The CIA has videotapes, after all, of interrogations in a secret overseas prison of admitted 9/11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh.
Discovered in a box under a desk at the CIA, the tapes could reveal how foreign governments aided the United States in holding and interrogating suspects. And they could complicate U.S. efforts to prosecute Binalshibh, who has been described as one of the “key plot facilitators” in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The two videotapes and one audiotape are believed to be the only existing recordings made within the clandestine prison system and could offer a revealing glimpse into a four-year global odyssey that ranged from Pakistan to Romania to Guantanamo Bay.
The tapes depict Binalshibh’s interrogation sessions in 2002 at a Moroccan-run facility the CIA used near Rabat, several current and former U.S. officials told The Associated Press. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the videos remain a closely guarded secret.
How closely guarded? The tapes were discovered in 2007, and we’re only just hearing about them:
When the CIA destroyed its cache of 92 videos of two other al-Qaida operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri, being waterboarded in 2005, officials believed they had wiped away all of the agency’s interrogation footage. But in 2007, a staff member discovered a box tucked under a desk in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and pulled out the Binalshibh tapes.
How inconvenient is it that the Binalshibh tapes exist?
Apparently the tapes do not show harsh treatment — unlike videos the agency destroyed of the questioning of other suspected terrorists.
Imagine that! The only tapes known to have survived do not show harsh treatment.
Note that we’re implicitly being asked to believe that, for some reason known only to the CIA — and, maybe, to God, though that’s doubtful — the CIA made interrogation tapes only of these three detainees. There were the tapes of Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri that were oh so regrettably destroyed. And there are the tapes of Binalshibh that we have just learned about. And the CIA never made tapes of any other detainees.
Because, like, what was the point? After taping three detainees, they had a top-secret eyes-only meeting, and they decided: “Been there. Done that. Enough.” Of course, they took a vote. The outcome? “The eyes have it.” And that was that. Henceforth, all interrogations were eyes-only.
The AP story has one statement that baffled me:
With military trial commissions on hold while the Obama administration figures out what to do with a number of terror suspects, Binalshibh has never had a hearing on whether he is mentally fit to stand trial.
I could have sworn that a military commission trial started just the other day. Last week, wasn’t it? Here’s Dahlia Lithwick from last Friday (a really eloquent piece; well worth your while reading the whole thing):
But instead of subjecting the so-called “worst of the worst” to a military tribunal, this past week the Obama administration fired up the tribunal system to try Omar Khadr, a child soldier. Khadr’s defense counsel, Jon Jackson, collapsed Thursday while questioning a witness and was airlifted back to the United States for treatment. There will be at least a 30-day delay in the proceedings. Maybe we can use this small break to look again at what Guantanamo has become and to acknowledge that Omar Khadr represents everything we shouldn’t be trying before a secretive military commission.
But just because the AP was totally wrong about military commission trials being on hold doesn’t mean the rest of their story isn’t 100% accurate.
The part about the CIA’s lies — first brazen, then tortured — certainly rings true:
The CIA first publicly hinted at the existence of the tapes in 2007 in a letter to U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Virginia. The government twice denied having such tapes, recanting once they were discovered. …
At the time, the CIA played down the significance of the videos, saying they were not taken as part of the agency’s detention program and did not show CIA interrogations.
But that case can be made only because of the unusual nature of the Moroccan prison, which was largely financed by the CIA but run by Moroccans, the former officials said. The CIA could move detainees in and out, and oversee the interrogations, but officially Morocco had control.
Let’s hope that the Ramzi Binalshibh tapes don’t become too controversial. Because what the CIA found yesterday can just as easily go missing again tomorrow. The CIA already knows there aren’t any real consequences for such shenanigans. Not beyond having to listen to Congressional fulminations, and having to keep a straight face while pretending to be extremely redfaced.