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Pentagon Reviews Policy of Videotaping Interrogations

The Pentagon says it has so far found fewer than 50 videotapes of interrogations at its facilities worldwide, following a request for information that went out six weeks ago. Officials say the review of videotaping policies at its interrogation centers was ordered after revelations that the CIA had destroyed tapes of some interrogations, in which its operatives used harsh techniques. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Officials say a top Defense Department official ordered the policy review to better understand how much taping is being done, and what happens to the tapes, and also to try to develop a consistent videotaping policy.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says information from several major military units reveals that fewer than 50 interrogation tapes exist. He says there is no evidence of detainee abuse on any of the tapes.

The data is from several commands including the ones that cover Latin America, special operations worldwide and partial data from Central Command, which supervises the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Bryan Whitman says videotaping is neither required nor prohibited during interrogation sessions, and once tapes are made they are not kept very long unless there is a particular reason to keep them.

"Videotapes, once they're of no particular value, intelligence value, and no longer a reason to hold them, they aren't retained, typically," he said.

Whitman says the tapes are usually destroyed within 90 days, unless they have intelligence value or include evidence of detainee abuse. He says the detention center at Guantanamo has special rules because of a 2005 order that requires all tapes made there to be saved. He says there are only a few such tapes.

Whitman says interrogators make the decision on whether to record a session, or series of sessions, and get their decision approved by a commander as part of the overall interrogation plan required for all such activity. He says videotapes can sometimes be useful.

"It can be used for any number of reasons," he said. "When you're doing an interview outside of somebody's native language, for example, it's helpful. Videotape can be helpful in critiquing an interrogation afterwards. It can be particularly useful for observing behavior and being able to study behavior."

According to the New York Times, two of the tapes that have been retained show the interrogation of two terrorism suspects held at a military facility in South Carolina. The Times quotes officials who have seen one of the videotapes as saying one suspect, Ali al-Marri, is chanting loudly and is manhandled by interrogators, and at one point has tape put over his mouth. But the Times quotes a Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman as saying the agency's director has reviewed the tape and concluded that the treatment was "acceptable."