Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Gitmo Tapes - Lies Of Omission

By Cernig

Just over a week ago, the Seton Hall Law’s Center for Policy and Research published a report that said military records and statements showed over 24,000 tapes had been made of interrogations carried out at Guantánamo Bay. The same day, a Washington Post article following up on that report said that many of those recordings might have been taped over, destroying valuable evidence. That article was based upon a court filing "by Guantanamo's commander, Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, who said video surveillance recordings in several areas of the facility have been automatically overwritten and no longer exist".

However, in an email and a comment to the versions of my posts on the subject over at At-Largely, Michael Ricciardelli - one of the co-authors of the Seton Hall Law report - wrote "to point out and highlight what the Military actually said, and didn't say--as opposed to the inferences and conjecture that have been drawn from what they have said." He says Buzby's statement and the press coverage of them "have misdirected and now obfuscate the issue" by confusing surveillance security tapes with tapes of the interrogations themselves. That means that the 24,000 tapes should still exist, somewhere.

Michael wrote (bolded parts are partly mine, partly his from his emailed version):
There seems to be some confusion stemming from the Military (there's a surprise) and the press concerning the "automatic over-writes" on the video recorders in hallways and common areas in Guantanamo. These cameras (think in terms of the video cameras in convenience stores-- but more sophisticated) were said to have recorded "day-to-day" "mundane" life at Guantanamo. According to the Military, every certain number of days these "hallway" and "common area" monitor recording systems automatically taped over themselves( i.e., were "overwritten").

These statements came from a declaration of Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, United States Navy on February 8, 2008 (case 1:05-cv-00023-RWR Document84-4; Washington Post, February 14, 2008). Importantly, these "hallway" and "common area" monitor recordings are specifically NOT video recordings of interrogations-- And the Rear Admiral is exceedingly careful to NOT say that they are in his declaration; though, perhaps, it could be anticipated that because of the way the declaration was made the media would confuse the two separate and distinct issues. Which is to say, that the responsive statement's by Rear Admiral Buzby have misdirected and now obfuscate the issue. As such, some of the media reporting has failed to make clear this distinction between the "day-to-day" video recording and the video recording of interrogations. This distinction, however, is readily apparent if one looks to the partially redacted text of Rear Admiral Buzby's declaration.

Paragraph 10 reads:

10. This declaration is not intended to provide a complete catalogue of all video and/or audio recordings made of detainees held at JTF-GTMO, although I am informed, and believe, that it is a complete discussion of those JTF-GTMO video and/or audio monitoring systems that included a standard recording feature as to which recorded data was automatically overwritten at specified intervals.
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct.
(emphasis added)

8 Feb 08 Mark A. Buzby
Rear Admiral, United States Navy
Commander, Joint Task Force--

No one wants to be subjected to perjury charges. Importantly, Rear Admiral Buzby specifically states that his declaration is "not intended to provide a complete catalogue of all video and/or audio recordings made of detainees held at JTF-GTMO." Also, he never mentions interrogations in his declaration. His declaration states that it refers to recordings of "day-to-day" occurrences i.e., "hallway activity," and common area activity such as "eating, praying and recreating." Importantly, interrogation does not come under this aegis.

Also of great importance, in his declaration, the Rear Admiral pointedly does not mention the buildings and rooms at Guantanamo which are dedicated to Interrogation. He does, however, expressly name a number of other physical locations within GTMO to which his declaration pertains. Voluminous research of Government documents has shown that the overwhelming majority of interrogations in Guantanamo occurred at Camp Delta and Camp X-Ray-- compounds specifically set up, equipped, and designated by the Military as the site for interrogations. Rear Admiral Buzby's declaration refers only to "Camps 4, 6, Echo and Iguana." Rear Admiral Buzby's declaration does not mention Camp Delta, Camp X-Ray or any other known interrogation site.

