Government ‘Loses’ Final Padilla Interrogation Video

In the comments of an unrelated post, Anderson asks what OTB thinks of the story (which I had somehow missed) of the Pentagon claiming to have lost some key evidence in the Jose Padilla trial.

A videotape showing Pentagon officials’ final interrogation of al-Qaida suspect Jose Padilla is missing, raising questions about whether federal prosecutors have lost other recordings and evidence in the case. The tape is classified, but Padilla’s attorneys said they believe something happened during that interrogation that could explain why Padilla does not trust them and suspects they are government agents.

Padilla attorney Anthony Natale said in court papers that the March 2, 2004, interrogation at the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., could contain information the government conveyed to Padilla that “directly impacts upon his relationship with his attorneys.”

Prosecutors and the Pentagon have said they cannot find the tape despite an intensive search. Authorities made 88 video recordings of Padilla being interrogated during the 3 1/2 years he was held at the brig as an “enemy combatant,” officials said. Eighty-seven tapes have been given to the defense, leaving only the last session unaccounted for. “I don’t know what happened to it,” Pentagon attorney James Schmidli said during a recent court hearing.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke was incredulous that anything connected to such a high-profile defendant could be lost. “Do you understand how it might be difficult for me to understand that a tape related to this particular individual just got mislaid?” Cooke told prosecutors at a hearing last month.

While I won’t speak for my co-authors, I’m skeptical. Anderson notes, not unreasonably, that “the guy was being held as if he were the second coming of Hannibal Lecter, a hugely important figure in the GWOT.” It is, as Dana Carvey’s Church Lady would have said, “conveeeenient” that the government had “lost” a key piece of evidence desired by the defense.

On the other hand, having spent some time working in and studying the defense bureaucracy, I surely would not dismiss the possibility of such a foul-up out of hand. The Pentagon routinely misplaces billions of dollars. In 2002, they couldn’t figure out where they spent a quarter of their budget–a full $2.3 trillion. In 2005, they reportedly lost $9 billion in Iraq reconstruction funds.

From that perspective, the fact that they were able to produce 98.86% of the Padilla videotapes is a minor miracle.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Wow, talk about customer service! Thanx, JJ.

    I’m especially interested in the defense’s theory that the final interrogation was conducted by persons purporting to be Padilla’s counsel.

    Anyway, if I were the judge, I’d issue a show-cause order as to why the feds shouldn’t be held in contempt. Not sure whether Sec’y Gates could be put in the slammer (seems improbable), but it might focus their minds a bit. “Oh, you mean THIS tape!”

  2. James Joyner says:

    Not sure whether Sec’y Gates could be put in the slammer (seems improbable), but it might focus their minds a bit.

    Not sure what the rules of procedure are in these types of cases but, no, I can’t imagine that the SECDEF could be held in personal contempt. Indeed, I’m rather sure the tape isn’t in his desk drawer.

    Presumably, the penalty in this type of matter would be evidenciary. The government’s failure to perform its duty to provide exculpatory evidence would tend to substantiate reasonable claims about said evidence made by the defense.