CIA tapes of 9/11 detainee's interrogation don't show torture, official says

The CIA has tapes of 9/11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh being interrogated in a secret overseas prison. The recordings could provide an unparalleled look at how foreign governments aided the U.S. in holding and questioning suspected terrorists.
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; 11:54 PM

The interrogation of Ramzi Binalshibh, a key figure in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was recorded several times while he was being questioned in Morocco by local intelligence officers, according to a U.S. official. The disclosure resolves a mystery over what are thought to be the only existing recordings from the CIA's secret detention program.

The two videotapes and an audiotape do not show any use of what the CIA has called "enhanced interrogation techniques," the official said. Human rights groups have described the CIA's methods as torture.

"The tapes, which were made and found years ago, show a guy sitting at a desk answering questions," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of ongoing investigations.

Still, the disclosure adds a new wrinkle to the public understanding of the documentation of the CIA's detention and interrogation program.

The destruction of 92 videotapes depicting the harsh interrogation and confinement of senior al-Qaeda figures at CIA secret prisons around the world is the subject of a criminal probe. Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the former head of the directorate of operations at the agency, issued an order to destroy the recordings in November 2005 as the CIA's detention and interrogation program came under intense public and congressional scrutiny.

In January 2008, then-Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney John H. Durham to investigate the destruction of the tapes. That inquiry continues.

The CIA first acknowledged having tapes of the interrogation of a high-value detainee in 2007 but never identified the detainee.

During the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only suspect convicted in the United States in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA made two declarations to U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema that it was not recording certain interrogations and did not have recordings of particular detainees.

But in September 2007, a year after Brinkema sentenced Moussaoui to life in prison, the CIA discovered a videotape of Binalshibh being questioned by Moroccan officials. A subsequent search, requested by the Justice Department, turned up another videotape and an audio recording of Binalshibh's questioning, department told Brinkema and Karen J. Williams, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in an Oct. 25, 2007, letter.

The Associated Press, which first revealed Tuesday that Binalshibh was the subject of the recordings, reported that the tapes were discovered under a desk at the CIA. A U.S. official contested the assertion that they were found under a desk and added that they were discovered by the agency's counterterrorism center.

"The question becomes: If this is out there, what else is out there?" said Tom Durkin, Binalshibh's former civilian attorney in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

CIA spokesman George Little said the agency's black sites and interrogation methods were "a thing of the past."

"While we continue to cooperate with inquiries into past counterterrorism practices, the CIA's focus now is exactly where it should be: protecting the American people now and into the future," he said.

Binalshibh, a Yemeni who served as a key liaison between the Sept. 11 hijackers and al-Qaeda's leadership, was captured in Pakistan on the first anniversary of the attacks and held in the CIA's secret detention program before the Bush administration announced his transfer to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006.

He was not among the three detainees who the CIA said underwent waterboarding, and it is not known what coercive techniques he was subjected to. A military court at Guantanamo, where he is currently held, has heard that he is being treated with psychotropic drugs, and his mental competency to defend himself at trial has previously been at issue.

Binalshibh, 38, and four others, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, were facing capital charges at Guantanamo. Those charges were withdrawn in anticipation of a federal prosecution, but the Obama administration's desire to transfer the case to civilian court has stalled in the face of public and congressional opposition.

Staff writer Ellen Nakashima and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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