WASHINGTON (AFP) — A Pentagon review has turned up several dozen videotapes of detainee interrogations, including one that shows a detainee having his mouth duct-taped to stop him from chanting, US defense officials said Thursday.
Lawyers for the detainee, Ali al-Marri, said they have petitioned a federal court to order an improvement in conditions of his incarceration, citing his prolonged isolation and "inhuman treatment."
Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper ordered the review of the military's videotape practices in late January after revelations that the CIA had destroyed videotapes of interrogations of two high value prisoners.
"What we have found is that there is not widespread use of videotaping," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.
But military units that have used videotapes to record interrogations have orders to destroy them withn 90 days "unless there a reason to maintain it," said another Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman.
"And obviously if there were any sign of abuse, that would be a reason to maintain it," Morrell added. "We have seen nothing, nothing that would suggest there was any abuse going on."
Morrell said "fewer than 50" videotapes had been identified so far in the course of the review, almost all of them video-tapes related to interrogations of terrorism suspects Jose Padilla and al-Marri at the Navy Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.
Padilla was tried and convicted on terrorism charges, but al-Marri, a US resident, has been held for nearly five years without charges.
In a motion to the US District Court of South Carolina, lawyers representing al-Marri charged that conditions under which he is being held were "endangering what remains of his psychological resilience, and jeopardizing his ability to participate meaningfully in his legal defense."
They cited a New York Times story that said a videotape showed him being "manhandled by his interrogators" and that the people "dispensing the rough treatment on the tape were FBI agents."
A spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency acknowledged that one of the videotapes showed interrogators duct-taping al-Marri's mouth shut, but denied he had been roughed up.
"His mouth was taped. He had been chanting very loudly, disrupting the interrogation. He was asked to stop and was told that if he didn't stop his loud chanting, then his mouth would be taped," said spokesman Don Black.
"He continued with his chanting and his mouth was taped," he said.
"The individual did not want his mouth taped. Was he hit, was he slapped? No, he was not. The individual was not physically abused," Black said.
Black said that the al-Marri videotape was the only one of that nature, adding that it had been reviewed by the DIA's director, its general counsel and inspector general.
Whitman said "a handful" of other videotapes made at the "war on terror" detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba had been preserved under a 2005 order.
The US Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes Iraq and Afghanistan where thousands of detainees have been held, has not yet completed its part of the review, Morrell said.
"We've been somewhat ambiguous in the number (of tapes) as we're obviously waiting for Centcom to fully report," he said. "We don't know what we don't know about some of this stuff.
"But at this point I think the fair characterization of the number of tapes that is known is fewer than 50," he said.
Morrell said Clapper's request for information also went out to the US Southern Command, the Special Operations Command and Joint Forces Command.
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