WASHINGTON — The CIA destroyed nearly 100 videotapes of terror suspect interrogations, far more than previously acknowledged, the Obama administration said Monday as it began disclosing details of post-Sept. 11 Bush-era actions.
The interrogations were a highly contentious issue during the administration of President George W. Bush, with many Democrats and other critics saying that some methods used amounted to torture — a contention Bush and other officials rejected. A criminal prosecutor is wrapping up his investigation in the matter.
Monday's acknowledgment, however, involved a civil lawsuit filed in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking more details of the interrogation programs following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"The CIA can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed," said the letter by Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin. "Ninety two videotapes were destroyed."
ACLU: CIA should be held in contempt
ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said the CIA should be held in contempt of court for holding back the information for so long.
"The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systematic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court's order," Singh said in a statement.
The details of CIA interrogations, and the existence of tapes documenting those sessions, have become the subject of long fights in a number of different court cases. In the trial of Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, prosecutors initially claimed no such recordings existed, then acknowledged after the trial was over that two videotapes and one audiotape had been made.
The Dassin letter, dated March 2 to Judge Alvin Hellerstein, says the CIA is now gathering more details for the lawsuit, including a list of the destroyed records, any secondary accounts that describe the destroyed contents, and the identities of those who may have viewed or possessed the recordings before they were destroyed.
But the lawyers also note that some of that information may be classified, such as the names of CIA personnel that viewed the tapes.
"The CIA intends to produce all of the information requested to the court and to produce as much information as possible on the public record to the plaintiffs," states the letter.
Career prosecutor to lead probe
The separate criminal investigation includes interrogations of al-Qaida lieutenant Abu Zubaydah and another top al-Qaida leader. Tapes of those interrogations were destroyed, in part, the Bush administration said, to protect the identities of the government questioners at a time the Justice Department was debating whether or not the tactics used during the interrogations — which are believed to have included waterboarding — were legal.
John Durham, a senior career prosecutor in Connecticut, is leading the criminal investigation, out of Virginia, and had asked that he be given until the end of February to wrap up his work before requests for information in the civil lawsuit were dealt with.
Durham's spokesman, Tom Carson, had no immediate comment.
More on: Zacarias Moussaoui
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.