WASHINGTON - The CIA yesterday rebutted suggestions it was uncooperative and hid from the Sept. 11 commission the videotaped interrogations of two suspected terrorists, saying it waited until the panel went out of business before destroying the material now in question.
The destruction in late 2005 of the videotapes of two al-Qaeda suspects has upset a federal judge and riled the Democratic-controlled Congress, which has promised an investigation. The Justice Department also is trying to find out what happened and whether laws were broken.
A recent memo by Philip Zelikow, the former executive director of the Sept. 11 commission, suggests the CIA was less than forthcoming when asked for documents and other information from the panel, which investigated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The CIA disputed that characterization and suggested the panel should have requested interrogation tapes specifically if it wanted them.
"The notion that the CIA wasn't cooperative or forthcoming with the 9/11 commission is just plain wrong. It is utterly without foundation," spokesman Mark Mansfield said yesterday.
In a statement e-mailed separately yesterday, Mansfield suggested the commission should have been specific about wanting videotapes.
"Because it was thought the commission could ask about tapes at some point, they were not destroyed while the commission was active," he said. Mansfield, citing similar comments this month by CIA Director Michael Hayden, added that "the tapes were destroyed only when it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries."
Zelikow's memo, dated Dec. 13, reviews the commission's requests for information from the CIA. It cites a Jan. 26, 2004, meeting of commission members and administration officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, at which the government offered to present written questions to the detainees and relay their answers to the commission.
"None of the government officials in any of these 2004 meetings alluded to the existence of recordings of interrogations or any further information in the government's possession that was relevant to the commission's requests," Zelikow wrote.
Near the end of the commission's work, and in response to a request by the commission to all agencies, John McLaughlin, then the deputy CIA director, confirmed on June 29, 2004, that the CIA had "taken and completed all reasonable steps necessary to find the documents in its possession, custody or control responsive" to the commission's formal requests and "has produced or made available for review" all such documents, the memo said.