CIA Tapes Were Kept From 9/11 Panel, Report Says
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Former members and staffers of the 9/11 Commission have concluded that the CIA withheld videotapes of harsh interrogation sessions even after specific and "very detailed" requests about the two prisoners whose tapes were later destroyed, according to a review of classified material by the panel.
A seven-page report for former commission members by the panel's former executive director, Philip Zelikow, says the group made broad initial requests for intelligence information from interrogations, "including repeated requests for very detailed information" about the interrogations and how they were carried out.
The commission also made specific inquiries about the interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda operatives Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, commonly known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the report says. The CIA revealed earlier this month that tapes of those prisoners' interrogations were destroyed in 2005.
"None of the officials involved in these exchanges disclosed the existence of recordings that might have contained facts material to the Commission's questions on these points," according to the report, which was disclosed yesterday by the New York Times.
The Dec. 13 memo essentially confirms earlier complaints that, by withholding and then destroying the tapes, the CIA had not complied with the panel's requests for a broad array of documents and other material about CIA detainees.
At the same time, the memo indicates that the commission did not specifically ask for videotapes, in part because investigators had only "a vague understanding of what to seek" and ran into frequent roadblocks with the agency. CIA officials have said that the tapes were not provided because the commission did not specifically ask for them.
The agency forcefully rejected the memo's conclusions yesterday, saying it cooperated fully with an inquiry that was focused on terrorist plots rather than on interrogation techniques.
"The notion that the CIA wasn't cooperating or forthcoming with the 9/11 Commission is just plain wrong," agency spokesman Mark Mansfield said. "It is utterly without foundation. CIA cooperation and assistance is what enabled the 9/11 Commission to reconstruct the plot in their very comprehensive report."
Agency officials cited the 9/11 panel's effusive praise for the CIA at the time of the inquiry. The 2004 "9/11 Commission Report" commended the CIA for "excellent cooperation," even as the agency was faulted for contributing to intelligence failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Privately, the reaction among CIA officials ranged from surprise to disappointment. It is misleading, one senior intelligence official said, for commission members to suggest now that interrogation techniques were part of the panel's mandate.
"If the commission had wanted to make an issue of how the information was obtained from the detainees -- as opposed to what was learned from them -- they had an opportunity to do so at the time. They didn't do that," the official said. He said the commission's mission was to identify lessons learned from the terrorist attacks and offer recommendations. "It wasn't to investigate interrogation techniques," he said.
Reached by phone yesterday, Zelikow said the memo "speaks for itself," and he dismissed the assertion that the CIA could not have known that the panel's request for information applied to the tapes. "We went out of our way to explain the reach of our requests," said Zelikow, who served as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after working for the commission.
One commission staff member involved in gathering and analyzing material about al-Qaeda said the panel had been frustrated by the lack of available information and made several attempts to press the CIA for more -- in one case, even asking for direct access to the detainees.
"We were interested in everything that had to do with al-Qaeda, and we said so very plainly," said the official, who requested anonymity so he could speak freely. "The requests were certainly targeted at the Zubaida and al-Nashiri interrogations, along with 100 others. They were obliged by law to give us what they had."
The report says that "further investigation is needed to determine whether these nondisclosures violated federal law."
The commission plans to submit its findings to both Congress and to investigators at the Justice Department and the CIA inspector general's office, who are conducting a preliminary inquiry into the tape destruction.
The 10-member, bipartisan 9/11 Commission was created by Congress to investigate the events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, and was given the power to issue subpoenas as part of its mandate. Its 2004 report was a bestseller.