About those CIA tapes

posted at 10:31 am on December 7, 2007 by Bryan

Agreed, it’s bad. CIA agents shouldn’t be destroying evidence, though it ought to be obvious to everyone that the evidence in question stood about a 99% chance of being used against the agents on the tape and to the benefit of the terrorists. That’s how things work nowadays. That’s not a justification, but it is a motivation, and it’s not too hard to grasp how this could occur.

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. 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 C.I.A. said today that the decision to destroy the tapes had been made “within the C.I.A. itself,” and they were destroyed 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. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Goss declined this afternoon to comment on the destruction of the tapes.

This is what we get when we have leaders who abdicate leadership and don’t protect their subordinates for the consequences of the choices that the leaders make. This, essentially, is the result of Sen. John McCain’s announced policy of keeping interrogation techniques like waterboarding illegal, but knowing full well that it will be used in extreme circumstances, and that when it is used the agents who used it will find themselves in legal jeopardy no matter what the outcome of the interrogation was. It’s the politics of passing the buck.

This is where politicizing a war gets us: We’re prosecuting front line troops for using time-tested techniques for killing enemy combatants, and we’re all but granting Miranda rights to terrorists who live for nothing but killing us. Here’s what I wrote about the issue in November 2005. That’s when McCain initially set out to ban torture, as defined down to include waterboarding and lesser techniques like sleep deprivation that are used against our own troops in basic training every single day of the year. It’s also around the time that the CIA destroyed the tapes.

By banning torture and torture-light openly yet allowing it with a wink and a nod in dire circumstances, McCain is pushing responsibility down, out of the elected parts of the government and into the bureaucracy. It will be junior and mid-level investigators who make the call, not chief executives. Because they make the call, they get the consequences—well, they’ll get the negative consequences.

If, say, the junior investigator decides against using harsh interrogation to get a terrorist’s ticking bomb information, and the bomb goes off, the elected politicians can blame the investigator for not being tough enough. “It wasn’t my call,” the politician can plausibly say.

If, on the other hand, the junior investigator does use extreme measures but gets no useful information (which is bound to happen in some small number of cases), when the terrorist’s advocates in the ACLU make the case public, the elected politician can again say “It wasn’t my call. Torture is illegal—don’t you know that I proposed banning it myself?” And thus, he’s off the hook if things go wrong either way.

In the one way in which things can go right—the junior investigator uses extreme measures, extracts information which leads to preventing the ticking bomb from going off, you can be sure that the politician will be right there to take the credit. The junior investigator, meanwhile, has to worry that some bureaucrat in Internal Affairs or elsewhere in the chain of command decides that even if the decision to go extreme prevented a massacre of Americans, it doesn’t matter. His actions were still illegal. The junior investigator whose actions saved lives could well still face a career-limiting scandal and even criminal justice. And the politician may well let it happen, just to show that he really in his heart doesn’t favor torture even if it saves lives.

I’m not blaming McCain alone for this; most of Washington basically sides with his effort to pass off responsibility to anyone but themselves, whether or not they signed on to the actual method McCain used in this specific case.

And here we are. Buck passed, agents in fear of prosecution and politicization destroying evidence, politicians once again side-stepping responsibility for their own predictably awful self-centered reasons. We have one more reason to loathe politicians on both sides of the aisle, and one more reason to suspect that our intel agencies are spinning more and more out of control and that terrorist-connected lawyers are gaming the system and no one in a position to do anything about it has the guts to call them out.

Thanks, Washington. For nothing.

Update: Interesting. I’ve read that book, and it’s a good read.

Update: Evidently reading comprehension skills aren’t required to blog for the Atlantic. Andrew Sullivan says I’m blaming McCain for the destruction of evidence in this case, when I set out a paragraph above explicitly saying that I’m not blaming McCain alone so much as I’m blaming the entire Washington culture of passing the buck. And the paragraph following that one spreads the blame even further, and wrapped around that is a condemnation of the destruction of evidence itself. Too much nuance in one post, I guess.


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Count me as singlularly unconcerned about the destruction of these tapes.

The CIA can’t keep super-secret anti-terror programs off the front page of the NYT – I’d have no confidence in them keeping the identity of any interrogator on those tapes secret.

Clark1 on December 7, 2007 at 10:37 AM

This is what we get when we have leaders who abdicate leadership and don’t protect their subordinates for the consequences of the choices that the leaders make.

That’s exactly right. Ramos, Compean and I have all been so disappointed by W.

