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Judge refuses to hold CIA in contempt of court for destroying torture tapes

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders continues to be perplexed by the impunity enjoyed by senior US officials responsible for a serious freedom of information violation. A federal judge this week refused to hold the CIA in contempt of court for destroying 92 videotapes depicting the torture of two prisoners in the course of the "war on terror."

The ruling was issued on 1 August 2011 by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the US district court for the southern district of New York in response to a motion by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) dating back to 2007.

The judge nonetheless praised the ACLU for managing to get the federal authorities to release documents about detainee treatment, asked the CIA to publish its forthcoming document-destruction policies and ordered the CIA to pay all of the ACLU's attorney fees.

"What you and your colleagues have done in getting this story to the American public has been extraordinary," the judge told the ACLU. "Bottom line, we're in a dangerous world. We need our spies. We also need surveillance."

The federal authorities confirmed on 2 March 2009 that 92 videotapes showing the torture of two Saudi detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, were destroyed by the CIA in 2005.

According to CNN, then CIA director Michael Hayden said in a 2007 memo designed to help protect CIA employees involved in acts of torture that the videos "were no longer of intelligence value and relevant to any internal, legislative or judicial inquires."

The court first ordered the CIA in September 2004 to produce or identify all records regarding the treatment of detainees in its custody. But the CIA did not produce the videos and did not reveal that they had existed until 2007, shortly before amendments to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) took effect on 31 December 2007.

Following federal prosecutor John Durham's November 2010 decision not to file charges against any of the CIA officers who destroyed the videos, the ACLU wanted to at least get the CIA held in contempt of court for destroying them.

"We argued that the CIA showed complete disdain for the court and the rule of law itself when it flouted several court orders to produce the videotapes and instead destroyed them," the ACLU said this week.

In the name of democracy and its Constitution, the United States should reveal the truth to its citizens and the international community. Reporters Without Borders thinks that an investigation is needed into the practices that prevailed during the Bush administration and the destruction of evidence of illegal interrogation methods.

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