(CBS/AP) High-ranking Senate Democrats said Friday they would launch a Congressional investigation into the CIA's decision to destroy videotapes showing the interrogation of two key terror suspects in 2002.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. said he would call for an investigation on the Senate floor later Friday.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, said he would likely launch a congressional probe into the destroyed tapes before the end of the year. Rockefeller added that he would probably schedule a hearing calling members of the Bush administration next week.
CIA Director Michael Hayden told agency employees that the tapes had been destroyed because it was feared that keeping them "posed a security risk".
Hayden's became public Thursday and it caused a commotion on Capitol Hill and among human rights advocates. One leading rights group said the tapes destruction amounted to an effort by the Bush administration to "obstruct accountability for human rights violations".
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., also a senior ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, said Friday the tapes did not need to be destroyed to protect the identity of CIA agents, as claimed by Hayden. Bond suggested the agent's faces could simply have been blacked-out on the videos.
Coming to the agency chief's defense, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Friday that President Bush supported Hayden's decision to destroy the tapes.
Mr. Bush "has complete confidence in Gen. Hayden," Perino said, reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller.
Perino said the president has no recollection of hearing about the tapes before being briefed by Hayden on Thursday.
Hayden said the CIA's internal watchdog had watched the tapes in 2003 and verified that the interrogation practices were legal. Hayden said the tapes were destroyed three years after the 2002 interrogations.
Jane Harman, then the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was one of only four members of Congress in 2003 informed of the tapes' existence and the CIA's intention to ultimately destroy them.
"I told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad idea and urged them in writing not to do it," Harman said. While key lawmakers were briefed on the CIA's intention to destroy the tapes, they were not notified two years later when the spy agency actually carried out the plan. The Senate Intelligence Committee's Democratic chairman, Jay Rockefeller, said the committee only learned of the tapes' destruction in November 2006.
Republican Pete Hoekstra, who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from August 2004 until the end of 2006, said through a spokesman that he does not remember being informed of the videotaping program.
"Congressman Hoekstra does not recall ever being told of the existence or destruction of these tapes," said Jamal D. Ware, senior adviser to the committee. "He believes that Director Hayden is being generous in his claim that the committee was informed. He believes the committee should have been fully briefed and consulted on how this was handled."
Jennifer Daskal, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch, said that destroying the tapes was illegal. "Basically this is destruction of evidence," she said, calling Hayden's explanation that the tapes were destroyed to protect CIA identities "disingenuous."
The CIA only taped the interrogation of the first two terror suspects the agency held, one of whom was Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah, under harsh questioning, told CIA interrogators about alleged 9/11 accomplice Ramzi Binalshibh, President Bush said publicly in 2006.
Binalshibh, seen at left, was captured and interrogated and, with Zubaydah's information, authorities in 2003 captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the purported mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
Hayden said that a secondary reason for the taped interrogations was to have backup documentation of the information gathered.
"The agency soon determined that its documentary reporting was full and exacting, removing any need for tapes. Indeed, videotaping stopped in 2002," Hayden said.
Amnesty International, another prominent global human rights organization that regularly criticizes the U.S. government's secret detention and interrogation practices, also sharply criticized the tapes destruction Friday.
Amnesty spokesman Rob Freer told CBS News reporter Larry Miller, "It falls into a pattern of measures that have been taken that obstruct accountability for human rights violations."
"Taped evidence of an interrogation is, of course, powerful evidence if what is being done to the person amounts to torture. We are concerned that the tapes may have depicted some form of torture or other ill treatment," said Freer.
President Bush and other senior officials have repeatedly said that America "does not torture," but Freer argues that the administration is playing semantics. "It says it doesn't torture but it's using its own definitions of what is torture and what is not torture," he told Miller.
"The U.S. government is under obligation to investigate all allegations of torture and other ill treatment... To destroy a tape which may be evidence of such things obviously goes directly against those obligations," said Freer.
The CIA is known to have waterboarded three prisoners since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but not since 2003. Hayden banned the use of the procedure in 2006, according to knowledgeable officials.
The disclosure of the tapes' destruction came on the same day the House and Senate intelligence committees agreed to legislation prohibiting the CIA from using "enhanced interrogation techniques." The White House Thursday threatened to veto the bill.
Hayden's message to CIA employees was an attempt to get ahead of a New York Times story about the videotapes.
"What matters here is that it was done in line with the law," Hayden said. "Over the course of its life, the agency's interrogation program has been of great value to our country. It has helped disrupt terrorist operations and save lives. It was built on a solid foundation of legal review. It has been conducted with careful supervision. If the story of these tapes is told fairly, it will underscore those facts."
The CIA says the tapes were destroyed late in 2005, a year marked by increasing pressure from defense attorneys to obtain videotapes of detainee interrogations. The scandal over harsh treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had focused public attention on interrogation techniques.
Beginning in 2003, attorneys for al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui began seeking videotapes of interrogations they believed might help them show their client was not a part of the 9/11 attacks. These requests heated up in 2005 as the defense slowly learned the identities of more detainees in U.S. custody.
In May 2005, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered the government to disclose whether interrogations were recorded. The government objected to that order, and the judge modified it on Nov. 3, 2005, to ask for confirmation of whether the government "has video or audio tapes of these interrogations" and then named specific ones. Eleven days later, the government denied it had video or audio tapes of those specific interrogations.
Last month, the CIA admitted to Brinkema and a circuit judge that it had failed to hand over tapes of enemy combatant witnesses. Those interrogations were not part of the CIA's detention program and were not conducted or recorded by the agency, the agency said.
"The CIA did not say to the court in its original filing that it had no terrorist tapes at all. It would be wrong to assert that," CIA spokesman George Little said.
The 9/11 Commission referenced the 2002 interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Binalshibh multiple times throughout its report, but cited written documents and audiotapes only.
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