I would suggest, as I imagine would Rear Admiral Buzby, that his declaration pertains to the places and activities, and only the places and activities, which he expressly mentions. As he does not mention the dedicated interrogation buildings and rooms, his declaration thereby does not include video and/or audio recordings in the dedicated interrogation building and rooms. Thus, his declaration does not include a statement regarding the "automatic overwriting" of any videotapes produced at the interrogation sites and does not include the "overwriting" of interrogation videotapes.

In addition, the Rear Admiral states that his declaration is "a complete discussion of those JTF-GTMO video and/or audio monitoring systems that included a standard recording feature as to which recorded data was automatically overwritten at specified intervals." Which is to say that:

a) if the interrogation recording apparatus does not include "a standard recording feature as to which recorded data was automatically overwritten," it is not included in the Rear Admiral's declaration;

b) if the video recordings of interrogations were not "automatically overwritten at specified intervals" they are not included in the Rear Admiral's declaration-- which again, pointedly, is "not meant to provide a complete catalogue of video and/or audio recordings."

c) even if, contrary to everything else Rear Admiral Buzby states (or fails to state) in his declaration, for some hard to imagine reason the video recordings of interrogations were "automatically overwritten at specified intervals," that is pointedly not to say that they weren't also saved onto files and disks or transmitted electronically to the Pentagon's video data repository and clearing house, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

The BSCT SOP, 2005:

Behavioral Science Consulatation Team
Joint Intelligence Group, Joint Task Force-GTMO
Standard Operating Procedures (U)
28 March 2005

6. Mission Essential Tasks

a) Provides consultation to interrogation staff in support of the intelligence collection mission.

b) Monitors Interrogations and other staff-detainee interactions...

9. Other Operational Procedures. The following procedures apply to the daily BSCT operations.

a.(1) Ensure that classified material (files, papers, photos, disks) are properly secured in the safe designated for BSCT use; at no time shall classified materials be left unattended in BSCT offices.

Those video recordings were/are a very valuable asset and resource to the teams of Interrogation Analysts employed at GTMO who could not all be at every interrogation. The Behavioral Science Cosultation Team ("BSCT"), a team of psychologists and psychiatrists charged with coming up with interrogation tactics to employ on detainees "to break them down," the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit ("BAU"), and the myriad other entitities employed by Defense Humint Services (DHS) (including private contractor analysts) ALL had reason to "check the tapes" and study carefully the subjects of their chosen profession. They would have been foolish (if not negligent) not to closely analyze video recordings of interrogations that they had made.

d) finally, video recordings would also preserve as "evidence" the statements that video recorded detainees may have made against themselves and against other detainees ("reliable" hearsay is admissable evidence in the Military "Hearings" and "Trials"). Records of such "evidence" would obviously be necessary in the event of a detainees transfer, release, change of story, or death. Video recordings of interrogations would also be invaluable as a training tool.

As you can see, the obfuscation and misdirection takes some time and effort to unravel, but it is ultimately discernible as just that-- obfuscation and misdirection. Rear Admiral Buzby's declaration addresses videotaping, but that is not to say that it addresses videotaping of interrogations.

In addition, the Military has responded that they were "not required" to videotape interrogations and did not do so "routinely." I would suggest that those statements are as important for what they do not say as what they have said. To say that one was "not required" to videotape interrogations is specifically NOT to say that one didn't videotape interrogations. And to say that one did not "routinely" videotape interrogations is also not to say that one didn't. Importantly, when given the opportunity to refute that they videotaped interrogations in Guantanamo, the Military, pointedly, did not.

Unfortunately, TV Stations and Newspapers seem to have neither the time nor the inclination to make such distinctions as are contained above. Which, I suppose, is where we come in. As such, please feel free to disseminate this post as freely and as widely as you like. Do what you can to shine further light on what are dim days for the Rule of Law.

Michael J. Ricciardelli
So there you have it. The military has not ever said it didn't record interrogations and statements on recordings are deliberately parsed in such a way as to sidestep possible contempt charges while simultaneously giving the misleading impression that no interrogation recordings which might have been made survived.

Yet standard procedure is for interrogations to be recorded and those recordings to be preserved.

Over to you, Congress. Time for some far more pointed questions and less blind acceptance of lawyer-speak.

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