NEW YORK (Reuters) – A judge on Monday refused to find the CIA acted in contempt when it destroyed videotapes that showed harsh interrogations of two suspects.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein told a Manhattan federal court hearing that efforts by the CIA to improve how it preserves documents was enough restitution, and that it should pay legal fees to the plaintiffs, the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I don’t think a citation of contempt will add to anything,” Hellerstein said.
In December 2007, the CIA acknowledged destroying dozens of videotapes made under a detention program begun after the September 11 attacks. The interrogations, in 2002, were of alleged al Qaeda members Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Until 2007, the CIA had publicly denied the tapes ever existed. They were destroyed in 2005.
A probe by a special federal prosecutor last year found that no CIA personnel should face criminal charges for destroying the videotapes.
Monday’s decision came after years of legal battles between the CIA and the ACLU, which first sued the agency in 2004 to obtain documents on its treatment of prisoners.
When news of the tapes surfaced, the ACLU said the CIA and its chief spy at the time had acted in contempt of court by trashing tapes that should have been preserved under a court order following the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
By destroying the tapes, the CIA showed disrespect for the court, said Lawrence Lustberg, an attorney for the ACLU.
Although the CIA failed in not disclosing and preserving the tapes, Judge Hellerstein said: “The bottom line is we are in a dangerous world. We need our spies, we need surveillance, but we also need accountability.”
As part of that accountability, the judge on Monday asked the CIA to detail the new policies it says it has implemented since the tapes were destroyed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara La Morte, arguing for the CIA, said the CIA’s new policies were “above and beyond” what the court required and that the ACLU was “out to exact retribution on the CIA.”
“I don’t think that’s correct,” the judge interrupted.
(Editing by Greg McCune)
Mon, Aug 1 2011
By Basil Katz
© Thomson Reuters 2011.