WASHINGTON The CIA failed to fully inform Congress that it was videotaping the harsh interrogations of terrorist suspects and that it destroyed the tapes in 2005, the bipartisan leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday.
"Our committee was not informed, has not been kept informed, and we are very frustrated about that issue," said Chairman Sylvestre Reyes, D-Texas, after a three-hour closed-door meeting with CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden. That meeting, he said, "is just the first step in what we feel is going to be a long-term investigation."
That probe will include calling other witnesses, including Hayden predecessors George Tenet and Porter Goss, and John Negroponte, the former Director of National Intelligence, said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the panel's senior Republican. Reyes said he would also call on Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA director of operations who actually had the tapes destroyed.
Hayden acknowledged that "particularly at the time of the destruction we could have done an awful lot better at keeping the committee alerted and informed."
Hayden said he learned of the terrorist interrogation videotapes more than a year ago in his tenure as principal deputy director of national intelligence, a post he held from April 2005 to May 2006. He said he did not know that the tapes were being destroyed.
"I did not personally know before they were destroyed, not at all," he said after the briefing. "I was aware of the existence of the tapes but really didn't become focused on it until the summer of '06."
Reyes said the House committee would conduct a long-term investigation.
"It's probably going to take several months to get all the information," Reyes said.
Reyes said some members of the committee found parts of Hayden's briefing "stunning."
Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the committee, said the panel will also look into the White House's interrogation policy and whether the intelligence agency followed it.
Hayden made a similar appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, but said he could not answer all the panel's questions because the tapes were created and destroyed before he arrived at the CIA, under the tenure of his predecessors Tenet and Goss.
"Other people in the agency know about this far better than I," Hayden said, and promised the committee he would make those witnesses available.
Hayden told CIA employees last week that the videotapes, made in 2002, showed the CIA's interrogations of two terror suspects. The CIA destroyed the tapes in 2005. The tapes were made to document how CIA officers were using new, harsh questioning techniques recently approved by the White House to force recalcitrant prisoners to talk.
They show the interrogations of Abu Zubayda and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee taken by the CIA in 2002, is now being held with other detainees at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He told his interrogators about alleged 9/11 accomplice Ramzi Binalshibh, and the two men's confessions also led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who the U.S. government said was the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Al-Nashiri is the alleged coordinator of the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors. He is also now at Guantanamo.
The CIA has not described exactly what was shown on all the tapes. However, among the harsh interrogation techniques the White House approved in 2002 was waterboarding.
Waterboarding involves strapping down a prisoner, covering his mouth with plastic or cloth and pouring water over his face. The prisoner quickly begins to inhale water, causing the sensation of drowning.
The CIA is known to have waterboarded three prisoners Abu Zubaydah, Al-Nashiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The CIA has not used the technique since 2003, according to a government official familiar with the program. Hayden prohibited waterboarding in 2006. The U.S. military outlawed it the same year.
The CIA destroyed the videotapes in November of 2005. Exactly when Congress was notified of that and in what detail is in dispute.
President Bush said he didn't know about the tapes or their destruction until last week.