For Immediate Release:
Susan Lehman: 212–998–6318
Jonathan Hafetz: 917–355–6896
U.S. Government Admits It Destroyed Videotape in Enemy Combatant Case
Yesterday the U.S. government admitted, for the first time, that officials destroyed videotapes that documented interrogations of Ali Almarri, the only alleged “enemy combatant” still detained on U. S. soil.
The admission surfaced in motion US attorneys filed in the District Court of South Carolina. Earlier this year the Defense Department acknowledged that recordings of approximately 50 interrogations of Jose Padilla and Ali Almarri were made at the Consolidated Naval Brig in South Carolina where Almarri has been detained, without charge and in isolation, for more than five years.
Almarri’s lawyers filed a motion asking the Court to preserve these tapes and to conduct a hearing into past destruction of evidence. In opposing this request, the government acknowledged that it had taped interrogation sessions with Almarri. In today’s filings, government lawyers stated that government officials decided “in good faith” to destroy the tapes because they believed they were no longer necessary for intelligence purposes.
So far, government officials have described only one tape, which shows Almarri being “manhandled” and resisting the forcible application of duct tape to his mouth and face.
Court papers filed today made it clear that the DIA still has videotapes of nine interrogation sessions. These have not been released to the public or to Almarri’s attorneys.
The possibility of videotape evidence of what DOD officials call “harsh interrogation” techniques could have an impact both inside and outside of the courtroom. In declarations submitted to the court, the government says the information linking Almarri to terrorist activity was obtained through interrogation. Videotape depicting US agents subjecting Almarri to unlawful interrogation would cast doubt on the credibility of information thereby obtained.
Beyond the courtroom, the videos in question could have an even bigger impact: as is well known, photographs of Abu Ghraib prison played a big part in galvanizing international censure against the tactics this country deploys in its fight against terror.
“The government’s admission that it destroyed evidence in an ongoing investigation is shocking enough,” said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, who is lead counsel for Mr. Almarri. “The possibility that the government still has—and is with-holding—videotapes that document interrogation procedures should is mind-boggling, and offends those who respect due process and the rule of law.”
Mr. Almarri’s response to the government’s admissions is due on May 12.
Jonathan Hafetz is available for comment.
To arrange an interview, please call Susan Lehman, 212.998.6318, or email firstname.lastname@example.org