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Authorities confirm CIA destroyed 92 videotapes detailing interrogations of detainees held at secret prisons

(RSF/IFEX) - Federal authorities confirmed on 2 March 2009 that 92 videotapes detailing the interrogation of detainees at secret prisons were destroyed in 2005 by the CIA. Reporters Without Borders asks that the new Obama administration lead an investigation into this infringement upon the American people's constitutional rights and punish those who are responsible.

"The sheer number of videotapes destroyed by the CIA confirms that the agency systematically tried to hide from the public the illegal interrogation techniques used by the previous administration. The public has the right to know what the government is doing and be confident that those in power are upholding the democratic values upon which this country is based," stated the press freedom organization.

"We hope that the secrecy and lack of transparency that prevailed during the beginning of this decade will be replaced with freer access to information and a clear understanding of current government practices. The government must thoroughly investigate this blow to access to information and hold accountable those responsible. The American society cannot hold back as they investigate these grave violations committed under the presidency of George W. Bush in the name of the 'war on terror.' This investigation into the former administration's actions will be debated by the Senate Judiciary Committee on 4 March. Hanging in the balance of their decision is the credibility of the United State's stance on human rights," added the organization.

A letter from Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Lev Dassin confirmed on 2 March that 92 controversial interrogation videotapes were destroyed by the agency. The letter, addressed to New York judge Alvin Hellerstein, who is hearing the case brought against the CIA by the American Civil Liberties Union, asked the court to give the CIA until 6 March to prepare records on the tapes that were destroyed as well as a list of possible witnesses.

So far the CIA has not said what was on the tapes and has admitted to destroying only a few of the videos. According to the "New York Times", the videos show harsh interrogations techniques used by the previous administration on Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al-Qaeda member, and Abdel Rahim al-Nashiri, believed to have been involved in the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. According to the "New York Times", the former head of CIA clandestine operations, José A. Rodríguez Jr, ordered the destruction of the videotapes.

The existence of the tapes was disclosed in 2007, just before the 31 December 2007 announcement of the reform of the Freedom of Information Act, when then-CIA chief Michael Hayden said they had been destroyed to protect the identity of agency operatives. The criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes was launched under the Bush administration by Acting US Attorney John Durham and finished on 28 February 2009. The new Obama administration has since vowed that it will not resort to torture.

From June 2002 to May 2008, Sudanese journalist Sami al-Haj, with the Qatar-based TV station Al Jazeera, was held in Guantanamo. Reporters Without Borders advocated for his release. Detained without any charges being laid against him, he was submitted to more than 200 interrogations, some of them using "waterboarding" methods.

For further information on the al-Haj case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94025

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