- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The CIA destroyed 92 videotapes showing interrogation of terrorism suspects that included waterboarding and other “enhanced” techniques critics say amount to torture, a far greater number than previously known, court documents say.

The disclosure came in a letter filed by acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin in a court case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU said the letter showed the CIA had deliberately defied a 2004 court order and sought to cover up the illegal use of torture against a handful of so-called “high-value” detainees. The detainees included the self-confessed architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

The court filing in a Freedom of Information Act case brought by the ACLU against the CIA said that as a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction wound down, the agency “was now gathering information and records responsive to the court’s order.”

It said the CIA would produce a schedule Friday of when additional information would become available, but warned that much data covered by the case - such as a list of CIA personnel who had seen the tapes - might be classified or otherwise protected from disclosure.

“The CIA can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed,” said the letter submitted by Mr. Dassin. “Ninety-two videotapes were destroyed.”

“Clearly, this is a cover-up of illegal activity … in violation of a court order,” ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh told United Press International.

“The sheer number [of tapes destroyed] demonstrates that this was a deliberate and systematic attempt to hide these unlawful activities from the American people.”

The existence of the tapes - and the fact that they had been destroyed in 2005 - came to light in December 2007. Then-CIA Director Michael Hayden said the tapes were made “as an additional, internal check on the [interrogation] program in its early stages.”

CIA officials, he added in a note to agency staff released to the press, decided to destroy them “only after it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative or judicial inquiries.”

The following month, the ACLU - which had a long-standing Freedom of Information case against the CIA regarding records of its detention and interrogation practices - filed a motion urging that the agency should be held in contempt of court.

ACLU lawyers argued that, despite a 2004 court order to identify or produce all records related to its interrogation of terrorism suspects, the CIA had not only failed to do so, it had destroyed some of the records instead.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he had not discussed the matter with President Obama but called it a “sad” development, repeating the administration’s pledge to “give the people that work in the CIA the tools they need to keep us safe, but do so in a way that also protects our values.”

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