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Context of 'May 7-9, 2003: CIA Wrongly Informs Court about Detainee Recordings in Moussaoui Case'

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The CIA videotapes interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda detainees. The interrogations of at least two detainees are taped. One of the detainees is Abu Zubaida, who helped run a training camp in Afghanistan (see March 28, 2002 and Mid-May 2002 and After). (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) Another is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, chief of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula (see Early October 2002 and (November 2002)). (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The tapes run to a “couple hundred hours,” and mostly show 24 hour a day coverage of Zubaida in his cell. However, some portions show aggressive interrogations, including waterboarding. According to one source, full transcripts are not made, although summaries are drafted and sent back to CIA headquarters. (Fox News 12/13/2007; Eggen and Pincus 12/18/2007) Another source says the opposite, “A detailed written transcript of the tapes’ contents—apparently including references to interrogation techniques—was subsequently made by the CIA.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007) However, after tapes of Zubaida and al-Nashiri’s interrogations are destroyed in 2005 (see November 2005), some tapes are still in existence (see September 19 and October 18, 2007), suggesting that either not all tapes of their interrogations are destroyed, or that one or more other detainees are videotaped. Another detainee whose interrogations may be taped is Ramzi bin al-Shibh, because he is the most important remaining al-Qaeda leader who is captured during this time period (see June 13-September 25, 2000 and September 11, 2002). In addition, at least one audio recording is also made. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 pdf file) According to a statement by CIA Director Michael Hayden, the interrogations are recorded because “new” procedures are used during the interrogations and the tapes are “meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the program in its early stages.” The videotaping apparently ends in 2002. (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) Another reason for the videotaping is said to be Abu Zubaida’s poor medical condition - he was shot several times during the operation to capture him. An intelligence official will later say, “There were concerns that there be a record of his medical treatment and condition in the event that he died.” (Whitelaw 12/13/2007) However, there are various allegations these detainees are tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After, June 16, 2004, Shortly After September 6, 2006, and March 10-April 15, 2007). Some of the tapes are destroyed in 2005 (see November 2005) and there will be a media and political outcry when this is revealed in 2007 (see December 6, 2007).

On May 7, 2003, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA if it has recordings of interrogations of detainees related to Moussaoui’s case. Two days later, the CIA replies that it does not, although it is actually in possession of some recordings. In 2002, the CIA secretly videotaped interrogations of high-ranking detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see Spring-Late 2002) but it does not reveal this to anyone involved in the Moussaoui trial. In 2005, some of these videotapes will be destroyed (see November 2005), around the time the Brinkema makes a repeat request for the tapes (see November 3-14, 2005). However, other recordings—two videotapes and one audio tape—will survive and will finally be viewed by Moussaoui’s prosecutors in 2007, long after Moussaoui has been convicted (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 pdf file; Vicini 11/13/2007) Although the identity of the detainees in the recordings requested is not known, one of the prosecutors will later say, “Obviously the important witnesses included [Abu] Zubaidah, [Ramzi] bin al-Shibh, and KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed]… those are the guys at the head of the witness list.” However, he will not specifically recall which tapes are requested. (Hess 12/7/2007)

John Rizzo.John Rizzo. [Source: C-SPAN]Guidance is issued by CIA lawyers Robert Eatinger and Steven Hermes to the CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS) on the preservation of videotapes of detainee interrogations made by the CIA. (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) The guidance is apparently used as justification for the tapes’ destruction (see November 2005), but its content is unclear. According to one account, “Lawyers within the clandestine branch of the Central Intelligence Agency gave written approval in advance to the destruction in 2005 of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations of two lieutenants from al-Qaeda.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) Another account supports this, saying the lawyers give “written guidance to [CIA manager Jose] Rodriguez that he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that the destruction would violate no laws.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) However, according to another account: “[The guidance] advises that there is no explicit legal reason why the Clandestine Service had to preserve the tapes… The document does not, however, directly authorize the tapes’ destruction or offer advice on the wisdom or folly of such a course of action.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007) Some CIA videotapes have been requested for court proceedings, meaning such tapes should not be destroyed, but it is unclear if the tapes that are destroyed in November 2005 have been requested by courts or not (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, is not asked for an opinion, although he has been involved in discussions about what to do with the tapes for years and several high-ranking officials and legislators are of the opinion that the tapes should not be destroyed (see November 2005). (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) Eatinger and Hermes apparently inform Rizzo they have issued the guidance and expect Rodriguez will consult him before destroying the tapes, but Rodriguez does not do so. (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) The New York Times will comment, “It is unclear what weight an opinion from a lawyer within the clandestine service would have if it were not formally approved by Mr. Rizzo. But [an anonymous former official] said Mr. Rodriguez and others in the clandestine branch believed the legal judgment gave them the blessing to destroy the tapes.” The former official will also say they “didn’t need to ask Rizzo’s permission.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) A lawyer acting for Rodriguez will later say, “He had a green light to destroy them.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) However, other former CIA officers will express surprise that a lawyer junior to Rizzo would approve such a controversial decision without asking for his input. Former CIA lawyer John Radsan will say, “I’d be surprised that even the chief [NCS] lawyer made a decision of that magnitude without bringing the General Counsel’s front office into the loop.” He adds, “Although unlikely, it is conceivable that once a CIA officer got the answer he wanted from a [NCS] lawyer, he acted on that advice… But a streamlined process like that would have been risky for both the officer and the [NCS] lawyer.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007)

