Congress Calls for Hearings About CIA Tapes

It was the second bombshell of the week from the U.S. intelligence community: The CIA acknowledged that in 2005, it destroyed two videotapes showing harsh interrogation techniques used against al-Qaida suspects.

The CIA director told agency employees about it Thursday as the New York Times was about to break the story. On Friday, lawmakers in Washington called for an investigation, and civil rights groups said the government may have destroyed key evidence for ongoing terrorism cases.

The saga of the destroyed videotapes begins in 2002 at an undisclosed detention center. That's where the CIA videotaped its agents interrogating two al-Qaida suspects, including Abu Zubaydah. He's suspected of being an al-Qaida recruiter and an organizer of the Sept. 11 attacks. The interrogators used techniques believed to have included waterboarding.

The following year, in a classified briefing, the CIA told three top members of the House and Senate intelligence committees about the interrogation tapes. But the CIA never told the 9/11 Commission that the tapes existed, even though that panel had asked for everything relevant to its probe.

In 2005, lawyers for suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui formally requested transcripts of CIA interrogation sessions, but they were never told about the tapes. Then, sometime that same year, both tapes were destroyed on orders from the head of the CIA's clandestine service.

CIA Director Michael Hayden says that Congress was told in advance that the tapes would be destroyed, but only Thursday did he reveal their fate publicly.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday that that's when President Bush found out about the tapes.

"He has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday," Perino said. "He was briefed by Gen. Hayden yesterday morning."

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill defended the CIA Friday.

"There is nothing inherently sinister about it," said Christopher Bond of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee.

The chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), contradicted Hayden's contention that Congress had been told that the tapes would be destroyed.

"They destroyed it without letting us know, without asking our permission, without asking consulting, without informing us in any way, and they just did what the CIA likes to do," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller told NPR that he's inclined to have his committee begin an investigation. The Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, called for a Justice Department probe.

"Today I'll be sending a letter to Attorney General [Michael] Mukasey, calling on him for an official investigation of whether there was destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice in the destruction of these videotapes on the interrogation of detainees," he said. "This is not an issue that can be ignored."

Democrats on the House Judiciary panel sent their own letter Friday to the CIA director, demanding explanations.

Timeline: CIA and Interrogation Videotapes

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) i i

The CIA in 2003 informed Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) — shown at a Capitol Hill press conference in May — of the tapes' existence. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images
Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA)

The CIA in 2003 informed Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) — shown at a Capitol Hill press conference in May — of the tapes' existence.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) i i

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said panel members learned of the tapes' destruction in November 2006. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said panel members learned of the tapes' destruction in November 2006.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
CIA Director Michael Hayden i i

CIA Director Michael Hayden, shown at a House Intelligence Committee in January, recently told agency employees that the CIA destroyed videotapes it made in 2002 of two top terrorism suspects because it was afraid that keeping them "posed a security risk." Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Win McNamee/Getty Images
CIA Director Michael Hayden

CIA Director Michael Hayden, shown at a House Intelligence Committee in January, recently told agency employees that the CIA destroyed videotapes it made in 2002 of two top terrorism suspects because it was afraid that keeping them "posed a security risk."

Win McNamee/Getty Images

News that the CIA made and then destroyed videotapes of al-Qaida suspects undergoing harsh interrogations while in agency custody seemed to have come out of nowhere. However, the story has been unfolding for years, though largely out of public view. The controversy over the tapes spans several countries and involves Congress, federal prosecutors and the top leadership of the CIA.

Here are some of the key moments.

March 2002: Terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah, allegedly a high-ranking member of al-Qaida, is captured in Pakistan and flown to an undisclosed CIA detention center. Zubaydah is said to be an organizer of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a tcaop al-Qaida recruiter. The Bush administration portrays his capture as a major breakthrough.

2002: Abu Zubaydah and at least one other al-Qaida member are subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, possibly including waterboarding (controlled drowning), by their CIA captors. The agency videotapes several of these interrogations, partly to ensure that the techniques used are legal and partly to provide backup documentation of the information collected, according to CIA officials.

2003: The CIA's internal watchdog watches the videotapes and verifies that the interrogation practices were legal, according to CIA director Michael Hayden.

Also in 2003, the CIA informs Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and two other members of Congress of the tapes' existence.

August 2004: The 9/11 Commission completes its work on the terror attacks and the U.S. government's response to it. The commission had requested all relevant information from the CIA. But it never received videotapes of CIA interrogations conducted in 2002. An agency spokesman says the CIA "went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 Commission" and preserved the tapes in case the commission asked for them specifically.

2005: Lawyers representing terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui make formal requests to the CIA for transcripts and other documentary evidence of the interrogation of agency prisoners. CIA lawyers tell prosecutors that the agency did not have such recordings.

Later in 2005, the CIA destroys at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two al-Qaida suspects in the agency's custody. The tapes showed CIA employees subjecting the suspects to harsh interrogation techniques. The tapes were reportedly destroyed at the request of Jose Rodriguez, then head of the agency's Directorate of Operations, its clandestine service.

November 2006: The Senate Intelligence Committee learns of the tapes' destruction, according to committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

December 2007: CIA Director Michael Hayden tells agency employees that the CIA destroyed videotapes it made in 2002 of two top terrorism suspects because it was afraid that keeping them "posed a security risk." If the tapes had become public, they would have exposed CIA officials "and their families to retaliation from al-Qaida and its sympathizers." Hayden makes the announcement hours after The New York Times informs the agency of its intention to publish a report about the tapes. Human rights groups and some members of Congress express outrage, accusing the agency of "destroying evidence." The Senate's second-ranking Democrat, Richard Durbin of Illinois, asks the Justice Department to investigate whether the CIA obstructed justice by destroying the videotapes.