U.S. Representative Rush Holt (NJ-12) - Chair of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence - last night secured inclusion of language in the Intelligence Authorization Bill that would maximize intelligence derived from interrogations and help prevent detainee abuses such as those that happened in Abu Ghraib. Holt's provision would require the videorecording of all pertinent interactions between CIA officers and detainees arrested in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. These records would be kept at the appropriate level of classification, and would be available to intelligence personnel who could examine them for any potential intelligence benefit. Last May, the U.S. House of Representatives included similar language as part of the FY09 Department of Defense (DOD) Authorization Act. However, the provision was not included in the bill signed by President Bush.
"We can collect the best intelligence and protect both the interrogator and the person being interrogated by requiring recordings," Holt said. "Law enforcement organizations across the nation have recognized this and routinely videotape their interrogations. It is to the benefit of American interrogators to require them to do the same."
In addition to requiring videorecording of detainee interrogations, Holt's provision would require the Director of the CIA to develop guidelines for ensuring that the required videorecording is expansive enough to prevent abuses of detainees' fundamental human rights under U.S. and international law.
Videorecording of interrogations is already employed widely by U.S. law enforcement agencies, and it would help linguists and other counterterrorism specialists get the most information possible out of interrogations.
The United States can successfully conduct the videorecording of detainee interrogations without compromising the safety of U.S. government personnel. Technology exists to mask the faces and voices of interrogators, if necessary.
"This would continue the process of putting our detainee policies back on a sound legal footing while maintaining our ability to get actionable intelligence," Holt said.
Holt also secured language in the bill directing the Director of the CIA to conduct a classification review of CIA records that may be relevant to helping veterans, scientists, and medical providers better understand the scope of potential toxic exposures among Operation Desert Storm veterans.
For five years after the Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon and the CIA denied that any Iraqi chemical weapons had been forward deployed during the conflict. That claim fell apart when intelligence reports on the Khamisiyah Ammunition Storage Depot facility were discovered in the CIA's archives in 1996 and correlated with the findings of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), which confirmed that Iraqi chemical weapons had been stored at the Khamisiyah facility at the time elements of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division destroyed the degraded chemical weapons in March 1991. A November 2008 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses noted a two-fold increase in the incidence of brain cancer among Desert Storm veterans who were in the downwind hazard plume created by the demolition of degraded Iraqi nerve agent-filled rockets at the Khamisiyah facility.
A 1998 CIA Inspector General report admitted that the CIA had identified as many as 1.5 million documents that might be relevant to determining the extent of toxic exposures among Desert Storm veterans but that the Agency did not intend to review those records. Holt's provision would require the CIA Director to undertake a classification review of those and other records and report the findings to Congress, with the intent being the declassification of such records.
"Ill Desert Storm veterans have been waiting for years for our government to make public any information in its possession about the kinds of toxic agents they may have been exposed to during and immediately after the 1991 war," Holt said. "This is a long overdue step towards meeting that goal."