JustTruth101 on December 7, 2007 at 10:40 AM

Who leaked that the tapes existed in the first place?

Loose nads further jihads.

profitsbeard on December 7, 2007 at 10:41 AM

Look, this idea that the interrogators in question would be at risk is bullshit, the CIA could have blurred the faces or something.

Nonetheless, consider that these interrogations occurred before Abu-Graib, and considering the fall-out that occurred after the Abu-graib photos were released and how they helped embolden and prolong the jihadist movement, and considerring how the CIA and NYT will leak and report anything so long as it ameliorates America’s defeat in the War on Terror, perhaps it was better in the end that these taps were destroyed.

We know that dude was waterboarded, whats the mystery revealed here? Nothing but the ability to use those images to weaken the United states and assist the jihadists in battle.

Jimmy the Dhimmi on December 7, 2007 at 10:51 AM

As usual Bryan, you turn a blinding spotlight on a problem that those in power lacking integrity wish would remain clocked in darkness. I am of the opinion that the single biggest failure of the Bush administration has been to ferret out those members of the Washington bureaucracy with leftist agendas.

He should have made a serious and profound effort to eliminate all of the Clinton appointed individuals in various State department and intelligence agencies in Washington. His failure to do so has resulted in an unprecedented level of malicious leaks of secret and confidential information that has been disastrous to both his administration and the country as a whole.

Shame on President Bush for not realizing that Clinton’s cronies could not be trusted to put national security ahead of partisan political gains. How he could have not understood this after Clinton’s goons removed the “w” from all the White House computer’s hours before his administration took office is beyond me.

doriangrey on December 7, 2007 at 10:53 AM

This may be quibbling but isn’t it a bit early to characterize this as destroying evidence? That suggests that the act of destroying the tapes was illegal. That the interrogations themselves were illegal.

Documentation of interrogations was destroyed after it held no intelligence value. Apparently, at least some Congresspeople were notified. I don’t see a real problem here other than the fact that those tapes only existed because the CIA felt compelled to document the procedures because John McCain, Teddy Kennedy, and the rest of their crowd want to coddle terrorist suspects.

highhopes on December 7, 2007 at 10:54 AM

Is the CIA required by law to make and keep videotapes of interrogations?
Is the CIA required to keep evidence now? What is included in what they are supposed to keep, and who is supposed to have authority over that evidence?

MayBee on December 7, 2007 at 10:56 AM

MayBee on December 7, 2007 at 10:56 AM

Good question, and it’s why I alluded to Miranda. Imagine troops and CIA agents having to shout “You have the right to remain silent” at terrorists who are shooting at them on a battlefield, because it’s possible that the battle might end with capturing the terrorists and you don’t want the terrorist freed by some judge on a technicality. That sounds absurd, but so do most other aspects of the way we’re tending to fight the war now.

Bryan on December 7, 2007 at 10:59 AM

I wish they would have kept the tapes, but I understand why they did it. Being under a treasonous government like the Democrats, they need to be protected. The Democrats have done nothing to help win the war on terror.

msipes on December 7, 2007 at 10:59 AM

Maybee,

I think the problem is they told the defense in the Moussaoui case that there were no video tapes. When there were. That makes it destroying evidence.

Sue on December 7, 2007 at 11:04 AM

Sue on December 7, 2007 at 11:04 AM

That’s right, and it is bad.

Bryan on December 7, 2007 at 11:06 AM

I don’t know how I feel about the tapes being destroyed, but I do know that blurring the faces of the interrogators would not have done much to prevent them from being identified. Remember the child molester from Canada whose face got unscrambled?

Sue on December 7, 2007 at 11:07 AM

we have one more reason to loathe politicians on both sides of the aisle, and one more reason to suspect that our intel agencies are spinning more and more out of control and that terrorist-connected lawyers are gaming the system and no one in a position to do anything about it has the guts to call them out.

This is exactly what the Dems want for the telecoms too. Allow the terror supporting lawyers to go after them after they did what the government asked of them,

Topsecretk9 on December 7, 2007 at 11:08 AM

I’m now at the point that I really don’t know what liberals want and with conservatives jumping on the bandwagon as fast as they can I’m not sure what they want. At times it looks like the majority of this country wants nothing more than its complete destruction and other times that they are just plain bonkers. Maybe western society is truly dead. All cultures and societies are and have always been far greater and grander that the perversion we call western society. That’s the message I get hour after hour and day after day. We define ourselves not though a grand unique culture but though how much we can degrade ourselves before other cultures and how much we stick it to each other. Growing up I had such fantastic hope and dreams for the world and now I truly believe future historians will look back at the last and next hundred years as the second dark ages. Social evolution has overcome biological evolution and given us a society were the majority of the people are truly mentally ill or maybe just plain stupid.

jmarcure on December 7, 2007 at 11:12 AM

It’s also interesting as Michelle Malkin notes that the Democrats were fully aware of the tapes and their future destruction.

