Prosecutor in Trial of 9/11 Conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui Informs Judges That He Viewed Two Videos of al-Qaida Suspects' Interrogations Two Months Ago That Government Told Court in 2003 It Didn't Have -- And CIA Chief Said Were Destroyed
By Skeeter Sanders
A letter by a Virginia-based U.S. attorney to a federal appeals court appears to contradict CIA Director Michael Hayden's public statements on the destruction of hundreds of hours of video footage of "extreme" interrogations of suspected al-Qaida operatives by strongly indicating that at least two of the videos still exist.
Charles Rosenberg, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, wrote that his office viewed two videotapes of CIA interrogations of al-Qaida suspects as recently as September 19 and October 18 of this year -- contrary to Hayden's statement that the tapes were destroyed in 2005.
Disclosure of the continued existence of these two videos is almost certain to intensify the controversy over the tapes that were destroyed -- and accusations that the CIA is engaging in a cover-up of evidence that its operatives employed interrogation tactics outlawed as torture under both U.S. and international law.
Rosenberg's five-page letter, addressed to Judge Karen Williams, chief judge of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia and to Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court in nearby Alexandria, was referring to the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the lone suspect convicted in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Brinkema was the presiding judge in the Moussaoui trial.
Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker," pleaded guilty in 2006 to charges of conspiring to hijack planes and crash them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, admitting that he knew about the attacks and did nothing to stop them. Ironically, Moussaoui was in jail in Minnesota as the September 11 attacks unfolded. He's now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
Rosenberg: Videos' Existence At Odds With Prior Claims That They Didn't
The U.S. attorney's letter -- which was heavily edited to delete the identities of the suspects -- said that while an accompanying transcript of the interrogation "contains no mention of Moussaoui or any mention of the September 11 plot" and thus has "no bearing" on the Moussaoui prosecution, "The existence of the videotape, however, is at odds with statements in two CIA declarations submitted in this case."
Rosenberg wrote that his office was subsequently notified by the CIA in October that the spy agency "had uncovered the existence of a second videotape, as well as a short audiotape," both of which pertained to interrogations of the al-Qaida suspects whose identities were withheld. "On October 18, we viewed the second videotape and listened to the audiotape, while reviewing transcripts" of the interrogations.
As was the case in the first video, "the contents of the second videotape and the audiotape have no bearing on the Moussaoui prosecution," Rosenberg wrote. "They neither mention Moussaoui nor discuss the September 11 plot."
Under sharp questioning from Judge Brinkema, the Justice Department had denied that any videotapes of the interrogations existed. But Rosenberg wrote that the CIA, without the Justice Department's knowledge, "possessed the three recordings" at the time the department made its declaration.
The government's declaration, made on November 14, 2005, came amid a dispute between Judge Brinkema and the government over Moussaoui's requests for access to confidential documents and the right to call captive al-Qaida members as witnesses. The government refused, citing national security.
Judge Brinkema "ordered the government to disclose various information. . .including whether interrogations were recorded," Rosenberg wrote. The judge later reconsidered most of his order, at the government's request, "but still directed the government to confirm or deny that it has video or audio tapes of these interrorgations."
The government responded with a declaration by a CIA executive that "The U.S. Government does not have any video or audio tapes of the interrogations," Rosenberg's letter continued.
Because Rosenberg's letter deleted the identities of the suspects interrogated in the tapes cited in the Moussaoui case, it remains unclear whether the suspects on the tapes included Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who are at the center of the current controversy over the destruction of the other CIA interrogation videos.