Federal judge rules CIA not in contempt for interrogation videotape destruction

[JURIST] A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] was not in contempt of court for destroying videotapes [press release] thought to have shown harsh interrogations of terror suspects, but ordered the CIA to pay attorneys fees to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. The ACLU argued during a court hearing that the CIA "showed complete disdain for the court and the rule of law itself" when it destroyed the videotapes after being ordered to produce them. Though he denied the contempt motion, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] praised the ACLU [CNN report] for ultimately triggering the disclosure of thousands of documents detailing treatment of detainees. The ACLU expressed disappointment with the judge's rejection of the contempt motion, but emphasized the importance of holding government officials accountable for their actions:

Though the Court's sanctioning of the CIA is a positive step for accountability, it falls short of the full accounting necessary before we can turn the page on the last decade. Far more disturbing than the CIA's destruction of the tapes is the CIA's authorization of the brutal mistreatment captured by the tapes. By destroying that evidence of criminal activity in direct violation of the judge's clear instructions, the agency's top officials aimed to deny the public and the courts the chance to hold them accountable.
Hellerstein also asked the CIA to publish its policies regarding document destruction, which have been proposed in response to the video destruction litigation.

In January, Hellerstein told the CIA that it must investigate the destruction of the interrogation tapes [JURIST report] related to individuals detained after 9/11 [JURIST news archive] and prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. Internal CIA documents [part 1, PDF; part 2, PDF; part 3, PDF] released last April reveal that the former head of the agency Porter Goss may have agreed to the destruction [JURIST report] of the interrogation videotapes [JURIST news archive]. According to redacted documents [text, PDF] filed in March 2009, 12 of 92 videotapes destroyed by the CIA [JURIST report] contained evidence of "enhanced interrogation techniques." The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] had acknowledged [letter, PDF; JURIST report] in March 2009 that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of high value terrorism suspect interrogations, in response to an August 2008 judicial order [text, PDF] that the CIA turn over information regarding the tapes or provide specific justifications on why it could not release the information. The August 2008 order came in response to a December 2007 ACLU motion [text, PDF] that the CIA be held in contempt of court for not providing information on the tapes during a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] lawsuit [ACLU materials] brought by the organization in an effort to access government materials on the interrogations.

 

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