When graphic photographs of American soldiers abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq surfaced in 2004, they sparked international outrage — and prompted new scrutiny of how the U.S. treats its prisoners.
Even though Abu Ghraib itself wasn't a CIA-run facility, the agency was worried about the scandal's ramifications.
That's because the CIA was in possession of something that was potentially more explosive than the detainee abuse photos: hundreds of hours of videotaped "enhanced interrogations" of two Al Qaeda suspects in CIA detention, that included the use of techniques widely described as torture.
As FRONTLINE details in tonight's new documentary, Secrets, Politics and Torture, those tapes would never see the light of day. Their destruction was ordered by Jose Rodriguez, then the CIA's top operations officer.
"I was told, if those videotapes had ever been seen, the reaction around the world would not have been survivable," Jane Mayer of The New Yorker tells FRONTLINE.
Go inside the CIA's decision to destroy the tapes — and learn why CIA attorney John Rizzo was so surprised by that choice — in this advance excerpt from tonight's new FRONTLINE film:
The destruction of the tapes would eventually be reported by The New York Times – enraging the Senate Intelligence Committee, and helping to spark their decision to embark on an independent investigation of the CIA's covert interrogation program.
As Secrets, Politics and Torture explores, Senate investigators would eventually determine that one of the suspects in the tapes, Abu Zubaydah, "was not a senior member" of Al Qaeda. The second man in the tapes, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, "did not provide any additional threat information during, or after these interrogations," according to Senate investigators.
Rodriguez was never prosecuted. As FRONTLINE reports in tonight's documentary, in 2006, President George W. Bush signed legislation granting immunity to anyone at the CIA who had worked on the program.