By Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden told the Senate intelligence committee in a closed hearing yesterday that he was unable to answer key questions about the destruction of interrogation videotapes because the decisions were made before he worked at the CIA.
Hayden told reporters after the hearing that he had "a chance to lay out the narrative, the history of why the tapes were destroyed."
But because the tapes were made in 2002 under then-CIA Director George J. Tenet and were destroyed in 2005 under another director, former representative Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), Hayden said he is unable to answer all the panel's questions.
"Other people in the agency know about this far better than I," Hayden said.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the intelligence panel's chairman, told reporters that the hearing was "useful and not yet complete" because of Hayden's inability to supply crucial information, including who authorized the destruction of videotapes and why lawmakers were not told about it sooner, or at all.
Hayden's appearance before the intelligence panel followed his disclosure last week that the CIA had destroyed recordings of the interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda operative Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein, commonly known as Abu Zubaida, and another senior captive, identified by intelligence officials as Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Hayden said the destruction was necessary to protect the identities of CIA personnel who appear on the tapes, but many lawmakers and defense attorneys have alleged it was an attempt to cover up illegal torture.
One former senior intelligence official said yesterday that the recordings were contained on older-style videocassettes, rather than modern digital tapes or discs, and that no verbatim transcripts were made. Instead, results of the interrogations were contained in classified summaries, the official said.
Hayden's appearance followed disclosures by a former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who said that the use of a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding on Zubaida elicited information that "probably saved lives" but also amounts to torture.
Kiriakou's public remarks prompted Hayden to send a reminder to CIA employees yesterday about the importance of not disclosing classified information, intelligence officials said.
The Justice Department and the CIA inspector general have launched a joint inquiry into whether CIA officials obstructed justice or tampered with evidence by destroying the videotapes after federal courts had ordered the government to preserve materials related to interrogations and when the Sept. 11 commission was seeking information. The House and Senate intelligence committees have announced their own investigations of the tape destruction. Hayden is scheduled to participate in a closed-door hearing before the House panel today.
Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey declined to comment yesterday on the ongoing Justice probe or whether a special prosecutor should be appointed in the case, as was suggested by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and others.
"I think the Justice Department is capable of doing whatever it appears needs to be done," Mukasey said. "The question of a special prosecutor is the most hypothetical of hypotheticals, and that isn't going to be faced until it happens. And if it has to be, it will be."
Mukasey, whose confirmation was nearly undone after he refused to say whether waterboarding is torture, said he is still studying the legal issues.
In a floor speech, Reid said the tape destruction had hurt the country's "moral authority" and said that the "the possibility of obstruction of justice is very real."
Intelligence officials have said that the destruction was ordered in November 2005 by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the CIA's director of clandestine operations, and that CIA lawyers approved the decision. Administration officials have said that Justice Department and White House lawyers, including longtime Bush aide Harriet E. Miers, had recommended against destroying the tapes.
President Bush, echoing previous remarks by his aides, said yesterday that he did not know about the tapes or their destruction until last week. "My first recollection of whether the tapes existed or whether they were destroyed was when Michael Hayden briefed me," Bush said in an interview yesterday with ABC News.
Hayden firmly defended the decision to destroy the tapes in a written message to CIA employees last week, saying that the tapes posed a "serious security risk" and were no longer relevant to any legislative or judicial inquiries.
One administration official said yesterday that Hayden is in a difficult position because "he wasn't at the CIA when the tapes were made, and he wasn't there when they were destroyed; he just gets to clean it up." But the official said that Hayden "thinks it would be less than honorable to throw other people from the CIA, including any predecessors, under a bus."
The disclosure of the destroyed tapes also has led plaintiffs' lawyers and defense attorneys to step up their demands for preservation orders covering interrogation records.
In one case yesterday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the government not to destroy evidence related to the case of Majid Khan, a detainee who was in secret CIA custody for three years and is now at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Khan's attorneys alleged in a court filing two weeks ago that he was tortured and that they feared evidence of his treatment could be destroyed.
Staff writers Joby Warrick and Josh White and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.