Destroying tapes violated court order

The Bush administration was under court order not to discard evidence of detainee torture and abuse months before the CIA destroyed videotapes that revealed some of its harshest interrogation tactics.

Normally, that would force the government to defend itself against obstruction allegations. But the CIA may have an out: its clandestine network of overseas prisons.

While judges focused on the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and tried to guarantee that any evidence of detainee abuse would be preserved, the CIA was performing its toughest questioning half a world away. And by the time President Bush publicly acknowledged the secret prison system, interrogation videotapes of two terrorism suspects had been destroyed.

The CIA destroyed the tapes in November 2005. That June, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had ordered the Bush administration to safeguard “all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.”

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a nearly identical order that July.

At the time, that seemed to cover all detainees in U.S. custody. But Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the terrorism suspects whose interrogations were videotaped and then destroyed, weren’t at Guantanamo Bay. They were prisoners that existed off the books — and apparently beyond the scope of the court’s order.

Attorneys say that might not matter. David H. Remes, a lawyer for Yemeni citizen Mahmoad Abdah and others, asked Kennedy this week to schedule a hearing on the issue.

Though Remes acknowledged the tapes might not be covered by Kennedy’s order, he said, “It is still unlawful for the government to destroy evidence, and it had every reason to believe that these interrogation records would be relevant to pending litigation concerning our client.”

In legal documents filed in January 2005, Assistant Attorney General Peter D. Keisler assured Kennedy that government officials were “well aware of their obligation not to destroy evidence that may be relevant in pending litigation.”

For just that reason, officials inside and outside of the CIA advised against destroying the interrogation tapes, according to a former senior intelligence official involved in the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because it is under investigation.

Exactly who signed off on the decision is unclear, but CIA director Michael Hayden told the agency in an e-mail this week that internal reviewers found the tapes were not relevant to any court case.

Remes said that decision raises questions about whether other evidence was destroyed. Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation helped lead investigators to alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Remes said Abu Zubaydah may also have been questioned about other detainees. Such evidence might have been relevant in their court cases.

“It’s logical to infer that the documents were destroyed in order to obstruct any inquiry into the means by which statements were obtained,” Remes said.

He stopped short, however, of accusing the government of obstruction. That’s just one of the legal issues that could come up in court. A judge could also raise questions about contempt of court or spoliation, a legal term for the destruction of evidence in “pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.”

Kennedy has not scheduled a hearing on the matter and the government has not filed a response to Remes’ request.


Associated Press Writer Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this report.


  1. Sandra Price

    The Administration just is smelling worse everyday and yet too many people are overlooking the lies as they still have faith in Bush.

    It looks to me as if all the candidates running as Republicans would simply continue the same abuse as Bush. I often think they are working to destroy our freedoms and when we are standing timidly waiting for our perks, we will have to sign on as Christians.

    Read some of the early speeches by Huckabee and his agenda is for Jesus Christ. Romney is another power builder and as a missionary he took an oath to promote the LDS. The only candidate who I personally trust to work within system under the Constitution and Geneva Conventions is Dr. Paul.

    Chris Matthews said last night that candidates who run on ethics never win. The people will always step outside of ethics to pull a win in the White House. We will have more corruption in our government until we unite behind our freedoms.

    Half the American people believe that torture is fine. We are way too late to try and shape up at this time.

  2. Jenifer D.

    This is what happens

    when one mixes politics and religion; home-grown hypocrisy with a side of greasy fries. Just because you’re religious doesn’t mean you’re moral. I have no faith in anybody running for office (sorry Ron Paul fans), because I believe that nearly everybody has lost sight of what public servants are about: they’re supposed to represent the voters, NOT special interest groups (this includes any church group) with deep pockets. This also means not using your position or office to profit yourself or your friends. That’s just plain wrong. Geneva Conventions was created because of the bad behavior of our men and women in uniform during the major wars of the last 100 years. Too bad this administration saw fit to sh&$-can the most important articles and just do whatever they wanted. Unless the voters can find a way to put these ne’er-do-wells’ cajones in a vise and keep them there until they give in, we’re in for a bumpy ride this next election…if there is one.

  3. barak

    Its the Inquisition Reborn in the Republican Party! As a Jew I get very upset when these jerks start preaching that this is the “Christian Way” while behind our backs they are waterboarding and using other means of torture to find out that nothing happened. These bastards are doing this torture just for the sadistic joy of doing it. If they haven’t gotten someone to confess or reveal information in the 4, 5, and 6 years that they have held them as prisoners, then they aren’t ever going to. Put them on trial or let them go. Stop torture now. At least the moslems get right to the point: “Look, we have this man” they proclaim–showing a live video tape. “Look how his head easily is removed from his body!” as they behead the poor S.O.B. No prison, no wasted time or money.
    Maybe we should take lessons from them. What we are doing to these prisoners around the world certainly cannot be called “Humane treatment” and if that is the Christian way, then we need to smear some blood on our doorposts and call upon the Lord to do his thing once more.
    Maybe we could point him at our Executive Branch for starters…

  4. JudyB

    So the tapes were destroyed and we just found out???? Can any of you say you were surprised that this would happen during this regime..I don’t think so.
    I couldn’t help but note this latest discovery conveniently popped up just when we were learning about Bush having known about Iran having stopped their nuke plans 4 yrs ago…what will be next?? Its impossible for us to know since there have been so many dirty secrets and lies in hopes of covering up the crimes committed by this President,and the crooks having worked with and for him. Will it ever end? Who knows, but It will soon be time for someone else to hold the reins of power and none of them but Guliani scares me as much as our current hubris,lying,immoral,moron,teflon
    Dictator/Decider’n Chief!