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Latest CIA Interrogation Tapes Don't Tell the Whole Story

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Today's report that the CIA possesses videotapes of interrogations of alleged 9/11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh in a secret prison in Morocco is renewing attention to the government's abusive interrogations practiced in secret prisons around the world as part of its "war on terror." But U.S. officials are already saying that the tapes, which have not been publicly released, don't actually show any abuse.

"The tapes record a guy sitting in a room just answering questions," a U.S. official told the Associated Press, which broke the story.

That may be true. But even if the two videos and one audiotape of Bin al shibh's interrogation in Morocco show largely benign interrogations, that shouldn't distract attention from the fact that we know that many of the videotapes that the CIA did successfully destroy in 2005 documented serious abuse. Those destroyed tapes include 92 interrogation videos of two other alleged al Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri, both of whom were subjected by CIA operatives to a form of torture known as waterboarding - a controlled drowning intended as a death threat. Abu Zubaydah, we know from Justice Department memos and the diligent blogger Marcy Wheeler, was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002 alone.

And as Wheeler aptly points out today, we don't know what parts of those interrogations were not videotaped in that Moroccan prison, or elsewhere. (The AP has a helpful timeline of BinalShibh's custody in various CIA "black sites" here.) The former British captive Binyam Mohamed, Wheeler notes, has claimed that he was brutally tortured for months in that same Moroccan prison around the same time.

The latest set of tapes was accidentally discovered in 2007, tucked under a desk in the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, the AP reported today. The U.S. government twice told a federal judge that they did not exist.

Justice Department prosecutor John Durham is already investigating whether destroying the Zubaydah and al-Nashiri tapes was illegal. He's now also probing why the Binalshibh interrogation tapes were never disclosed. Durham is also tasked with a preliminary investigation into whether CIA interrogators broke the law by torturing, threatening and otherwise abusing terror suspects under their control. He has yet to release any of his findings.