Q&A | Tapes' fate raises questions about treatment of terror suspects
The U.S. Justice Department and CIA have announced a preliminary investigation into whether CIA officials obstructed justice or engaged...
The U.S. Justice Department and CIA have announced a preliminary investigation into whether CIA officials obstructed justice or engaged in an illegal cover-up by destroying videotapes in 2005 that showed interrogations of two terrorism suspects.
Here's what's behind the controversy.
Q: What are the CIA tapes?
A: Beginning in 2002, the CIA held terrorism suspects in secret locations and interrogated them, using controversial techniques that critics said are tantamount to torture. The techniques included sleep deprivation, stressful physical positions and simulated drowning, or waterboarding. In at least two cases, the CIA videotaped the interrogations, compiling hundreds of hours of images of American agents sometimes engaging in harsh treatment of foreign prisoners. One such prisoner was Abu Zubaydah, the CIA's first terrorism detainee. The second has not been identified.
Q: When were the tapes destroyed?
A: The CIA destroyed the tapes in late 2005. At that time, Congress was adopting new restrictions on the use of harsh detainee treatment and the Army was rewriting its authoritative field manual to emphasize the need for restraint.
Q: Why did the CIA destroy the tapes?
A: Director Michael Hayden told the CIA work force last week that the tapes were destroyed because they were "not relevant to any internal, legislative or judicial inquiries" and, if made public, could identify CIA employees who then would be vulnerable to retaliation by militants.
Q: Was that rationale accepted?
A: No. Members of Congress said the tapes had potential value to ongoing congressional proceedings, and critics said they could have had a high degree of relevance to the Sept. 11 commission and in terrorism trials. Critics also said the CIA could have obscured images of Americans in the tapes, and that the tapes could have settled years of debate about the nature of U.S. treatment of detainees, including questions about how they were interrogated and whether it constituted legal questioning, harsh treatment or torture.
Q: Did the CIA provide notice that it was going to destroy the tapes?
A: Hayden said the CIA told Congress about the tapes and its plans to destroy them and that it consulted with appropriate agency officials, including the CIA general counsel and inspector general. But lawmakers said the CIA provided only cursory information about the tapes and did not detail the plans to destroy them.
Q: Did others agree with the decision to destroy the tapes?
A: Many people did not. Members of Congress, including Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., then a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, warned the CIA not to destroy the tapes. In addition, then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers is reported to have told agency officials to preserve them.
Q: Are the tapes germane to trials of suspected terrorists?
A: Possibly. Attorneys in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who in 2005 pleaded guilty to conspiring with leaders of the Sept. 11 attacks, want the judge to review the issue. More important, the CIA initially told U.S. prosecutors that no such tapes existed, an assertion provided to judges in sworn legal documents that later had to be corrected when the existence of the tapes was revealed.
Q: What happens next?
A: The Justice Department and CIA will look into the matter to determine whether a full investigation is warranted. In Congress, members of Intelligence and Judiciary committees, and possibly others, will have to decide how deeply to investigate. In the courts, judges might be asked to rule whether the CIA acted improperly in not disclosing the existence of the tapes and whether they might have affected the outcome of trials.
Los Angeles Times staff writers Greg Miller, Richard B. Schmitt and Josh Meyer contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:01 AM
Rebels tighten hold on Libya oil port
UPDATE - 09:29 AM
Reality leads US to temper its tough talk on Libya
UPDATE - 09:38 AM
2 Ark. injection wells may be closed amid quakes
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
Furniture & home furnishings
POST A FREE LISTING