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Tilting at Windmills

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December 23, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

VIDEOTAPE....In the LA Times today, Josh Meyer writes about a subject that's been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of weeks but never quite made it onto the blog: why did we videotape only two interrogations of al-Qaeda subjects in the months after 9/11?

By their own accounting, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have not videotaped the interrogations of potentially hundreds of other terrorism suspects. That indicates an outmoded level of secrecy and unprofessionalism, the interrogation experts contend.

....Many interrogation experts, including some involved in the ongoing Intelligence Science Board study, say they have urged U.S. intelligence officials to look to Israel, Britain and other countries with decades of experience in dealing with terrorism to learn from their successes — and their mistakes.

Israel and Britain both adopted a scientific approach to interrogations long ago, using videotape and other documentary evidence to help determine which techniques work and which don't in getting violent extremists to disclose operational details of their networks and more strategic subjects such as what motivated them in the first place.

The article goes on to discuss both the videotape question and the harsh interrogation vs. building rapport question, and mostly rehashes old ground on those subjects. But regardless of where you stand on that, doesn't it seem almost beyond belief that we wouldn't videotape every interrogation we did and then study the tapes endlessly for clues? It hardly seems like you need to talk with the British and the Israelis to figure out that this might be a good idea.

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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There were many requests for documentary evidence, transcripts, and videotapes, but at no time did we receive an official request for a BD9/mini-blu-ray disks. We had them archived and indexed prior to their accidental January 2009 destruction. We knew they might be requested during congressional oversight hearings and frankly we were surprised that there was no interest in them.

Posted by: CIA spokesperson from future on December 23, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Whatever we do, however misguided, we want to make sure that we never learn anything while doing it. Because that would look too much like the Scientific Method, and we know what republican'ts think about science.

Posted by: craigie on December 23, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Consider the possibility that the CIA is not telling us the whole truth here.

Almost too shocking to contemplate, I know. But it is a thesis with some explanatory value.

Posted by: Elton Beard on December 23, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

The most likely answer is that the assertion that only two torture victims were videoed is total bullshit. I'm sure some people were hesitant to commit on camera what they obviously knew or suspected were illegal activities, but you know, someone always does. There are other tapes--certainly there are at a minimum, audio recordings--there are probably copies of the ones that have been destroyed, and all the self-righteous hooplah aside, no one is going to jail over this because if anyone does, everyone does. Welcome to the Big House, Madam Speaker.

Posted by: weldon berger on December 23, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Why would people who already know it all need to study videos to learn more?

Of course, based on that logic, why do the interrogations at all? Just dredge the answers of what you already know.


Posted by: Colin on December 23, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

I cannot remember where I heard or read this, but supposedly the videotapes the CIA destroyed where actually taped by foreign governments and supplied to the CIA. The implication being that the CIA did not record most of the interrogations, but rather received a couple of random tapes from foreign govs assisting with those interrogations. Of course, that could very easily be a lie as well. I will see if I can find a link.

Posted by: Palooza on December 23, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: R.L. on December 23, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Jeebus, the answer to this question is as clear as the balls on a tall dog. Of course they made more tapes, probably hundreds.
Does anyone really think that the Chimp and Big Dick would pass up the opportunity to score some really good war porn?
My only question is whether Dick gave Monkeyboy a reacharound while they enjoyed the footage.

Posted by: cbear on December 23, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Put me in the "they videotaped everything and are lying about it" camp.

Posted by: Disputo on December 23, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

There are several possibilities:

1) They videotaped everything and are lying about it.

2) They knew the interrogations would not produce any information and decided to cover their asses for when the torture allegations started surfacing.

3) Out of all of the people they imprisoned, there were exactly two potential terrorists to interrogate.

4) All of the above.

Posted by: Splitting Image on December 23, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

It wouldn't surprise me if they videotaped everything and are lying about it.

It also wouldn't surprise me if word came down fairly early from Addington or Scooter to put the kibosh on the videotaping before there were whole closets full of evidence of violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on December 23, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK


There are certainly reports of other tapes and photos of interrogations.

