Back on the Tape Trail

Newly released documents suggest that the U.S. government videotaped more Qaeda suspects than it has publicly disclosed. Court filings unsealed last week show that federal prosecutors recently informed a judge about videos depicting the questioning of a key figure in the case of convicted Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui. Although the witness's name was redacted, a U.S. official (who asked for anonymity discussing sensitive matters) acknowledged that it was Mohammad al-Qatani, the reputed "20th hijacker," who has been detained at Guantánamo Bay since 2002. A Qatani video could create problems: his treatment was the subject of an extensive investigation by the U.S. Southern Command. The probe, whose results were released in 2005, found that he'd been forced to wear a bra, stand naked in front of female guards, wear a leash and "perform a series of dog tricks." The Southern Command report concluded that while these practices were "abusive and degrading," they did not rise to the level of "inhumane treatment" barred by law. But the existence of video footage could become a factor if, as The New York Times reported last week, Qatani is among those likely to face charges by the Pentagon for his alleged role in the 9/11 plot. "This is critical to determining the lawfulness" of Qatani's interrogation, said ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. The ACLU plans to file a motion demanding that the Pentagon release the tapes.

Qatani may not be the last witness to turn up on interrogation tapes. Another newly released document shows that the State Department permitted foreign intelligence services to question Gitmo detainees in June 2002 under the condition that the United States would record audio and video. It's unclear how many of those tapes still exist. A spokesman for the U.S. military at Gitmo told NEWSWEEK that base officials are "not required to tape interrogations and did not routinely do so."