WASHINGTON - Congress was not fully informed about the videotaping of harsh interrogation methods used on two al-Qaeda 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 three-hour, closed-door meeting with the House intelligence committee.
Hayden disclosed the existence of the tapes in a letter to CIA personnel last week, saying 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."
Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes (D., Texas) said after the session with Hayden 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 of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the panel, said the committee's investigation into the interrogation methods used on terror suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri would take months.
They said they would bring in witnesses including former CIA clandestine-service head Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who allegedly ordered the tapes destroyed, and other former senior officials, among them George Tenet, CIA director when the tapes were made, and Tenet's successor, Porter Goss, who led the agency at the time they were destroyed.
The committee also intends to question Deputy Secretary of State John 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 had said "those documents will be made available for the committee to review."
Hayden said there were "cables that came back from the [interrogation] site." These messages were 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 tapes' destruction has set off activity in federal courts, where several judges previously had 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 Kern and Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. They called the CIA's secret set of rules "unwise and impractical."