Two tapes and an audio tape were even mentioned in court documents as existant as late as this October(PDF below).




The notion that there were only ever two tapes is purest spin, never corrected and allowed to become "what everyone knows" - but it is untrue.

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig on December 23, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

It depends how large the administration's hlding cells will be at the Hague.

Posted by: Kenji on December 23, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Yea, let's look to the Israel to get our moral grounding with harsh interrogation techniques. I'll bet we've got some Likudniks here already more than happy to advise. While we've got them they can teach us how to eliminate terrorism by persecuting an entire population. Jesus Christ! If you REALLY REALY Really want to know how to deal with suspected terrorists I humbly suggest maybe talking to the Scandinavians or the Swiss, societies that aren't so gung ho and tough as we are.

Posted by: padcrasher on December 23, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

"almost beyond belief" - Kevin, I applaud your seriousness and neutrality, but really, it is not incredible that they just didn't want people to know what was done to the interrogees (is that a real word?)

Posted by: Neil B. on December 23, 2007 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK


They taped them all. They are waiting to negotiate a lucrative distribution deal.

This is, you know, the "ownership society".

Posted by: bobbyp on December 23, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

When you know that what you are doing is wrong, immoral and illegal you don't go around creating evidence of your guilt.

Posted by: beb on December 23, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, they taped more than two alright, but have probably destroyed them as well and are now claiming never to have taped them in order to avoid having to answer why they were destroyed.

Posted by: Dave Howard on December 23, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

You'd only videotape interrogations if you were serious about improving the accuracy of the information extracted thereby, but if that were the case, you wouldn't be torturing in the first place. This was never about obtaining useful intelligence; it's just the logical extension of security theater.

Posted by: Eric Scharf on December 23, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe they didn't video TAPE the interrogations, perhaps they used a DVR-like method and copied to DVD. This lets them say "We don't have any tapes."

Posted by: RZG on December 23, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Release the torture videos! (pant, pant) Yeah, baby! Porn for Republicans!

Posted by: Wingnut on December 23, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, what RZG said. Or another way, it all depends on what "videotape" means.

There is digital recording to tape, digital recording to disk, hi-def recording, betamax recording, filming, ....

Posted by: jerry on December 23, 2007 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

In addition to being brutal the administration has been one long amateur hour on every front.

Posted by: Boronx on December 23, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

What craigie 1:11 said.
Also the reasons for taping would be:
(1) To be able to verify that proper "rules of engagement" were followed.
(2) To have a record that experts could look at to see if the interrogator missed any important clues.
(3) So that interrogators would know they can't get away with anything untoward.

(1) and (3) only apply if one is concerned about maintaining the integrity of the process. If you want to encourage "harsh" techniques, recording would only cause interrogators to be inhibited.

So I would think we have them (CIA) over a barrel. Either they admit they didn't care about the integrity/reputation of the process/agency/country, and never taped, or they did, but are covering their asses becuase of what the tapes showed. There is no credible third option.

Posted by: bigTom on December 23, 2007 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: mhr on December 23, 2007 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'll bet we've got a bunch of stuff on video, in the custody of outsourced countries. Plausible deniability.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 23, 2007 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

Not for nothing are they called the Mayberry Machiavellis.

But you have to give them credit for knowing better than to film themselves committing war crimes.

Posted by: jussumbody on December 23, 2007 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

They are lying motherfuckers.

You shouldn't trust a fucking word that drops from their mendacious fucking lips.

Posted by: angryspittle on December 23, 2007 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

Any cops out there? Are there ever ANY serious police interrogations that are not videotaped? It seems ridiculous to even consider that the CIA didn't keep video of every interrogation.

Posted by: GrinningGrouse on December 23, 2007 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

What if the recent report of the destruction of the tapes is revenge for the recent NIE report about Iran's nuclear intentions? Lots of CIA guys might be looking for a new line of work. To be replaced by Bushies.

Posted by: slanted tom on December 23, 2007 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Harry Reid better introduce a bill giving immunity to any govt agency that cooperated with the govt in prosecuting teh War on Terra.

