Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission
President Bush does not recall being told of the destruction of CIA videotapes that showed the interrogation of al-Qaida leader Abu Zubaydah and another suspect, the White House said in a statement on Friday.
Press secretary Dana Perino said she had spoken to the president and "He has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday" when he was briefed by Hayden, she said.
Meanwhile, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the CIA obstructed justice by destroying the videotapes that documented the harsh 2002 interrogations of the alleged terrorists.
The White House reaction comes a day after CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden told agency employees the tapes were destroyed in 2005. Members of Congress, human rights groups and lawyers for accused terrorists said the tapes may have been key evidence to claims that the U.S. government had illegally authorized torture.
In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois asked for an investigation of "whether CIA officials who destroyed these videotapes and withheld information about their existence from official proceedings violated the law."
In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin dismissed the CIA's explanation that it was trying to protect the identities of the interrogators. "We know that it is possible and, in fact, easy to cover the faces" of those who appear on camera, Durbin said.
"This is not an issue that can be ignored."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said his committee would conduct a full review of the matter. Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) also called for a full investigation.
"We've got to really clean house here and get to the bottom of what's been going on," she said Friday.
The CIA taped the interrogation of the first two terrorism suspects the agency held, one of whom was Abu Zubaydah, a top al-Qaida leader. President Bush said publicly in 2006 that Zubaydah told CIA interrogators about alleged Sept. 11 accomplice Ramzi Binalshibh.
CIA Director Michael Hayden, in a message to agency employees Thursday, said that House and Senate intelligence committee leaders had been informed of the existence of the tapes and the CIA's intention to destroy them to protect the identities of the questioners.
He said the interrogations were legal, and said the tapes were not relevant to "any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries."
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which coordinates the work of all attorneys representing U.S. prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, says the CIA may have destroyed crucial evidence that a court said it was entitled to in 2004.
The group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 2004 that has forced the Defense Department and other government agencies to release thousands of documents.
The tapes were destroyed at a time when there was increasing pressure from defense attorneys to obtain videotapes of detainee interrogations. The 2004 scandal over the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had focused public attention on interrogation techniques. The tapes also were not provided to the 9/11 Commission, which relied heavily on intelligence reports about Zubaydah and Binalshibh's 2002 interrogations.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the agency did not subvert the Sept. 11 commission's work.
"The agency went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 Commission. In fact, because it was thought the commission could ask about tapes at some point, they were not destroyed while the commission was active," he said.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press