The CIA’s internal watchdog and the US Justice Department have announced a joint inquiry into the spy agency’s destruction of videotaped interrogations of two suspected terrorists. The review will determine whether a full investigation is warranted.
“I welcome this inquiry and the CIA will cooperate fully,” CIA Director Michael Hayden said in a statement on Saturday. “I welcome it as an opportunity to address questions that have arisen over the destruction back in 2005 of videotapes.”
The House Intelligence Committee is launching its own inquiry next week. It will investigate not only why the tapes were destroyed and Congress was not notified, but also the interrogation methods that “if released, had the potential to do such grave damage to the United States of America,” said Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes on Saturday.
“This administration cannot be trusted to police itself,” said Reyes, a Democrat.
The Senate Intelligence committee will also probe the matter. Hayden told agency employees on Thursday that the recordings were destroyed out of fear the tapes would leak and reveal the identities of interrogators. He said the sessions were videotaped to provide an added layer of legal protection for interrogators using new, harsh methods authorized by President George W. Bush as a way to break down the defenses of recalcitrant prisoners.
The CIA’s acting general counsel, John Rizzo, is preserving all remaining records related to the videotapes and their destruction, according to Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general. Justice Department officials, lawyers from the CIA general counsel’s office and the CIA inspector general will meet early this coming week to begin the preliminary inquiry, Wainstein wrote Rizzo on Saturday.
“I understand that your office has already reviewed the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the videotapes, as well as the existence of any pending relevant investigations or other preservation obligations at the time the destruction occurred. As a first step in our inquiry, I ask that you provide us the substance of that review at the meeting,” Wainstein wrote. The White House had no immediate comment on the decision. On Friday, presidential spokesperson Dana Perino said the White House would support Attorney General Michael Mukasey if he decided to investigate.
Angry congressional Democrats had demanded the Justice Department investigate. Some accused the CIA of a cover-up.
The man now at the center of the storm is Jose Rodriguez, who retired as head of the CIA’s clandestine directorate of operations in August 2007, but will leave the agency at the end of the year. Rodriguez decided the tapes should be destroyed, said one former and one current intelligence official. A career spy, Rodriguez was promoted to the job by then-CIA director Porter Goss.
Goss learned of the tapes’ destruction “a couple of days” after it happened, a government official familiar with the events said. The official said Goss did not order an investigation or inform Congress.