WASHINGTON – There is no uniform Pentagon policy for preserving videotapes of prisoner interrogations, a system officials are reviewing following the controversy over the CIA's destruction of some of its tapes.
A Defense Department review at military prisons from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay to Charleston, S.C., has found so far that "there is not widespread use" of such videotaping, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
Different defense agencies have differing practices from each other, said another defense spokesman, Bryan Whitman.
With the review still unfinished, there was no clear picture of how many tapes are out there, though it is known around 40 show the questioning of two suspects at the navy brig in Charleston, officials said.
Among them, more than 30 tapes were handed over to the courts for the trial of Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member sentenced in January to more than 17 years in prison for terrorism-related crimes, said Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman Don Black.
Tapes also were made of Ali al-Marri, whom the government claims had links to Al Qaeda terrorists.
Al-Marri has been held in Charleston since June 2003 and his lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice, said he was filing a court motion later Thursday seeking relief from confinement conditions that have caused al-Marri serious mental deterioration. He said Al-Marri was told officials have "file cabinets full" of tapes on him.
Black said the intelligence agency doesn't routinely make videotapes — and doesn't routinely keep those that are made — but may if another agency has requested the information.
"Our people handle videotapes as working papers," he said. Reports are written from the sessions or tapes may later be used to train agents in interrogation practices, but are usually kept only 90 days.
"When there's no further need for it, the tape is destroyed," Black said.
Black said one on al-Marri shows his mouth was taped during questioning because he was being disruptive. Hafetz said al-Marri nearly choked from the action; Black said the agency's legal office reviewed the tape and determined there was no abuse.
Overall, officials have found "no evidence of detainee abuse" on videotapes, he said.
"This is not an Abu Ghraib story," Black said, "Not even close." He referred to the 2005 scandal that shocked the international community in which guards had physically abused and sexually humiliated prisoners in the Iraq prison and photographed their actions.
Other defense agencies have other procedures and part of the review is to learn what various practices are, with an eye to perhaps making them all the same, officials said.
For instance, an order went out in 2005 requiring preservation of interrogation videos from Guantanamo Bay, Morrell said.
"There is no requirement to videotape, there is no requirement not to," Whitman said.
The Pentagon began its review in January after the CIA acknowledged it had destroyed videotapes of harsh interrogations that critics call torture.