Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 22, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

SIMON SAYS....In the annals of unconvincing excuses, this one is now quickly rising into gold medal territory. The question is why the CIA never turned over its interrogration videotapes to the 9/11 Commission:

A C.I.A. spokesman said that the agency had been prepared to give the Sept. 11 commission the interrogation videotapes, but that commission staff members never specifically asked for interrogation videos.

The review by Mr. Zelikow does not assert that the commission specifically asked for videotapes, but it quotes from formal requests by the commission to the C.I.A. that sought "documents," "reports" and "information" related to the interrogations.

....Mark Mansfield, the C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency had gone to "great lengths" to meet the commission's requests, and that commission members had been provided with detailed information obtained from interrogations of agency detainees.

"Because it was thought the commission could ask about the tapes at some point, they were not destroyed while the commission was active," Mr. Mansfield said.

So let's review:

  • The 9/11 Commission was an official investigative body chartered by both Congress and the president.

  • It specifically asked for "documents," "reports" and "information" related to detainee interrogations.

  • The CIA knew about the tapes, knew they were germane, and knew the commission was likely to ask for them at some point.

  • But it never revealed their existence and never turned them over because no one ever specifically said the word, "videotape."

From an administration that said the vice president is a fourth branch of government; that the Medicare prescription bill would only cost $400 billion; that waterboarding isn't torture; and that Iraq was trying to procure uranium from Africa — well, this one might not even make its all-time top ten mendacity list. For one thing, the deceit is a little too obvious. Surely to make the list your lies have to display more than a fourth-grade level of sophistication?

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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It's not really any sillier or lamer than the excuse that the tapes were destroyed to protect the identities of the interrogaters. Gee, if only there were technology available to pixelize faces and distort vocal sounds....

Or the excuse that the tapes were destroyed despite several attorney's saying they shouldn't be because nobody explicitly said that they had to keep them.

Posted by: PaulB on December 22, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

But it never revealed their existence and never turned them over because no one ever specifically said the word, "videotape."

As ridiculous as it sounds, this isn't an uncommon type of occurrence during the discovery phase in a civil trial. If you aren't specific about the information you are looking for, you won't get it, and it will be your fault.

Posted by: Disputo on December 22, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

You don't have to say 'videotape'.

Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 1001 2.) "Photographs" include still photographs, X-ray films, video tapes, and motion pictures.

It's also possible that the request for documents was carefully drafted to deliberately exclude, not include, some things known to exist, but that would have been inconvenient to find.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 22, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Disputo: No lawyer would want to have to defend the CIA's position before a judge. They would get slapped down, hard.

Posted by: jimbo on December 22, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know the specifics of the requests made by the commission. However, in most modern civil actions, the requests for information are made very specific by including instructions for how the party is to respond. These instructions include definitions of relevant terms. I haven't seen a request for production of documents in years that didn't include an extensive definition of "documents." The definitions vary a bit, but almost invariably include paper documents, electronic recordings of any kind, photographs, video and audio recordings, and a lot of other stuff (such as many different forms of legacy data storage devices and the legacy software to be able to read them).

I would be surprised if the commission went about its job of gathering critical evidence from recalcitrant agencies with less care than a civil lawyer in a $10,000 case, but stranger things have happened.

The question to ask: "What were the specific requests made to the intelligence agencies?"

Posted by: anoregonreader on December 22, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Surely to make the list your lies have to display more than a fourth-grade level of sophistication?

You'd think, but sadly, no. They do what they want, and nobody - least of all the Democratic Congress - calls them on it.

Posted by: craigie on December 22, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Under Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which governs documents requests is civil lawsuits, the word "document" has long been understood to include videos. That rule doesn't specifically apply here, but its familiar territory for all lawyers

Posted by: pj on December 22, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

All the comments about discovery and specifying in detail what is to be presented in a court case don't seem to be especially relevant. Aren't the CIA and the 9-11 Commission supposed to be on the same side?

Sorry about being so naive.

Posted by: natural cynic on December 22, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose even if the commission ask for tapes they would not have gotten them. The reason: they did not specify VHS or 8mm.

Posted by: CarlP on December 22, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget that when the Commission wanted to interview people like Kalid Sheik Mohammed, they ultimately agreed to write questions and let the CIA conduct interviews and then write (or let Dick Cheney write) responses. Does anyone truly think they acted with an ounce of skepticism? This is at least in part why there are so many conspiracy theories.

Posted by: danp on December 22, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

The main case, at least here in Washington State is Fisons. If your request reasonably includes the information being withheld, those who withhold it are liable in terms of sanctions and a lot worse.

As noted above, the term "document" is all-inclusive, including but not limited to (standard law language) emails, video and audiotapes, regular paper, notes, voicemails, etc.

This line of argument was shot down in the 80s, for crying out loud. No lawyer would believe this, let alone argue in its favor. But the again, I don't really get the impression that the legal department of our administration has any notion of how much regular lawyers find their arguments to be insulting and generally a stain on a profession that has enough public perception problems already.

Posted by: abject funk on December 22, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

This is the same game the Bush Administration plays over and over again. And it isn't designed to convince the majority of us -- only the party faithful, who now have their talking points.

This is sort of like Alberto Gonzalez trying SO HARD to answer all those questions that the Senate kept asking him ... or Congress forgetting to specifically outlaw waterboarding ... or the President informing Congress about his surveillance of American citizens, but having them misunderstand him.

You see ... it was all Congress' fault!! If they weren't so incompetent and feckless, none of this would happen! Just more proof that we need a strong, pricipled President to run things ... yadda yadda yadda.