Posted by: absent observer on December 23, 2007 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

Most of the documentation is probably audio, with transcriptions.

Just how does one transcribe a scream?

(subject screams).


(subject is really screaming now and pleading for mercy).

I firmly believe that my government has and is torturing hundreds of unknown prisoners all over the planet.

Seems like human rights have disappeared down the rabbit hole.

When you think about the tremendous amount of effort spent on treating animals "humanely," it seems odd that our government has decided that it knows which humans deserve to be treated like animals!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on December 23, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

"doesn't it seem almost beyond belief that we wouldn't videotape every interrogation we did and then study the tapes endlessly for clues? It hardly seems like you need to talk with the British and the Israelis to figure out that this might be a good idea."

Not sure about the Brits, but I doubt the Israelis are as litigious as we are here in the US. Israeli interrogators probably just assume that they should use videotape as another tool in the investigation, without a thought to how this will "incriminate" them down the line - as Drum here faux-naively posits the CIA should do. The guys at the CIA knows this would never work here. Who wants to be the next Lyndie England?

Posted by: Peanut on December 23, 2007 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

peanut........just more proof that Israel is an outlaw society. Perhaps we should invade them, too?

Posted by: bobbyp on December 23, 2007 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you assume the CIA is telling you the truth about videotaping.

Why do you believe that? Have you not been paying attention the last 7 years?

Jeebus man. Think about it for two seconds.

Posted by: Piehole on December 23, 2007 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

But Sheik Mohammed did talk after a scare and much information came from him...

All of it false and worthless. I could have told the CIA that crap for a lot less money, and they wouldn't have had to torture me one bit.

So how does it feel to be played for a total fool, mhr?

Posted by: bobbyp on December 23, 2007 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

Did you write "good idea"? Better video tape and burn the evidence.

Posted by: parrot on December 23, 2007 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

Hayden's commentary is absurdly questionable--it fits in with the doublespeak orwellian inanity characterizing the past six years--coming at a time when citizens remain distracted by the pinch of economic decline and the forced commercialism of Christmas. They think we're stupid.

"...Hayden also has said that the tapes were destroyed only after they were determined to be of no further intelligence value, and that detailed summaries of the interrogations of Zubaydah and Nashiri were cabled back to headquarters, where they became "the products that our analysts use to create the actionable intelligence that we move on."

Posted by: cwa on December 23, 2007 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

I do find this episode a little incongruous. I tend to think of the government agencies as being staffed by consummate professionals, disappearing tapes is the sort of behavior expected of political hacks.

Its one thing to think they wouldn't volunteer the fact that such tapes exist. What the investigator doesn't know enough to ask for won'r hurt me. The destruction -or not making them in the first place is skating on some pretty thin legal ice.

Posted by: bigTom on December 23, 2007 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's the ultimate in naivity to think only two "tapes" exist.

Posted by: Albert on December 24, 2007 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

Why does everyone keep talking about “tapes”. I think we are being conned. This is 2003 not 1970. Who uses tapes? I’ll bet they used digital camcorders just like everybody else and that the video is sitting on a dozen servers around DOD and the CIA. Tapes? Duh ….

Posted by: roksob on December 24, 2007 at 12:47 AM | PERMALINK

CIA spokesperson from future got it in 1

Posted by: Eric Paulsen on December 24, 2007 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

First torture, then videotape the cooperative suspect responding to polite question of his own free will. LOL.

Seems to me if you doing something reprehensible or illegal and taping it, the normal procedure is to store the tapes in a hidey hole if you desire to review them later, and to destroy them if circumstance dictates they could be used against you. Is there something about human nature I'm missing here?

Posted by: Luther on December 24, 2007 at 2:45 AM | PERMALINK

Luther: "Seems to me if you doing something reprehensible or illegal and taping it, the normal procedure is to store the tapes in a hidey hole ..."

