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CIA destruction of interrogation videos threatens US credibility on human rights

(RSF/IFEX) - It emerged on 15 April 2010 from emails released by the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that the agency's then-director, Porter J. Goss, approved the 2005 decision by the head of its clandestine service, José A. Rodriguez, to destroy dozens of videotapes of brutal interrogations carried out on two detainees in Thailand in 2002 because of concern that they would expose the CIA to prosecution.

"This is like a scene from a bad movie that keeps on being replayed," Reporters Without Borders said. "The destruction of these videos is a major violation of the freedom of information of American citizens and the sovereign principle of the First Amendment."

The press freedom organisation added: "It is now clear that the CIA systematically tried to hide from the public the illegal interrogation techniques used during the previous administration. How many more cases of destroyed videos will we discover?"

The request for documents relating to mistreatment and torture in the CIA's secret prisons was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the FOIA in 2003. On 2 March 2009, the federal authorities acknowledged that 92 video recordings of interrogations were destroyed in 2005. This is the second revelation of its kind.

According to the "New York Times", quoting from the released emails, the CIA's director "laughed" when Rodriguez offered to "take the heat" for the destruction of the videos and replied that he, Goss, would be the one who took the heat.

We think it is repulsive to "take the heat" when the credibility of the United States as regards human rights is at stake and we reiterate the request we made in March of last year for the new Obama administration to order a special investigation into this infringement of the American people's constitutional rights and to punish those who are responsible. US society cannot dispense with an investigation into the serious abuses that were committed in the name of the "war on terrorism." The White House's attempts to block requests for information are counter-productive.

Since 2003, the US authorities have released more than 100,000 pages of documents about the mistreatment of detainees by US soldiers. They show that many of them were tortured and that the techniques used reached a high level of cruelty under the Bush administration.

The NGO Judicial Watch filed a similar request on 15 May 2009 for CIA documents relating to briefings about "enhanced interrogation techniques" that were given to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her senior aide, Michael Sheehy. The government was supposed to release them by 16 April 2010 but it has asked for more time.

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