close relations with the national intelligence agencies, said Malcolm Nance who advises the Department of Homeland Security on terrorism.
Mr Nance, who has conducted anti-torture training sessions, said the interrogations would have been relayed live by video link to the CIA’s directorate of operations in Langley, Virginia. They would have been observed by the director of the CIA, along with a team of interrogation experts including, a psychologist and doctor, he said.
“They start by slapping the prisoner around, putting him in stress positions and finally strapping him on the waterboard where he is bound down and has water poured into his lungs,” he continued. “It’s very hard to watch people going through this form of torture,” he said. “They get hysterical and whatever they say is of no value anyway.
“Typically a camera is focused on the detainee’s face to watch for signs that he is cracking; another camera shows the interrogation team in operation,” he said.
The New York Times reported that the CIA destroyed at least two videotapes of the interrogation of two al-Qai’da operatives in the midst of Congressional and legal investigations into its “black site” secret detention programme.
The CIA director, General Michael Hayden, said the decision to destroy the tapes was made “within the CIA” to protect the safety of the agents involved.
Senators and congressmen now want an inquiry into whether CIA officials deliberately withheld information from them as well as the courts and the September 11 Commission.
General Hayden’s explanation was dismissed as unbelievable by Mr Nance. “There are ways of hiding the identity of those involved,” he said.