The Central Intelligence Agency destroys videotapes of the interrogations of two high-ranking detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, which were made in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). One anonymous senior intelligence official later claims that “Several hundred hours” of videotapes are destroyed. (Eggen and Pincus 12/18/2007) The tapes are destroyed at the CIA station in Thailand by station chief Michael Winograd, as Zubaida and al-Nashiri apparently were tortured at a secret CIA prison in that country. (Hosenball 6/28/2008; Goldman and Apuzzo 7/26/2010) The decision to destroy the tapes is apparently made by Jose Rodriguez, chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, despite previous advice not to destroy them (see November 2005). However, some accounts will suggest that Rodriguez received clearance to destroy the tapes (see December 7, 2007). (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The CIA’s treatment of detainees has recently come under increased scrutiny. As the Wall Street Journal will later remark, “the Abu Ghraib prison pictures were still fresh, the existence of secret CIA prisons had just been revealed, and politicians on Capitol Hill were talking about curtailing ‘extreme techniques,’ including the Central Intelligence Agency’s own interrogation tactics.” (Gorman 12/10/2007) Beginning on November 2, 2005, there are some pivotal articles revealing details about the CIA’s handling of detainees, suggesting that some of them were illegally tortured (see November 2-18, 2005). According to a 2007 statement by future CIA Director Michael Hayden, the tapes are destroyed “in the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them” and because they apparently pose “a serious security risk”; if they were leaked, they could be used for retaliation by al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) However, this rationale will be questioned when the destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see December 6, 2007). Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will call this “a pathetic excuse.… You’d have to burn every document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory.” CBS News will offer an alternative explanation, saying that the tapes are destroyed “to protect CIA officers from criminal prosecution.” (CBS News 12/7/2007) CIA Director Porter Goss and the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, are allegedly not notified of the destruction in advance, and Rizzo will reportedly be angry at this failure. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) But Newsweek will later claim that Goss and Rizzo were involved in extensive discussions with the White House over what to do with the tapes. Goss supposedly thought there was an understanding the tapes would be saved and is upset to learn they have been destroyed (see Between 2003-Late 2005 and Before November 2005). (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007) Congressional officials responsible for oversight are not informed for a year (see March 14, 2007). A White House spokeswoman will say that President Bush has “no recollection” of being made aware of the tapes’ destruction before 2007 (see December 11, 2007). It is also unclear whether the Justice Department is notified in advance or not. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The CIA still retains tapes of interrogations of at least one detainee (see September 19 and October 18, 2007).

On November 3, 2005, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA about recordings of interrogations of detainees who are related to the Moussaoui case. Eleven days later, the CIA again incorrectly claims to prosecutors in that trial that it has no such recordings. The CIA made a similar claim in 2003 (see May 7-9, 2003), but in fact the CIA secretly videotaped detainee interrogations in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). Some of these videotapes are destroyed this month (see November 2005), however it is unknown if the destruction takes place before or after this date. In late 2007, the CIA will reveal that it did have some videotapes after all and prosecutors will finally be able to view some of them (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). But it will also be revealed that most of the videotapes were destroyed (see December 6, 2007). Prosecutors will later claim that neither the video nor the audio recordings contained material relevant to the Moussaoui trial, and some of the content of the interrogations was provided during discovery. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 pdf file; Vicini 11/13/2007)

In mid-September 2007, the CIA informs the prosecution team from the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial that it has one video recordings of a high-ranking detainee interrogation. The CIA had previously claimed it had no video recordings of any interrogations when in fact it did (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The CIA then initiates a review and unearths another video and an audio recording several days later. The prosecutors will subsequently inform the judge, but say that the error did not influence the outcome of the trial, as Moussaoui pleaded guilty, but the death penalty was not imposed. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 pdf file; Vicini 11/13/2007) Lawyers who prosecuted Zacarias Moussaoui view these two videotapes and listen to the one audiotape. The names of the one to three detainees who were recorded are not known. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 pdf file) However, they were enemy combatants that could not testify at the trial, and substitutions for testimony were submitted in the trial on behalf of five enemy combatants: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Khallad bin Attash, Hambali, and Mohamed al-Khatani. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 pdf file; Vicini 11/13/2007) Shortly after this, the CIA discloses that it had destroyed some similar videotapes in 2005 (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007). Apparently this indicates some videotapes have survived the destruction.

Although it is reported that the head of the CIA’s clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, is the man most responsible for the destruction of videotapes showing detainee interrogations (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), some commentators are skeptical of this. A former intelligence official says, “This looks like he was tossed under a giant bus… How likely is it that he took this decision on his own, especially when he’s not in the videotapes and wouldn’t be affected directly? Not very likely.” (Silverstein 12/8/2007) A former intelligence official says he is concerned Rodriguez is being unfairly singled out for blame over the matter. (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) According to attorney Scott Horton, by midday on December 7, shortly after news breaks that the CIA destroyed videotapes of detainee interrogations, “White House off-the-record explainers were extremely busy pointing fingers at one man, the designated scapegoat… So the sacrificial beast now has a name: it is Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.” Horton also sees a shift between the line initially taken by officials, and a later alteration: “Yesterday we are told, in highly implausible statements coming from General Hayden, that the CIA had acted completely appropriately… The issue had been considered, reviewed and cleared. Twenty-four hours later, there is a radical shift of course. Now we learn that the White House didn’t know about the decision and certainly wouldn’t have approved it.” Horton ascribes the shift to worries about the legality of destroying the tapes, especially as they may have been requested by a judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005), problems in prosecutions where evidence has been destroyed, and a general lack of plausibility. Former CIA officer Larry Johnson will also be skeptical: “Jose Rodriguez will not be the only one walking the public plank on this issue. In fact, he did not undertake this mission without the permission or direction from higher ups. And when you are the Deputy Director of Operations, there are not a lot of people above you.” (Horton 12/8/2007)

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