Suppose that rather than waterboarding, the CIA was caught on video making al Qa'eda suspects dress up in Angel's Flight polyester disco clothes, and forcing them to listen to cheesy late '70s pop music, i.e., Leo Sayer's "When I Need You", Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life", Rod Stewart's "Do You Think I'm Sexy" and pretty much anything by Shawn Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers. If that's not a human rights violation, I don't know what is.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on December 24, 2007 at 4:02 AM | PERMALINK

Common sense told us all that Americans killed detainees and that at least some of those killings would be found to have been homicides (i.e., murder) and, guess what, that's been found to be the case. I don't think the Bush administration would even argue that fact. Isn't the number of such killings supposed to be around 40 or 50? And who knows the real number of murders of muslims, some of them innocent, in all of the Bush gulags in Iraq and Cuba, and the secret prisons in Poland and elsewhere in Europe?

Even if Bushites did not practice the "modern" system of videotaping torture sessions, common sense also tells us that more videotapings took place. Not that we'll ever necessarily learn about them.

But, please, yes, do let's have more regularization and professionalism in our torture sessions. "I find that plucking out the fingernails on the left hand is especially efficacious, and of those, the thumbnail gets an especially good response. If one want to provide a consistent level of exquisite yet non-bloody level of pain, plucking out the moustache hairs just below the nostrils will work wonders. Of course, if none of these things, or waterboarding, work, one most move on to such old reliables as sitting naked on razor-wire fences, gouging out eyes with hot pokers, chopping off fingers, and so forth. Freedom and the American Way demand it!!!"

Posted by: Anon on December 24, 2007 at 4:14 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin asks: "Doesn't it seem almost beyond belief that we wouldn't videotape every interrogation we did and then study the tapes endlessly for clues?"

Asnwer: Yes, it is beyond belief, and no, the entire right wing has no use for any empirical evidence. Why waste time studying something when you already "know" the answer?

The Decider decided that torture is the way to go, ergo, torture works. It's really very easy once you put aside all rational functiong in your brain.

Posted by: ESaund on December 24, 2007 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

You only need to have seen "The Conversation" or "The Good Shepherd" to know how much information can be mined from what seems like stray noise. If someone is speaking under stress in a foreign dialect, repeated viewings will reveal more information.
The tapes are there and no one will hear them.
"Fuck you. I'm the President."

Posted by: Steve Paradis on December 24, 2007 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

"But regardless of where you stand on that, doesn't it seem almost beyond belief that we wouldn't videotape every interrogation we did and then study the tapes endlessly for clues?"

Not when you know what you are doing is wrong and you want it hidden.

Posted by: Barbara917 on December 24, 2007 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

study the tapes endlessly for clues

The CIA knows what the population does not. No clues exist of bad guys wanting to commit terrorist crimes. Threats and acts of terrorism have been fabricated to start profitable wars of resource acquisition. This is why torture has to be used. Without torture false confessions cannot be obtained. False confessions are required to stimulate the public's appetite for war. The CIA could act like they are using the scienfific method to improve interrogation skills, but it would just be a waste of time and probably not yield the desired public fear so important to the puppet masters.

Posted by: Brojo on December 24, 2007 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Aw, Donald, I like "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy!" The goth remake by the Revolting Cocks is even better.

Posted by: Catlover on December 24, 2007 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

… doesn't it seem almost beyond belief that we wouldn't videotape every interrogation we did and then study the tapes endlessly for clues?

Beyond belief is where the CIA would prefer to operate, thank you very much.

Of course they videotaped other interrogations. They admit to videotaping two, and they admit to destroying them. If they did indeed destroy the "originals", it is beyond belief that copies don't exist.

Posted by: Boolaboola on December 24, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

This "we destroyed the tapes" idea sounds a lot like Saddam's pathetic excuses for not having WMD's. As the Bush administration said then, it is up to those who say they don't exist to show us where they are.

Posted by: AJ on December 24, 2007 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Angryspittle said all the needed to be said on this topic.

Posted by: Cee on December 24, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

The CIA outsourced the torture to offshore contractors...just like everything else.

The United States does not torture. Our contractors do.

