FACT CHECK: Haspel Said The 92 Destroyed CIA Tapes Showed Only 1 Detainee, But Records List 2

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

CIA director nominee Gina Haspel said at her confirmation hearing Wednesday that 92 interrogation tapes destroyed by the CIA in 2005 were recordings of only one detainee.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ThinkProgress said that Haspel contradicted CIA records that list two detainees on the tapes.

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

The 92 videotapes were used in the interrogations of two detainees. But many of the tapes were blank. Only two tapes were used to film the second detainee, and it’s possible that those two did not contain any content – which would mean there were only recordings of one detainee.

Fact Check:

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein scrutinized Haspel’s support for destroying 92 videotapes from 2002 that documented harsh interrogation techniques used on al-Qaeda suspects. Haspel said at the hearing that she “absolutely was an advocate” for destroying the tapes if it was within the bounds of the law because she believed that CIA officers’ faces appeared on the tapes, posing a security risk. Critics of the tapes’ destruction suspect that some in the CIA intended to conceal the agency’s use of torture.

“It also exposed how the program was conducted because they were tapes of the actual interrogation of certain – of 92 detainees, as I understand it,” Feinstein said.

“No, the tapes were recordings of only one detainee,” Haspel responded. “It was 92 tapes of one detainee.”

Files obtained by the ACLU from a Freedom of Information Act request show that the videotapes and related materials documented the interrogations of two detainees. One was Abu Zubaydah, who officials in President George W. Bush’s administration believed to be an essential figure in al-Qaeda (though others later said that those officials overstated his importance in terror plots). The second was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an accused al-Qaeda leader who was later charged with war crimes related to the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000.

It’s possible, however, that the 92 tapes only contained recordings of Zubaydah.

Redacted communications show that CIA officials would refer to the tapes as the “AZ tapes” or “Zubaydah tapes” when discussing whether they should be destroyed. A declassified inventory of videotapes revealed that 90 were used in interrogations of “detainee #1,” presumably Zubaydah, and two were used in the interrogation of “detainee #2,” presumably al-Nashiri.

The CIA implemented a policy in October 2002 to record only one day’s worth of interrogations on a videotape and record over it the next day. The two tapes corresponding to detainee #2 were labeled as “tape and rewind” and “use and rewind” with no other description, meaning that they might not have contained any content.

Many of the 92 tapes did not contain any content. CIA notes about the tapes said that some “had been reused (taped over) or not recorded at all … The label on some tapes read ‘interrogation session,’ but when viewed there was just snow.” The CIA Inspector General found that 11 of the videotapes were blank, two more only had one or two minutes of recording and two others were broken.

The ACLU, however, pointed out that three documents provided by the CIA in a lawsuit about the contents of the videotapes referenced al-Nashiri. “It’s hard to see why [the CIA] would have included those three documents, which specifically name al-Nashiri, if his abuse wasn’t related to the ‘contents of the 92 destroyed videotapes,'” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, argued.

The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” included waterboarding, confinement in a box up to 18 hours, sleep deprivation for up to 11 days and confinement in a box with insects. Of the 92 tapes, 12 showed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.

Days after taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that restricted the CIA to using only the 19 interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual. Haspel said in her hearing that she would not restart the enhanced interrogation program as CIA director.

Some media reports have mischaracterized Haspel’s background.

In March, ProPublica and The New York Times retracted the parts of their stories claiming that Haspel oversaw the waterboarding of Zubaydah. While Haspel did lead the base in Thailand where the interrogations occurred, she arrived after the waterboarding of Zubaydah had ended. She was in charge of the base when al-Nashiri was waterboarded, however.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Feinstein referenced a passage from the memoir of former CIA general counsel John Rizzo. Rizzo wrote that deputy CIA director for operations Jose Rodriguez “installed as his chief of staff an officer from the Counterterrorist Center who had previously run the interrogation program.” Haspel was that chief of staff.

The Daily Beast took the passage to mean that she oversaw all enhanced interrogations – “dozens, potentially.”

“Is that you?” Feinstein asked.

Haspel pointed out that Rizzo corrected his phrasing. “I should have worded it a bit differently so as to not give the reader the impression that Gina was in charge of the interrogation program,” Rizzo wrote in an email to Daily Beast Executive Editor Noah Shachtman.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter