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United States5 March 2009

CIA destroyed 92 interrogation videos : "An investigation into the serious abuses of the ’War on Terror’ is imperative”

Federal authorities confirmed on 2 March that 92 videotapes showing the interrogation of detainees at secret prisons were destroyed in 2005 by the CIA. Reporters Without Borders asks that the new Obama administration lead an investigation into this infringement of the American people’s constitutional rights and punish those who are responsible.

"The sheer number of videotapes destroyed by the CIA confirms that the agency systematically tried to hide from the public the illegal interrogation techniques used by the previous administration. The public has the right to know what the government is doing and be confident that those in power are upholding the democratic values upon which this country is based,” the worldwide press freedom organization said.

"We hope that the secrecy and lack of transparency that prevailed during the beginning of this decade will be replaced with freer access to information and clear visibility of current governmental practices. The government must thoroughly investigate this breach of access to information and hold accountable those responsible. American society cannot hold back as it investigates these grave violations committed under the presidency of George W. Bush in the name of the ’war on terror.’ This investigation into the former administration’s actions will be debated by the Senate Judiciary Committee on 4 March. The credibility of the United States’ stance on human rights hangs in the balance over this,” added the organization.

A letter from Acting US Attorney Lev Dassin confirmed on Monday that 92 videotapes of controversial interrogations in a secret prison in Thailand were destroyed by the agency. The letter, addressed to New York Judge Alvin Hellerstein who is hearing the case brought against the CIA by the American Civil Liberties Union, asked the court to give the CIA until 6 March to prepare records on the tapes that were destroyed as well as a list of possible witnesses to their destruction.

So far the CIA has not said what was on the tapes and has admitted to destroying only a few of the videos. According to the New York Times, the videos show “waterboarding”, used by the previous administration on Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al-Qaeda member, and Abdel Rahim al-Nashiri, believed to have been involved in the bombing of USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. The New York Times also reported that José A. Rodríguez Jr, then head of CIA undercover operations, had personally ordered the destruction of the videos.

The existence of the tapes was disclosed in 2007, just before the 31 December announcement of the reform of the Freedom of Information Act, when then CIA chief Michael Hayden said they had been destroyed to protect the identity of agency operatives. The criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes was launched under the Bush administration by acting US Attorney John Durham and finished on 28 February. The new Obama administration has since vowed that this administration will not resort to torture.

From June 2002 to May 2008, Sudanese journalist Sami al-Haj, with the Qatar-based TV station Al Jazeera, was held in Guantanamo. Reporters Without Borders had called for his release. Detained without any charges being held against him, he had been subjected to more than 200 interrogations, some of them using “waterboarding” methods.

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