Posted by: Bokonon on December 22, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm... and aren't you the same knuckleheads who were instantly convinced that these same guys briefed Pelosi in detail?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 22, 2007 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

You didn't say "Mother may I?" so no tapes for you.

Posted by: JohnK on December 22, 2007 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I suspect that they did actually ask for videotapes, but misspelled it as "vidoetapes." And hence, the loophole...

Posted by: Art Smith on December 22, 2007 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

specifically asked for "documents," "reports" and "information" related to detainee interrogations.

The commission was only asking for documents held or produced in the US. The interrogation tapes were from Cuba and everyone knows it's illegal to import anything from that communist country. Once they arrived in the US, as illegal contraband, the tapes had to be destroyed.

Jeez, I can't believe you forgot that.

Posted by: TJM on December 22, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

So, what other information was withheld from the 911 commission? Do we really know what happened that day? Is it time for a new investigation?

Posted by: skeeve on December 22, 2007 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: mhr on December 22, 2007 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

I laughed out loud when I saw that story.

I can't believe someone thought that they could sell the image of the CIA carefully keeping the tapes safe, just in case the commission asked for them. I mean, I know we've suffered from years of Bushista nonsense, but why wasn't this spokesman greeted with loud guffaws?

Did they never hear the old saw about how, when you are in a hole, stop digging?

Posted by: biggerbox on December 22, 2007 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

"I know how hard it is to put food on your family."
--George W. Bush

Posted by: Quotation Man on December 22, 2007 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

A C.I.A. spokesman said ...

Would it be "stating the obvious" to point out that, under this incredibly duplicitous Bush Regime, the terms "spokesman", "spokeswoman", and "spokesperson", as wielded in the media, have been nearly universally synonymous with the vastly more accurate descriptor "LIAR"?

Just thought I'd interject that little bit of acquired wisdom. It does make my own research endeavors much easier to proceed from such a prudent, time-tested initial assumption.

Posted by: Poilu on December 22, 2007 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

Look to Cheney/Abbington and their sock puppets, George, Harriett and Gonzo. They were calling the shots. Everyone else, including those at the CIA, were intimidated into submission. Just look what happened at State? Powell ended up being the key guy selling a war with a bunch of lies for a war he did not support...

Posted by: bob on December 22, 2007 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

Even if we accept the CIA's absurd reasoning, are we to believe that there were no transcripts of the videotaped interrogations? Transcripts are, by any stretch of the imagination, and under any legal definition, documents. In my experience, when you make videotapes of interviews for review, the first thing you do is make transcripts. And I'd also imagine, digests of the interrogations, memo with pertinent excerpts of the actionable intelligence, etc. This is a government bureaucracy we're talking about. There were scads of documents produced about these interrogations.

What feeble excuse does the CIA have for not producing them?

(And why has nobody asked about transcripts of, and other documents relating to, the videotaped interrogations?)

Posted by: Tom Burka on December 23, 2007 at 2:03 AM | PERMALINK

We need to dismantle the CIA brick-by-brick. They are the cause of many of our geopolitical problems, NOT the solution to them. JFK knew this and tried to do something about it - look where it got him. The CIA is an unconstitutional abomination that erodes our democracy every day it is allowed to continue to exist....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on December 23, 2007 at 6:42 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin you appear to be operating here under false pretenses as some sort of 'political animal.'
Fuck help any animal so politically or otherwise debarked, de-clawed, castrated and mangy as you.
The Uranium in Africa stuff was redacted ( though not expletive deleted) and so you bringing the famous 16 words up exposes you as either a criminal or a charlatan. See either you are grossly incompetent or simply some conniving criminal by not raising, NOT the redacted 16 words but the following 20. Criminal negligence or simply criminal you are clearly less any political animal and more some political pond slime.
If you want mercy for any criminal malfeasance and negligence then throw yrself on the mercy of the court of public opinion now.
Otherwise we will be forced to seek a replacement. We can't afford incompetents or criminals ( or criminal incompetents) for another day. Even someone as tiresome and humdrum as you should realize that. Give it up loser and let a real animal take over. ( T-Rex?)

Posted by: professor rat on December 23, 2007 at 7:19 AM | PERMALINK

"No lawyer would want to have to defend the CIA's position before a judge. They would get slapped down, hard."

Unless that judge is Clarence Thomas. And even then, no opinion would be rendered. Except that he is in a bad mood about something.

Posted by: Kenji on December 23, 2007 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

There were 200 hours of recordings. No way could that much data be stored on 2 tapes. AND COPIES ARE ALWAYS MADE. What did the CIA really destroy? Many tapes? Hard drives? The devil is in the details and the technical details don't make sense.

Posted by: JerseyMissouri on December 23, 2007 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

I think the point is that they don't care if we know they're lying.

They know no one is going to do anything about it.

Posted by: gypsy howell on December 23, 2007 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

To repeat what's been said above: every lawyer understands that a request for "documents" includes electronic media such as emails, sound recordings, and video recordings. No lawyer would take the position before a judge that a videotape could be withheld because it is not a "document."

Posted by: Bloix on December 23, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Impeach. Remand to the Hague.

Posted by: Sparko on December 23, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

What Sparko said.

Posted by: Alan in WA on December 24, 2007 at 1:50 AM | PERMALINK

this administration makes more sense if you remember..

gwb = vinny barbarino

who? what? when? where?

the only difference...no one is laughing

Posted by: mr. irony on December 26, 2007 at 6:56 AM | PERMALINK
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