Topsecretk9 on December 7, 2007 at 11:14 AM

Good question, and it’s why I alluded to Miranda. Imagine troops and CIA agents having to shout “You have the right to remain silent” at terrorists who are shooting at them on a battlefield, because it’s possible that the battle might end with capturing the terrorists and you don’t want the terrorist freed by some judge on a technicality. That sounds absurd, but so do most other aspects of the way we’re tending to fight the war now.

Bryan on December 7, 2007 at 10:59 AM

While I agree with the sentiment expressed I do feel the need to point out that the Miranda reading of rights only occurs after a suspect has been taken into custody. Hence if you don’t take the terrorists into custody you don’t have to grant them Miranda rights.

As I read the Geneva Convention there is no requirement to take illegal combatants into custody. While the Geneva Convention does stipulate that a lawful combatant who surrenders or is incapacitated must be taken into custody, it has no such provision for illegal combatants.

Yes I do grant you it is extremely difficult to cull useful information regarding ongoing or future terrorist strategic planning from a corpus, given the treasonous activities of various leftist socialist/communist/democrat fifth column members of our government my personal opinion is that a policy of no quarter regarding terrorists should be the policy our military is employing.

doriangrey on December 7, 2007 at 11:17 AM

I think the problem is they told the defense in the Moussaoui case that there were no video tapes. When there were. That makes it destroying evidence.

From the NYT article:

It was unclear whether the judge had explicitly sought the videotape depicting the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah.

Mr. Moussaoui’s lawyers had hoped that records of the interrogations might provide exculpatory evidence for Mr. Moussaoui — showing that the Al Qaeda detainees did not know Mr. Moussaoui and clearing him of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, plot.

If there is a problem, it would be that the CIA said they didn’t exist. They destroyed them afterwards, right? However, the article states it is unclear whether they had been asked for this tape.

There is an excellent question here about whether defendants should be allowed to go on fishing expeditions through CIA documents. We all know the things Moussaoui’s lawyers did to try to keep this from going to trial.

MayBee on December 7, 2007 at 11:18 AM

Wow, Jack Bauer may be only a character in a fictional TV series, but this is just more evidence that he’s also a prophet:

“That’s the problem with people like you []. You want results, but you never want to get your hands dirty.”

That perfectly exemplifies the central conflict surrounding this matter. People want results, but they don’t want the US to get its hands dirty, so everything is politicized and people, like those CIA guys tasked with getting information, cannot do their jobs without fear of repurcussions. And so it comes to this.

We. Are. F***ed.

thirteen28 on December 7, 2007 at 11:25 AM

Break out the pictures of our boys when we find them on the side of the road in pieces. That is what we’re up against. Mutilation and much worse. After absorbing that, anyone who demands we fight a politically correct war should be shot in the head and left for dead. We might explain that the only other way to combat the islamists other than the currently used methods is that of mass bombings and the killing of millions of innocents. Let McCain choose which method he prefers.

This is also why John McCain will never be president, among other things.

Secondly, if we don’t let our fighting men fight the war they need to fight the way they deem neccessary, then we will all have to train our children to kill muslims. As that is the only way they’ll survive.

Thirdly. I’ve been over there. The islamists believe we’re weak and afraid to fight. They laugh at our lefty friends and their support for the islamists. They will also be the first to be beheaded. Not that it matters to the leftys. But it should.

Griz on December 7, 2007 at 11:40 AM

The more I think about this, the angrier I get.

To listen to the Democrats, who are using this as one more gotcha event, national security doesn’t trump the ability of idiots like Jay Rockefeller to hold endless public hearings that do nothing but educate our enemies about our procedures, rules of engagement, and intelligence gathering methods. It also whips up public and world opinion against the United States.

All that would be okay if it truly were just a matter of transparency but Democrats are not doing this for noble reasons. This is just one more partisan effort aimed at gaining political power in 2008. The whole Democrat Congress should be rounded up, sent to Gitmo, and given a first-hand demonstration of interrogation techniques. I don’t even care if the cameras are rolling when they do it!

highhopes on December 7, 2007 at 12:02 PM

This is just one more partisan effort aimed at gaining political power in 2008.
highhopes

According to Fox this morning, those tapes were also used by the 9-11 comission due to the info the interrogations revealed. So, politicians (Dems) already had knowledge of the tapes? That is my question.

