The Case Of The Missing Padilla Tape

(CBS/ Government Photo)
Whatever went on inside the Charleston, South Carolina, naval brig while alleged al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla was detained there for three-and-half years, one incredible fact is that the U.S. military videotaped so much of it.

That stunning revelation came out this week at the end of a federal court hearing to assess Padilla's mental fitness to stand trial. In Charleston, it turns out Padilla was videotaped in his cell 24/7, was videotaped taking showers, and taped as guards escorted him from his cell, handcuffed and shackled, even to visit a dentist. Not only that, Padilla was videotaped for hundreds of hours while he was interrogated. The FBI, which normally investigates terrorism suspects, has a policy never to videotape or audiotape its interviews.

Only 87 of the 88 DVD's of Padilla interrogations have been turned over to Padilla's defense team, as the rules of evidence require. Defense attorney Anthony Natale told U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke on Thursday that the missing DVD may be one of the most important.

It documents the military's final interrogation session of Padilla, from March 3, 2004. Afterwards, under Supreme Court orders, the government finally allowed Padilla to meet his defense lawyers, who'd already spent almost two years challenging his "enemy combatant" status and his detention in what they called a "legal black hole."

"We have a good faith belief the tape existed," prosecutor Stephanie Pell told the court, choosing her words carefully. It has been "lost," she said.

As Padilla nears trial on terrorism charges that bear almost no resemblance for the stated reasons for his prolonged military detention, his lawyers are asking Judge Cooke to dismiss the case for the government's "outrageous conduct" in Charleston. Padilla's lawyers blame the brig's harsh conditions of confinement and exhaustive interrogation techniques for Padilla's inability and unwillingness to help them prepare his defense.

(AP Photo/U.S. Government)
Natale told Judge Cooke he is worried Padilla was told certain things about his counsel in that final March 2004 interrogation session that may have proven detrimental to their efforts to represent him. Natale also said handwritten brig logs indicate another 72 hours of interviews which may or may not have been taped. .

James Smidley, deputy general counsel for the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Cooke there are no more tapes, but interrogator notes from other sessions may be available. Don't' expect to see the tapes or notes anytime soon in open court – they're all classified.