Pentagon Cites Tapes Showing Interrogations

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Pentagon Cites Tapes Showing Interrogations

Published: March 13, 2008

Source: NYT

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is conducting an extensive review of the videotaping of interrogations at military facilities from Iraq to Guantánamo Bay, and so far it has identified nearly 50 tapes, including one that showed what a military spokesman described as the forcible gagging of a terrorism suspect.

The Pentagon review was begun in late January after the Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged that it had destroyed its own videotapes of harsh interrogations conducted by C.I.A. officers, an action that is now the subject of criminal and Congressional investigations.

The review was intended in part to establish clearer rules for any videotaping of interrogations, Defense officials said. But they acknowledged that it had been complicated by inconsistent taping practices in the past, as well as uncertain policies for when tapes could be destroyed or must be preserved.

The officials said it appeared that only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of interrogations worldwide since 2001 had been recorded.

The officials said the nearly 50 tapes they identified documented interrogations of two terrorism suspects, Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri, and were made at a Navy detention site in Charleston, S.C., where the two men have been held.

The initial findings of the Pentagon review represent the first official acknowledgment that military interrogators had videotaped some sessions with detainees and could widen the controversy over the treatment of prisoners in American custody. A Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, cautioned that the review was incomplete, and a spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency, Don Black, said that interrogation videotapes had been routinely destroyed if they were judged to have no continuing value.

The only tape described by officials is of Mr. Marri, a citizen of Qatar who was arrested in December 2001 while in college in Illinois and moved five years ago to the jail after being designated an “enemy combatant.” Government officials say they believe he was an operative for Al Qaeda who was plotting attacks.

Two government officials said that the tape showed Mr. Marri being manhandled by his interrogators, but did not show waterboarding or any other treatment approaching what they believed could be classified as torture. According to one Defense Department official, the interrogators dispensing the rough treatment on the tape were F.B.I. agents.

An F.B.I. spokesman declined to comment, citing a continuing review of detention practices that is being carried out by the Department of Justice’s inspector general.

Mr. Black, the spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency, said its director, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, had reviewed the tape and was satisfied that Mr. Marri’s treatment was acceptable.

He said that Mr. Marri was chanting loudly, disrupting his interrogation, and that interrogators used force to put duct tape on his mouth, while Mr. Marri resisted. Mr. Black said most of the videos showing Mr. Marri’s interrogations had been destroyed. The government has never charged Mr. Marri, but because of his designation as an enemy combatant, the Pentagon is allowed to hold him indefinitely.

The scale of detention and interrogation by the military, with tens of thousands of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, dwarfs that of the C.I.A., which has held fewer than 100 high-level Qaeda suspects. The C.I.A. has acknowledged videotaping only two terrorism suspects, in 2002, and military officials said that the review, ordered in late January by James R. Clapper, the Pentagon’s senior intelligence official, had similarly found that only a small number of detainee interrogations had been videotaped.

“This is not a widespread practice,” said Mr. Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. He said that it was up to individual military commanders whether to tape interrogations and that the videotapes were often used as the basis of written intelligence reports. In addition to the existing interrogation videotapes, there are existing recordings that show interactions between military guards and terrorism suspects, including detainees’ forcible removal from cells at Guantánamo, military officials said.

Images of rough treatment of detainees is a delicate subject for the Pentagon. Soldiers’ snapshots of the abusive treatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq set off a firestorm and led to prison terms for a number of military personnel.

Congress imposed a ban in 2005 on all harsh interrogation methods by the military but left a loophole for the C.I.A. Last month, Congress voted to extend the ban to the C.I.A., but President Bush vetoed the bill.

The C.I.A. acknowledged in December that in 2005 it had destroyed the only interrogation videotapes that its officers had made; the tapes showed two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al- Rahim al-Nashiri.

Lawyers for Mr. Marri, who have challenged his imprisonment in court, sought access to any tapes or other records of his interrogations, but in 2006 a federal judge in South Carolina said the government did not have to produce any tapes. That decision is being appealed.

Jonathan Hafetz, one of the lawyers, said Mr. Marri had heard guards describe “a cabinet full of tapes” showing his interrogations, but had never had independent confirmation that such tapes existed. Mr. Marri has alleged that earlier in his imprisonment he was deprived of sleep, isolated and exposed to prolonged cold.

Mr. Hafetz said he planned to file papers in court on Thursday describing the psychological harm done to Mr. Marri. “Locking someone up for five years without charges is a disgrace and a betrayal of American and constitutional values,” he said.

The difficulties in the Pentagon’s review can be glimpsed in a seven-page court filing last month by Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, the military commander at Guantánamo Bay.

Admiral Buzby’s report describes an array of digital video recorders used to capture “activities” — it does not specify whether interrogations are included — in at least four subcamps at Guantánamo. But the systems automatically recorded over older material when they reached capacity, he wrote.

In some cases, Admiral Buzby wrote, “We suspect that the recording devices contain recorded data but we are unable technologically to confirm whether data remains.”

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