More than 18 months after publishing a piece about the whereabouts of the unedited versions of the Oklahoma City Bombing surveillance tapes, I learned Wednesday that a federal court hearing concerning a Freedom of Information Act request for those videotapes is set to take place May 11 in Salt Lake City.
The hearing will take place with Judge Clark Waddoups presiding in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, Central Division. It comes some three and a half years after Utah attorney Jesse Trentadue used FOIA to request the FBI turn over copies of surveillance video captured April 19, 1995, by more than 20 cameras operating in the vicinity of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
I don’t agree with Trentadue’s belief that the bombing was likely a U.S. government-sponsored operation; instead, I side with the conclusions offered by Jayna Davis, award-winning investigative reporter and best-selling author, in her 2004 book, “The Third Terrorist: The Middle East Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing.” Still, I remain troubled that the FBI has fought the release of videotape footage likely to reveal the identity of at least one additional person involved in the bombing that took place less than 30 minutes from where I was living at the time.
Specifically, Trentadue requested footage captured prior to 9:02 a.m. Central, when a truck bomb exploded, killing 168 people, and footage from the dashboard camera of Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Charles Hanger’s vehicle showing the arrest of Timothy McVeigh. He received footage from several cameras, but not from the cameras on the Murrah Building itself; hence, the reason for the May 11 hearing.
In his Memorandum in Support of Rule 56(f) Motion for Continuance Pending Discovery, Trentadue explained that his lawsuit “is not about reports and documents” and is, instead, “a case about videotapes.”
It is also a case about the most crucial evidence in what was then the biggest investigation ever handled by FBI Defendants: the bombing of the Oklahoma City Alfred P. Murray Federal Building, he wrote. The videotapes at issue will expose that others were involved in that terrorist attack.
After explaining that FBI defendants do not present the court with any proof that these tapes do not exist and that their claim that the tapes cannot be found despite a computer search for this evidence does not relieve them of their FOIA obligations, Trentadue directed the court’s attention to ordinary Americans:
The American public has a right to know what happened in Oklahoma City on the morning of April 19, 1995 and, more importantly, why? Yet, it is obvious that for some reason FBI Defendants do not want the truth about the Oklahoma City bombing made public. Perhaps the reason is as simple as: the Federal Government’s prior knowledge of that planned attack and failure to prevent it, or that there were others involved whom the Federal government chose not to expose and/or prosecute. But whatever the reason, that is precisely why the FOIA became law: to protect the right of American citizens to know their own history and, more importantly, their government. And that is why the Court should reject the FBI Defendants’ claim that their only obligation is to search their computerized records for this evidence knowing that it is not there and once that search they knew would fail has been concluded, they need do no more.
After citing several legal precedents to back up his argument, Trentadue shared documents with me that contain fodder provided by three people — OKC police officer Don Browning, private security specialist Bradford Cooley and FBI Agent Ricardo Ojeda — that sheds light on the Bureau’s response to the FOIA request.
Browning noted in his declaration to the court that he and other non-federal rescuers were ordered to leave the Murrah Building soon after the bomb exploded despite the need to move quickly in hopes of locating and, hopefully, saving victims trapped by the blast. In addition, he wrote the following:
That same morning, I observed men wearing jackets with “FBI” printed on the back removing the surveillance video cameras from the exterior of the Murrah Federal Building. I thought this was part of the FBI’s evidence gathering or “chain of custody” procedures since those exterior cameras would have shown and recorded delivery of the bomb in a Ryder truck that morning as well as the person or persons who exited that truck.
I knew from my training and experience as a police officer that an investigation of the bombing and prosecution of those involved would require not only preserving the videotapes of the event but also require preserving the cameras and tape decks by which those videotapes were made. Nevertheless, I did think it odd that the FBI’s removal of those cameras was taking place while many people were still trapped alive in the rubble of the Murrah Federal Building and so many of us were working desperately to find them.
Cooley’s declaration, in which he outlined his knowledge of the surveillance systems at the Murrah Building, included the following hard-to-ignore observations:
From my knowledge of the video surveillance system in place at the Murrah Federal Building, an my presence on scene just after the bomb exploded, I have no doubt that the two external cameras on the Northwest and Northeast corners of the Building would certainly have recorded the entire event. Those cameras would even have recorded the delivery of the bomb to the Murrah Federal Building in a Ryder truck and, most importantly, those cameras would also have recorded everyone who exited that truck prior to the explosion. Because of their distance from the Murrah Federal Building, ADT’s offices were not destroyed or otherwise damaged in the bombing, which means that the videotapes should still exist.
In a sworn affidavit dated May 21, 2001, Ojeda outlined how the FBI handled information they did not want to see brought up in court:
The FBI also kept “zero files,” which were reports containing information that the FBI would not generally want disclosed to the defense and which were kept separate from a specific case file. These files were kept internally within the Bureau and typically were not turned over to the prosecution or the defense. Files would be assigned numbers bases on the type of offense or investigation involved, for example, a bank robbery would be assigned a particular number. A letter A after that number would mean highest importance. A zero after that number would mean that the report should go into the “zero” file.
On the last page of the sworn affidavit, Ojeda added the statement below:
Although there are many very good FBI agents, there are also FBI agents, including some who worked on the Oklahoma City bombing case, who are willing to subvert the truth in order to protect fellow agents.
It will be interesting to see how the judge rules in this case, but I won’t be holding my breath in anticipation of a groundbreaking ruling. Neither will Trentadue.
“If the Utah Federal Court does rule in my favor and order the tapes produced,” he told me via e-mail today, “I expect the FBI to again go to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to have that order set aside.”
Noting that the Bureau has a track record of successfully appealing lower court rulings, Trentadue offered a prediction.
“In short, May 11, 2011, will be just another battle in a very long war and not the end of the war.”
To learn more, click here to find links to all of my posts about the Oklahoma City Bombing.
For an overview of why Trentadue became interested in the bombing, read the 2007 Mother Jones’ article, In Search of John Doe No. 2: The Story the Feds Never Told About the Oklahoma City Bombing.
KennethTrentadue.com is the web site Jesse Trentadue created after his brother Kenneth died under suspicious circumstances while in custody at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City.
Intelwire makes The Jesse Trentadue Files for review.
UPDATE 4/10/11 at 8:58 a.m. Central: Cross-posted at Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com.
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