(photo credit: Associated Press)
The CIA has tapes of 9/11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh being interrogated in a secret overseas prison. Discovered under a desk, the recordings could provide an unparalleled look at how foreign governments aided the US in holding and questioning suspected terrorists.
The two videotapes and one audiotape are believed to be the only remaining recordings made within the clandestine prison system.
The tapes depict Binalshibh's interrogation sessions at a Moroccan-run facility the CIA used near Rabat in 2002, several current and former US officials told The Associated Press. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the recordings remain a closely guarded secret.
When the CIA destroyed its cache of 92 videos of two other al-Qaida operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri, being waterboarded in 2005, officials believed they had wiped away all of the agency's interrogation footage. But in 2007, a staffer discovered a box tucked under a desk in the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and pulled out the Binalshibh tapes.
A Justice Department prosecutor who is already investigating whether
destroying the Zubaydah and al-Nashiri tapes was illegal is now also
probing why the Binalshibh tapes were never disclosed. Twice, the
government told a federal judge they did not exist.
The tapes could complicate US efforts to prosecute Binalshibh, 38, who
has been described as a "key facilitator" in the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks. If the tapes surfaced at trial, they could clearly reveal
Morocco's role in the counterterrorism program known as Greystone, which
authorized the CIA to hold terrorists in secret prisons and shuttle
them to other countries.
More significantly to his defense, the tapes also could provide evidence
of Binalshibh's mental state within the first months of his capture. In
court documents, defense lawyers have been asking for medical records
to see whether Binalshibh's years in CIA custody made him mentally
unstable. He is being treated for schizophrenia with a potent cocktail
of anti-psychotic medications.
With military commissions on hold while the Obama administration figures
out what to do with suspected terrorists, Binalshibh has never had a
hearing on whether he is mentally fit to stand trial.
"If those tapes exist, they would be extremely relevant," said Thomas A.
Durkin, Binalshibh's civilian lawyer.
The CIA first publicly hinted at the existence of the Binalshibh tapes
in 2007 in a letter to US District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Virginia.
The government twice denied having such tapes, and recanted once they
were discovered. But the government blacked out Binalshibh's name from a
public copy of the letter.
At the time, the CIA played down the significance, saying the videos
were not taken as part of the CIA's detention program and did not show
That's true, but only because of the unusual nature of the Moroccan
prison, which was largely financed by the CIA but run by Moroccans, the
former officials said. The CIA could move detainees in and out, and
oversee the interrogations, but officially, Morocco had control.
CIA spokesman George Little would not discuss the Moroccan facility
except to say agency officials "continue to cooperate with inquiries
into past counterterrorism practices."