I am surprised, and finally impressed that SOMEONE was able to keep a secret for a change and not leak it you YouTube or the NYT.

Imagine if this got to Al Jazeera!? We’d have more violence and killings and car burnings in so called protest.

El Guapo on December 7, 2007 at 12:24 PM

You fight a war to win the war. You are not fighting to win moral points.

Of course this applied in saner times when the world was not three quarters blind or mad.

BL@KBIRD on December 7, 2007 at 12:31 PM

So, politicians (Dems) already had knowledge of the tapes? That is my question.

Yup.

Bryan on December 7, 2007 at 12:34 PM

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said the committee only learned of the tapes’ destruction in November 2006.

And i cant believe this guy is on the intel committee seeing how he basically told the whole middle east that Bush already made up his mind to invade Iraq.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,175684,00.html

Culture of corruption and ethics reform indeed.

El Guapo on December 7, 2007 at 12:37 PM

You fight a war to win the war. You are not fighting to win moral points.

Of course this applied in saner times when the world was not three quarters blind or mad.

BL@KBIRD

Well put! You wanna run for president?

El Guapo on December 7, 2007 at 12:38 PM

The CIA destroyed the tapes ?
Good for them.

Sasnak on December 7, 2007 at 12:41 PM

Yeah, the tapes aren’t on Al Jazeera because they dont exist. Its sad that’s a concern, but the CIA is infiltrated with enemies of the US.

I think we need a channel that plays tapes of 9/11 and all the atrocities committed by the enemy all day alternating with news of the accomplishments of the MNF.

When was the last time you saw tape of 9/11? Its like the media is HIDING it, hoping the American people will go back to sleep.

dogsoldier on December 7, 2007 at 12:42 PM

And i cant believe this guy is on the intel committee seeing how he basically told the whole middle east that Bush already made up his mind to invade Iraq.

Let’s not forget that Rockefeller got caught with that memo strategizing how the Democrat Party could use the intelligence committee to get the Democrat candidate elected in 2004. Up until then, the committee had been pretty much bipartisan by practice since partisanship didn’t trump the national interest. He’s a liar and part of the hate-Bush crowd that has no shame.

highhopes on December 7, 2007 at 12:45 PM

Bryan-

This, essentially, is the result of Sen. John McCain’s announced policy of keeping interrogation techniques like waterboarding illegal, but knowing full well that it will be used in extreme circumstances, and that when it is used the agents who used it will find themselves in legal jeopardy no matter what the outcome of the interrogation was. It’s the politics of passing the buck.

I agree completely.
It seems to me it is strategically the best thing for the CIA to take a political hit in this case than to begin turning over such tapes.

I just wish the political hit weren’t so predictable.

MayBee on December 7, 2007 at 12:48 PM

The CIA says the tapes were destroyed late in 2005, a year marked by increasing pressure from defense attorneys to obtain videotapes of detainee interrogations. The scandal over harsh treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had focused public attention on interrogation techniques.

Beginning in 2003, attorneys for al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui began seeking videotapes of interrogations they believed might help them show their client wasn’t a part of the 9/11 attacks. These requests heated up in 2005 as the defense slowly learned the identities of more detainees in U.S. custody.

In May 2005, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered the government to disclose whether interrogations were recorded. The government objected to that order, and the judge modified it on Nov. 3, 2005, to ask for confirmation of whether the government “has video or audio tapes of these interrogations” and then named specific ones. Eleven days later, the government denied it had video or audio tapes of those specific interrogations.

Last month, the CIA admitted to Brinkema and a circuit judge that it had failed to hand over tapes of enemy combatant witnesses. Those interrogations were not part of the CIA’s detention program and were not conducted or recorded by the agency, the agency said.

CommentGuy on December 7, 2007 at 1:14 PM

Exhibit A:

General Hayden said the tapes were originally made to ensure that agency employees acted in accordance with “established legal and policy guidelines.” General Hayden said the agency stopped videotaping interrogations in 2002.

Exhibit B:

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. 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.

Sounds like they stopped recording not because the tapes had served their purpose, but because they had failed their purpose, i.e. they revealed illegal activity. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what the tapes showed. They were evidence, and they were willfully destroyed. Nothing that a decade in prison won’t cure. Maybe the government will have mercy and allow them to serve their time in beautiful Club G’itmo!

Mark Jaquith on December 7, 2007 at 1:25 PM

This country is fundmentally unserious about the war we’re in. The Democrats and the more-moral-than-you Republicans.

It’s disgusting and dispairing.

The CIA erased tapes? Thank God. Imagine if the tapes were handed over… we’d be seeing them for a year.

We’re fighting the most ruthless , cruel , savage and evil people EVER… and because of people on both sides who are upset over tapes, we’re going to lose.

VinceP1974 on December 7, 2007 at 1:40 PM

I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that the mainstream media would release this story now, just as the Supreme Court is deciding a case about Gitmo.

SoulGlo on December 7, 2007 at 4:29 PM

1. Moussaoui should have been tried by a military tribunal.

2. John McCain’s war on terror creds are not as great as presented.

2. As much as I am not a fan of the CIA, I see no reason why they should keep the tapes. Of course I’m a child of the “Mission Impossible” television series. Good morning, Mr. Phelps.

3. Gerald Posner is a self-serving jackass. See the (fascinating) update. It’s all about him and if this nation is going to have another Abu Ghraib moment, so be it!

Buy Danish on December 7, 2007 at 5:58 PM

What the CIA did to Abu Zubaydah and others is nothing compared to what the Islamothugs did to Daniel Pearl, or even the Christian missionary Tom Fox.

Hurt one of them, save 1000 lives. Fair trade.

Gottafang on December 7, 2007 at 6:09 PM

Buy Danish on December 7, 2007 at 5:58 PM

Were you expecting that second point # 2 to self destruct in 10 seconds? :-)

Why is the left suddenly so intent on outing some CIA agents? Wasn’t that the worst thing in the world for the last four years?

RW_theoriginal on December 7, 2007 at 6:14 PM

RW_theoriginal on December 7, 2007 at 6:14 PM

Great point! And isn’t the CIA their favorite government agency? After all, their allies like WaPo’s Dana Preist rely on then for leaks in order to damage our national security.

No doubt this whole situation could have been avoided if only Valerie Plame hadn’t been outed as being Joe Wilson’s wife.

Buy Danish on December 7, 2007 at 6:31 PM

Buy Danish on December 7, 2007 at 6:31 PM

I read a sad story this morning that Valerie “shameless publicity %$&#@” Plame is drawing the line at posing for Playboy, but she says it’s really nice to have Warren Beatty pull out your chair for you at dinner parties.

Didn’t I hear that her life had been destroyed?

RW_theoriginal on December 7, 2007 at 6:35 PM

RW_theoriginal on December 7, 2007 at 6:35 PM

It’s too bad she turned Hef down. I can just see her as a centerfold wearing nothing but dark glasses, an Hermes scarf, an I ♥ John Kerry tattoo, and a fistful of hundred dollar bills.

Does she not realize what a disgraceful Ho she sounds like?

But hey, I’d love to pull out a chair for her. Oops, so sorry!

Buy Danish on December 7, 2007 at 7:07 PM

Buy Danish on December 7, 2007 at 7:07 PM

That’s quite the visual, but somewhere they would have to get a shot of Joe in his pimp gear too.

RW_theoriginal on December 7, 2007 at 7:29 PM

RW_theoriginal on December 7, 2007 at 7:29 PM

It would be the first ever co-ed playboy spread. Actually Vanity Fair probably has this in the works already for it’s next cover.

Buy Danish on December 7, 2007 at 7:38 PM

This “evidence” is yet attempt by the Demorhoids and the ACLU to disclose to the enemy the identity of Americans who were involved in interrogating enemy combatants terrorists.

Somebody needs to ask Ollie North to discuss Abu Nidal’s plans to assassinate he and his family.

I know for a fact that our soldiers at Gitmo have received specific threats from al-Qaedists against their wives and children. There’s no way these terrorists could have gotten the detailed information on these soldiers’ families without the ACLU lawyers feeding it to them.

If they destroyed this information (not “evidence”) it was for the reasons cited– to protect Americans in harms way.

And I’m still waiting for Murtha’s apology to the Haditha marines.

Terp Mole on December 7, 2007 at 9:24 PM

1) Make no tapes.

2) Take no terrorists prisoner. (Except for interrogate, then execute.)

3) Win the goddamned war against these maniacs.

Elect no one who doesn’t understand these three points.

profitsbeard on December 7, 2007 at 10:05 PM