The Crime vs. The Cover-Up
Marty Lederman has a typically excellent post trying to make sense of the CIA’s 2005 destruction of videotaped interrogations of al-Qaeda detainees. Read the whole thing, as the kids say, particularly Marty’s speculation about how Jose Rodriguez, the agency official who actually ordered the tapes destroyed, probably received wink-wink nudge-nudge guidance from his CIA superiors who didn’t really want the tapes preserved. But then Marty gets to the heart of the matter:
No one is talking about this. But it is really rather remarkable that the CIA decided not to videotape its investigations of high-level al Qaeda officials. This is an enemy bent on committing horrifying terrorist acts. Our intelligence about that enemy is minimal, and therefore any information we obtain from these interrogations could be of critical importance. (That was, recall, the justification for the “enhanced” techniques in the first place.) We have not used these techniques in the past, and we are uncertain how effective they will be. It’s a learning process. Moreover, the information gleaned from these interrogations, presumably in a foreign language not known to most of the officials dealing with the terrorist threat, might be quite difficult to interpret. It may be very hard at first to understand just which responses from the detainees are important and which are not, and how their responses fit into the broader intelligence-gathering efforts of the intelligence agencies. Under the government’s frequently invoked “mosaic” theory of intelligence gathering, one might not know the true value of particular intelligence for some time, until it can be viewed in a broader context, alongside a great deal of other intelligence collected before and after. More than likely, the information can best be understood and appreciated only by officials not present during the investigations.
As it happens, I’m working on a longer piece about precisely this point. The amount of available base knowledge about al-Qaeda was tremendously small in 2002, when the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, took place. What’s more, the available base of experience with interrogation was… well, you’ll have to wait for my piece.
In the meantime, to brush up on what exactly happened with the CIA tapes controversy, check out this timeline compiled by TPM’s Paul Kiel and myself.