U.S. May Have Taped Visits to Detainees
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
The Bush administration informed all foreign intelligence and law enforcement teams visiting their citizens held at Guantanamo Bay that video and sound from their interrogation sessions would be recorded, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. The policy suggests that the United States could possess hundreds or thousands of hours of secret taped conversations between detainees and representatives from nearly three dozen countries.
Numerous State Department cables to foreign government delegations in 2002 and 2003 show that each country was subject to rules and regulations "to protect the interests and ensure the safety of all concerned." Condition No. 1 stated that U.S. authorities would closely monitor the interrogations, a practice that the Defense Department confirmed last week was also carried out to gather intelligence.
"The United States will video tape and sound record the interviews between representatives of your government and the detainee(s) named above," read several of the nearly identical cables, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Should such videotapes exist, they would reveal how representatives from countries such as China, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia treated detainees in small interrogation booths at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- sessions that some detainees have said were abusive and at times contained threats of torture or even death. Though attorneys for the detainees have long sought to obtain such evidence, the administration has thus far denied the requests and has not indicated that such tapes exist.
The Defense Department has long maintained that it did not regularly videotape interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, and only last month acknowledged recording at least seven hours of Canadian officials interrogating terrorism suspect Omar Khadr after the Canadian Supreme Court ordered Canadian officials to release those tapes. The Khadr tapes show that U.S. officials had the capability and infrastructure to record the conversations from several angles.
In the Khadr tapes, the young Canadian is shown having polite but tense conversations with Canadian intelligence officers in a small booth with a table, chairs and a wall-mounted air conditioner. At times, Khadr appears frustrated and distraught, complaining about his treatment during captivity. The videos captured images from multiple vantage points, including from behind the slats of a vent, and also captured audio from the sessions.
Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the videotaping of visits by foreign delegations was not "standard operating procedure" but that such monitoring was done to protect the detainees, the foreign officials and the United States. He also said it was conducted for "intelligence-collection purposes."
"If videotapes were made, they were likely used for translators to transcribe and/or for intelligence officers to clarify their notes after the fact," Gordon said. Defense officials declined to list the countries that had sent intelligence agents because the roster is classified, but they put the number at more than 30. They declined to say how many tapes were made.
The documents show that the State Department was working with several governments in early 2002, allowing them to bring three-person teams to Guantanamo Bay for week-long visits. Early delegations were from such countries as Bahrain, Belgium, France and Russia, according to e-mails provided to The Post, just as the facility's detainee population was dramatically increasing.
Officials from governments that visited detainees at Guantanamo Bay said they understood that the sessions would be taped and expected that it would happen, both for security and intelligence purposes.
"We knew for a while that all the interrogations and questioning was being recorded, and that that was the routine," said one Yemeni official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to discuss the visits. "We sent a total of three teams, and it was common knowledge that all the interviews with the detainees were videotaped and recorded."
Current and former U.S. government officials said the foreign delegation visits in 2002 -- shortly after the facility was opened -- were key to intelligence gathering because foreign agents could speak a detainee's language and could put the conversations in a context that eluded U.S. interrogators.