Posted by: Ex - Republican Yankee on December 24, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Using torture accomplishes two things. Torture obtains confessions for any desired crime that the administration needs to justify its war plans. Without a reason, the administration cannot invade and occupy coveted targets. Torture also serves as a warning to domestic dissent and native opposition to US military aggression. Fear of torture inhibits individuals from speaking out or actively opposing military force. Many people conclude the chance for becoming a victim of torture outweighs the benefits of opposing the administration's militancy.

Posted by: Brojo on December 24, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo has it right but there are two things I would add. Historically the reason most torture rights were ended was because of the fear of nothing. A torturer can ask what questions he wants and get whatever answers he wants. He can make it up out of nothing. Yes those priests in control are in on a grand conspiracy (Italy) or that Deacon is in league with witches (Salem) and when he confesses I get his land. Allowing torture gives that group in charge to gather unchecked power. Not what a control structure really wants around. As for the video tapes, does anyone believe in this digital age that a hundred groups out in Muslim land can create all the "CIA Interrogation" tapes it wants? To say the release would blacken us more or expose some operative is laughable in our Photoshop age. I have over 30 years in computers btw. hey can create what they want and millions will believe it. The most dangerous thing about the tapes is that they show Nothing. No real info, no terrorist names, no firm leads. This would totally undermine the rational for their techniques.

Posted by: David Roetzel on December 24, 2007 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK

Following the Abu Ghraib scandal, and the uproar that ensued after only a small number of video images hit the public airwaves, the entire Bush administration, I'm certain, decided that they would do everything possible to keep anymore visual images of their criminally-endorsed actions from being made public.

Therefore, the videotaped torture interrogations of suspected al Qaeda terrorists were withheld from the 9/11 Commission, with some of the "in-the-know" Republicans on the 9/11 Commission doing everything possible to keep any reference to videotapes out of any "official" requests being made by the 9/11 Commission.

Then the culture of corruption Republicans behind this coverup waited until the 9/11 Commission issued its final report and disbanded before destroying the criminal videotaped evidence of their torture crimes, hoping like hell that no one would ever discover that videotaped evidence of torture had been withheld and subsequently destroyed...which I'm certain they'd loved to have done in the Abu Ghraib case.

Oh wait, apparently there exists many more images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib which have never been released, because Dick Cheney wants to keep them in his home movie collection. Unless, of course, these pictures of prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib have also been destroyed.

In other words, if U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib were taking pictures of their activities as prison guards, then one can bet that all the participants in interrogations of suspected al Qaeda terrorists were also taking pictures in one way or another while they were conducting interrogations.

Thus, thousands upon thousands of hours of interrogation footage exists somewhere, unless, of course, Bush signed a ultra-secret presidential finding ordering the destruction of all these videotapes. It would really, really look bad for Bush, Cheney and all Republicans if anymore videotaped torture footage saw the light of day, especially since Bush, Cheney and some Republican legal weasels in the White House authorized torture in defiance of international treaties and American law.

Posted by: The Oracle on December 25, 2007 at 3:14 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with this premise. More were probably taped. I would also suggest that technological advances over that period would have allowed for digital imagery. While those tapes were destroyed, perhaps the images still reside on a hard drive somewhere.

Posted by: John on December 25, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

If the CIA claims it doesn’t have more interrogation tapes then Military Intelligence has them. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, former commander at Guantánamo, was in charge of interrogations there and at Abu Ghraib. He knows about video recordings.

Posted by: JerseyMissouri on December 25, 2007 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

My guess is that they only taped 2 because people who could speak Arabic would realize the enhanced interrogation got nothing useful. Working from transcripts also gives the spooks a chance to introduce (launder) information other human or technical sources, that they want to keep beyond top secret...

Posted by: wmcq on December 25, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Why wouldn't the CIA videotape interrogations? Well, I can think of two reasons: Reid and Pelosi. What the CIA does is hard enough without giving the politicians ammunition to attack you. How can any CIA operative have any faith that he'll be protected for doing his job when at any moment, his career and even his freedom may be put at risk to serve the ambitions of some Washington politician?

Posted by: DBL on December 26, 2007 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Hi guy, It sounds really good!

Posted by: IP camera on August 8, 2010 at 6:15 AM | PERMALINK



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