The CIA in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaida operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of congressional and legal scrutiny about the CIA’s secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.
The videotapes showed CIA operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in CIA custody — to severe interrogation techniques. They were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy, several officials said.
The CIA said Thursday that the decision to destroy the tapes had been made “within the CIA itself” and that its purpose was to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value. The agency was headed at the time by Porter J. Goss.
The existence and subsequent destruction of the tapes is likely to reignite the debate over the use of severe interrogation techniques on terror suspects, and raises questions about whether CIA officials withheld information from the courts and from the Sept. 11 commission about aspects of the program.
The New York Times informed the CIA on Wednesday evening that it planned to publish in Friday’s newspaper a story about the destruction of the tapes. On Thursday, the CIA director, General Michael V. Hayden, sent a letter to CIA employees explaining the matter.
The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui or to the Sept. 11 Commission, which had made formal requests to the CIA for transcripts and any other documentary evidence taken from interrogations of agency prisoners.
CIA lawyers told federal prosecutors in 2003 and 2005, who relayed the information to a federal court in the Moussaoui case, that the CIA did not possess recordings of interrogations sought by the judge in the case. It was unclear whether the judge had explicitly sought the videotape depicting the interrogation of Zubaydah.
Moussaoui’s lawyers had hoped that records of the interrogations might provide exculpatory evidence for Moussaoui — showing that the Qaida detainees did not know Moussaoui and thus clearing him of involvement in the Sept. 11 plot.