By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Congress was not fully informed about the videotaping of harsh interrogation methods used on two al-Qaeda terrorism suspects in 2002 or the destruction of those tapes three years later, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.
"We could have done an awful lot better in keeping the committee alerted and informed as to that activity," Hayden said after a meeting of the House intelligence committee.
Hayden disclosed the existence of the videotapes in a letter to CIA personnel last week, contending then that "the leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the agency's intention to dispose of the material."
But Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), the committee chairman, told reporters after a three-hour session behind closed doors that "we feel, on a bipartisan level, that our committee . . . has not been kept informed, and we are very frustrated about that issue."
Reyes and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Mich.), the ranking Republican on the panel, said the committee's investigation into the harsh interrogation methods used on terrorism suspects Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, commonly known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri would take months. They said they would bring in a list of witnesses that includes former CIA clandestine-service head Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who allegedly ordered the tapes destroyed, and other former senior officials including George J. Tenet, who was CIA director when the tapes were made, and former congressman Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), who led the agency when they were destroyed.
The committee also intends to question Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, who was director of national intelligence when the tapes were destroyed.
One question still to be explored is whether records of the interrogations exist. Senior intelligence officials have said in interviews that no transcripts were made, and Hoekstra said after yesterday's session that "there may not be transcripts."
But he also said that "there is a full explanation of exactly what happened in the interrogation sessions" and that Hayden said "those documents will be made available for the committee to review."
Hayden said that there were "cables that came back from the [interrogation] site." These were messages that are the basis for Hayden's statement last week that "the interrogations had already been exhaustively detailed in written channels," a senior intelligence official said yesterday.
The destruction of the tapes has set off a flurry of activity in federal courts, where several judges had previously ordered the CIA to preserve records related to interrogations. Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in federal court in New York seeking a contempt finding against the CIA, alleging that the tape destruction violated a court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Also yesterday, 28 retired generals and admirals wrote to the House and Senate intelligence committees urging them to require the CIA to abandon harsh interrogation techniques. Among the signers were two retired Army generals who investigated the Abu Ghraib detainee abuses in Iraq, Gen. Paul J. Kern and Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. They called the CIA's secret set of rules "unwise and impractical."
Staff writers Dan Eggen and Josh White contributed to this report.