Hayden lays tape blame on others

CIA Director Michael Hayden is briefing lawmakers behind closed doors about the destruction of videotapes showing harsh interrogation of terror suspects but says he can’t answer all their questions.

Hayden told reporters after testifying Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had “a chance to lay out the narrative, the history of why the tapes were destroyed” and the process that led to that decision.

But since the tapes were made under one of his predecessors, George Tenet, and destroyed under another, Porter Goss, he wasn’t able to completely answer all questions, he said.

“Other people in the agency know about this far better than I,” Hayden said, and promised the committee he would make those witnesses available.

A similar session was set for Wednesday, with Hayden scheduled to appear in a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee.

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. As to the CIA videotapes, President Bush said he didn’t know about the tapes or their destruction until last week.

The CIA is known to have waterboarded three prisoners — Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, whom the U.S. government says coordinated the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. 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.

Waterboarding is a harsh interrogation technique that 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.

Hayden told CIA employees last week that the CIA taped the interrogations of two alleged terrorists in 2002. He said the harsh questioning was carried out only after being “reviewed and approved by the Department of Justice and by other elements of the Executive Branch.” Hayden said Congress was notified in 2003 both of the tapes’ existence and the agency’s intent to destroy them.

The CIA destroyed the tapes in November of 2005. Exactly when Congress was notified of that and in what detail is in dispute.