A Federal judge is upset with the CIA’s alleged handling of the torture tapes and says that, if seen in a criminal trial, the CIA’s claims would be “not credible,” the New York Times reports:
Federal Judge Criticizes C.I.A. Handling of Interrogation Tapes
By Alan Feuer
A federal judge in New York said Thursday that he was “disappointed” in how investigators from the Central Intelligence Agency had handled videotapes documenting the harsh interrogation of detainees from Al Qaeda, adding that he was considering questioning agency officials who had watched the tapes about why they had made no record of them in their files.
The judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said from the bench that he was astonished that the C.I.A. investigators had not kept records about the tapes, which were destroyed in 2005, even though they were an important part of an internal C.I.A. review of interrogation methods.
“I’m asked to believe that actual motion pictures, videotapes, of the relationship between interrogators and prisoners were of so little value” that no record of them was kept in C.I.A. investigative files, Judge Hellerstein said.
“I just can’t accept it,” he said. “If it came up in an ordinary case, it would not be credible.”
The tapes are now the subject of Congressional hearings and form the basis of a separate criminal investigation seeking to determine whether agency officials broke the law by destroying them or by concealing their existence. They showed agency operatives using harsh interrogations methods on two Qaeda detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
The hearing in New York stemmed from another matter concerning the tapes. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a freedom of information request, asking the C.I.A. to produce information about the tapes and various other documents related to interrogation methods.
Judge Hellerstein said he was inclined to deny an A.C.L.U. request to hold the C.I.A. in contempt of court for not producing information about the tapes. But he said he was considering ways, including subpoenas, to determine why the C.I.A. had not given the documents to the A.C.L.U.
The main issue at the hearing was the C.I.A.’s contention that the tapes were immune to a freedom of information request because they were in the agency’s secret and sprawling operational files. Under federal law, documents in operational files are not subject to freedom of information requests, but documents in investigative files are.
Lawyers for the A.C.L.U. argued that even though the tapes were not physically in investigative files kept by the C.I.A.’s Office of the Inspector General, officials from that office watched the tapes at a clandestine location overseas, in 2003, as part of the internal review of interrogation methods. Judge Hellerstein said the mere fact that the tapes had been watched as part of the internal review meant that they were part of an investigation and, thus, subject to a freedom of information request.
In fact he had stern words for a government lawyer, Peter M. Skinner, who argued that the C.I.A. had searched the investigative files and, even though officials had found nothing related to the tapes, had therefore fulfilled its obligations to the A.C.L.U.
Judge Hellerstein raised the possibility that C.I.A. officials had intentionally not placed the tapes in the investigative files so as to avoid a freedom of information request.
“It seems to me that you were gulled,” he told Mr. Skinner, “and that the court was gulled.”
January 19th, 2008