The CIA videotaped the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the first major al-Qaida leader captured, but later destroyed the tapes, current and former intelligence officials tell NBC News.
The video, meant to instruct other agency personnel — as well as serve as an "internal check," included video of Zubaydah being subjected to waterboarding, the interrogation technique that simulates drowning and is the most controversial of the many techniques used on high-value al-Qaida detainees.
In a statement to agency employees released Thursday, CIA Director Mike Hayden revealed that the agency destroyed all copies of the video in 2005. While the official agency statement does not mention waterboarding, officials tell NBC News the videos included the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, the leader in charge of al-Qaida's training camps. He was known as al-Qaida's "dean of students" and had an encyclopedic knowledge of al-Qaida operatives worldwide. He is now awaiting trial at the U.S. prison at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The press has learned that back in 2002, during the initial stage of our terrorist detention program, CIA videotaped interrogations, and destroyed the tapes in 2005," wrote Hayden, who took over the director's job in 2006. "I understand that the Agency did so only after it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries — including the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.
"The decision to destroy the tapes was made within CIA itself. The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency's intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed."
In describing the rationale for the original decision to produce the videos, Hayden wrote: "The tapes were meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the program in its early stages. At one point, it was thought the tapes could serve as a backstop to guarantee that other methods of documenting the interrogations — and the crucial information they produced — were accurate and complete. The Agency soon determined that its documentary reporting was full and exacting, removing any need for tapes. Indeed, videotaping stopped in 2002."
Zubaydah was the first of three al-Qaida detainees waterboarded by the agency. The others were Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Hambali, the masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and the 2002 Bali, Indonesia, bombings, respectively.