US judge orders documents from CIA, Defence Department

( dpa ) - A US federal judge Friday ordered the CIA and Department of Defence to provide documents about destroyed videotapes showing the interrogation of suspected terrorists overseas, a rights group said.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the southern district of New York made the decision as part of a freedom-of-information request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"I'm asked to believe that actual motion pictures, videotapes, of the relationship between interrogators and prisoners were of so little value" that no record of them was kept in CIA investigative files? Hellerstein was quoted as saying by The New York Times. "I just can't accept it."

The US Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes showing the interrogation of two suspected terrorists. Congress has launched a separate probe.

CIA Director Michael Hayden on December 6 disclosed for the first time publicly the existence of the tapes and their subsequent destruction.

Hayden, who was not the director of the CIA at the time, said the tapes were abolished to safeguard the identities of the agents conducting the interrogations of the two suspected terrorists and because they no longer contained useful information.

The two tapes, made in 2002 and destroyed in 2005, documented interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and another top al-Qaeda member. Zubaydah at the time was the most significant capture of an al- Qaeda figure following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Hayden said the tapes were made to ensure agents were following interrogation guidelines.

But their destruction has prompted criticism that the agency was trying to cover up the use of harsh interrogation methods or possible torture.

Judge Hellerstein ordered documents connected to the case to be brought to him so he could determine for himself whether they should be made public under the Freedom of Information Act under which the ACLU brought its suit.

"Given the evidence of widespread and systemic abuse of prisoners, it is entirely appropriate for the judge to view these documents himself instead of taking the government's word for why they should be kept secret," ACLU staff attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas said in an e-mailed statement.

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