Acting CIA Director Gina Haspel, President Trump’s pick to lead the agency, has doubled down on a claim she made during her confirmation hearing last week, in which she stated that a series of interrogation tapes destroyed by CIA officials in 2005 only contained footage “of one detainee,” despite official inventory records proving otherwise.
In answers obtained by ThinkProgress, Haspel, responding to requests for clarification from the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday, claimed that her comments about the number of prisoners depicted in the tapes were, in fact, accurate. In doing so, she pointed to a number of technicalities that she maintained supported her argument.
“My understanding, which is consistent with the record (available to the Committee in a classified forum), is that there were 92 videotapes, two of which were labeled ‘detainee 2,’” Haspel wrote. “The OGC [Office of the General Counsel] attorney who reviewed those tapes in 2002 found that ‘there are no viewable videotapes of the second detainee.’ Therefore, when the tapes were destroyed in 2005, there was only one detainee depicted.”
Haspel’s answer comes on the heels of open testimony she gave before the committee last week, during which she was pressed on her time overseeing a black site CIA prison in Thailand shortly after 9/11. During her tenure there, interrogators subjected prisoners to brutal tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and confinement to small boxes. Haspel was later involved in the destruction of 92 videotapes of those interrogation sessions, for which no CIA officials were ever punished.
During her testimony, Haspel corrected Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who had incorrectly asserted the 92 videotapes had contained interrogation footage of 92 separate prisoners. “No, the tapes were recordings of only one detainee,” Haspel said. “It was 92 tapes of one detainee.”
As ThinkProgress previously reported, that claim contradicted official government records, as well as at least one court document filed by the legal team of one of the prisoners, whom the U.S. government is confining at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.
According to an undated CIA inventory of the tapes, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 2011, 90 of the videotapes produced at the black site prison in Thailand were labeled “Detainee #1” and identified as “AZ” or “Abu Z” — otherwise known as Abu Zubaydah, a suspected Al Qaeda operative. The CIA notably waterboarded Zubaydah 83 times at the black site prison.
Those interrogation sessions took place before Haspel’s tenure there; however, Haspel oversaw the interrogation of at least one other prisoner — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Among the CIA inventory were two tapes labeled “Detainee #2.” It’s not clear whether al-Nashiri was the second prisoner identified on the tapes, although the inventory does list its purpose as a catalog of “all videotapes and other related materials created at [redacted] during the interrogations of Al-Qa’ida detainees…Abu ((Zubaydah)) and ‘Ahd Al-Rahim Al- ((Nashiri))….”
A 2014 Senate document on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program also refers to videotaped interrogations of both Zubaydah and al-Nashiri.
In July 2016, a Military Commissions document filed by lawyers for al-Nashiri also states that two of the CIA interrogation tapes include footage of the suspected operative. The document, part of a pending case against al-Nashiri, who is being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for his alleged role in the 2000 USS Cole bombing, argues that the destruction of those two tapes, as well as the 90 tapes of Zubaydah’s testimony, impacted al-Nashiri’s right to a fair trial.
“Critically, there is no dispute that he and Abu Zubaydah were subjected to EITs, and there is ample other evidence available to him to [supplement] this fact,” his lawyers argue. “The tapes would simply have been additional proof of an undisputed fact.”
Haspel’s claim this week that the two tapes suspected to have held footage of al-Nashiri, who was tortured during her tenure at the black site, may be supported by an October 2002 CIA policy known as “record and rewind” or “use and rewind.” That policy required officials documenting torture sessions to only keep one day’s worth of interrogations on a videotape at one time, forcing them to rewind the tape and record over it for the next session.
As previously noted, a 2004 CIA Inspector General report identified 11 of the 92 destroyed interrogation tapes blank, “except for one or two minutes of recording.” Two other tapes were identified as broken. The report does not specify which of the 92 tapes were affected.
The CIA did not respond to ThinkProgress’ previous requests for on-the-record comment.