Public interest groups demand renewed probe of CIA’s destroyed torture records

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, December 23, 2010 12:32 EDT
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In a recent letter to the Archivist of the United States, a collection of public interest groups demanded a renewed investigation into the destruction of federal records pertaining to the Bush administration’s torture program.

As many as 92 tapes of terror war captives being tortured by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives were allegedly destroyed. Officials suggested these recordings depicted torture sessions with terrorism suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri.

Along with the tapes, detailed records of the CIA’s so-called “torture flights,” showing the planes, destinations and even the passengers, were also said destroyed.

The letter (PDF), published Wednesday, was signed by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Public Citizen and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others.

The destruction of these records was revealed by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden in Dec. 2007, who said the decision was made because the videos posed “a serious security risk” to the agency.

Two stray video tapes, depicting the interrogation of Ramzi Binalshibh in a secret CIA black site prison, were later uncovered in 2007, but the revelation did not make news until August of this year.

“When records are destroyed because they would reveal embarrassing information or illegal activities, the public is denied the right to understand and debate what the federal government is doing in its name, and hold the government accountable for its actions,” the groups wrote in a letter published Wednesday (PDF). “Furthermore, the destruction of records makes it impossible for historians to someday write the authoritative history of our nation.”

The ultimate decision to destroy the torture tapes was made by Jose Rodriguez Jr., the former Director of the National Clandestine Service. Though it is a crime to destroy public records, after a probe of the issue the US Department of Justice said in Nov. that Rodriguez would not face charges.

The collection of public interest groups said they were “profoundly disappointed” by the decision.

“Failing to enforce the law of the land in this instance sends a message of impunity to agencies that decide to destroy records containing evidence of illegality, mismanagement, corruption, or even fairly benign mistakes,” they wrote.

“This decision stands in stark contrast to the President’s January 21 memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) directing Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies that the government ‘not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.’ For these reasons, we hope DOJ will fully support your investigation and act on your conclusions.”

A list of the letter’s signatories follows.

Many of these same groups also signed another open letter released Tuesday, demanding that US lawmakers stand up for freedom of the press when considering new laws that many fear could criminalize third party release of stolen government secrets.


American Association of Law Libraries
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Arizona First Amendment Coalition
Association of Research LibrariesBill of Rights Defense Committee
The Center for Media and Democracy
The Center for Victims of Torture
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in
Washington (CREW)
Defending Dissent Foundation
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Essential Information
Feminists for Free Expression
Fund for Constitutional Government
Government Accountability Project (GAP)
Liberty Coalition
Muslimah Writers Alliance
National Coalition Against Censorship
No More Guantanamos
Northern California Association of Law Libraries
OMB Watch
PEN American Center
Progressive Librarians Guild
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Public Citizen
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of American Archivists
Society of Professional Journalists
US Bill of Rights Foundation
Utah Foundation for Open Government

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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