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Lawmakers Investigate CIA Interrogation Tape Disposal

December 11, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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The Senate Intelligence Committee questioned U.S. officials behind closed doors Tuesday about the destruction of CIA tapes of the interrogations of top terror suspects. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., discuss the congressional probe.

GWEN IFILL: The CIA’s disclosure that it destroyed tapes of terror suspects’ interrogations conducted in 2002 is having a domino effect in Washington. The Justice Department and Congress have both launched investigations, and CIA chief Michael Hayden was called to account today on Capitol Hill.

There remain more questions than answers. Here to tackle some of them are two members of Congress with special interest in the topic.

Republican Kit Bond of Missouri is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He attended today’s Hayden briefing. And Democrat Jane Harman of California served eight years on the House Intelligence Committee, including four as its ranking Democrat.

Welcome to you both.

SEN. KIT BOND (R), Missouri: Thank you.

CIA Director Hayden's comments

Sen. Kit Bond
General Hayden was very forthcoming and told us all that he knew based on the records that were available to him.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Bond, you were in the meeting with Michael Hayden today. He has said he's told CIA staff last week that these tapes were destroyed because it was not relevant to any internal, legislative or judicial inquiries. I want to use his words. Are you satisfied with that explanation?

SEN. KIT BOND: Well, General Hayden was very forthcoming and told us all that he knew based on the records that were available to him. He was not there at the time. And we intend to go back and find out more from people who actually were there.

He laid out the case for us that he made in that statement, but I think all of us want to see the congressional inquiries go forward, as well as the Department of Justice inquiry, to see if there was any wrongdoing or if there was any area in which those tapes should have been used but were not available.

GWEN IFILL: Well, General Hayden obviously had reason to say this, Senator, very bluntly last week that there was nothing relevant that was involved in the destruction of these tapes. Did he tell you anything today that you can tell us about that supports that notion?

SEN. KIT BOND: He went into detail on why he felt that was accurate, and that's all I can say.

Tape destruction 'ill-advised'

Rep. Jane Harman
[M]y first reaction is that it was a very bad decision and there will not be a way to explain it away.

GWEN IFILL: OK. Congresswoman Harman, let's talk a little bit more about this. It seems that you have heard the same explanations that General Hayden has made. And you also were a member of the committee at the time when the Congress was apparently briefed on some of this. What is your first reaction?

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), California: Well, my first reaction is that it was a very bad decision and there will not be a way to explain it away. 2005 was a time when both Intelligence Committees were looking at the subject of interrogations policy.

It was a time when the 9/11 Commission was asking the administration for everything relevant to its inquiry. And it was a time when several courts -- federal courts -- were asking for all relevant information from our intelligence community with respect to interrogations.

So that paragraph in General Hayden's letter to his employees of a couple days ago just won't hold up. I agree that he wasn't there, so he can't tell us why the decision was made. But I was briefed on the subject of videotapes and interrogations in February of 2003, when I had just become ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.

And I wrote a letter immediately following that classified briefing that told the agency, told the general counsel of the agency who had briefed me, that I thought it was very ill-advised to destroy any videotapes.

GWEN IFILL: If you can talk about this, because I know some of this is still classified, this exchange between you and the CIA at the time, do you know whether they just ignored you or did they respond?

REP. JANE HARMAN: The response, I learned this weekend. I'd never seen the response. It was just perfunctory, saying, "We've received your letter, and we'll consider it."

My letter is still classified. I have requested that it be declassified. I know that that request is supported by the present chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, so I hope that will happen soon and I can share what were contemporaneous concerns, contemporaneous with my being briefed about videotapes.

And the next thing I learned about this was just several weeks ago, as the story broke in the media. I am no longer a member of the Intelligence Committee. The House Intelligence Committee was informed this summer that the videotapes have been destroyed, but I learned about it just weeks ago, and so obviously my advice was ignored.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Bond, the two individuals involved in these interrogations, one was involved apparently, linked to the 9/11 attacks, the other to the attack on the USS Cole. What would you have liked to have learned from about these two individuals if, say, these tapes had not been destroyed?

SEN. KIT BOND: First, let me say that Mrs. Harman was right in saying that they should not have been destroyed in the incident. Looking back on it, her advice was very good, and it's too bad they did not take that advice.

As I think you indicated, I just became vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, so I missed out on all of these discussions. Our committee was advised about interrogations just about a year ago, and I inquired if they were taping. And they said they were not taping. They did not say in the response to the question that they had taped it.

I think that the question of whether there was any relevance to ongoing prosecutions is something the Department of Justice will have to determine. I think all of us would be interested in having an opportunity to see some of the tapes, although they were very lengthy.

We were told that all of the information on the tapes was thoroughly recorded before they were destroyed. But we have no way of knowing whether the record that was made of those tapes actually did show all of the things that happened.

I would imagine they would cover the information that those two members who were videotaped gave, but whether they would discuss precisely the techniques, I don't know. We have not yet seen.

'Enhanced techniques' vs. torture

Sen. Kit Bond
I think it was a terribly bad idea that in the intelligence authorization bill there was a ban imposed on the CIA using any techniques other than those in the Army Field Manual.

GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about the techniques. Jane Harman, we heard from a former CIA agent during the last 24 hours who says that he took part in some of these "enhanced techniques," was the term he used. Other people call them torture.

You've been paying attention to what this former agent has been saying. Does this confirm your impressions about what the CIA was up to and whether they should have been up to it?

REP. JANE HARMAN: Well, the briefings that I had when I became ranking member were subsequently expanded to the full committee. When General Hayden became CIA director, all members of the committee have been briefed on intelligence matters. Those briefings are highly classified.

My view is that waterboarding, the thing that was described by this fellow who came forward last night on one of the news programs, that waterboarding is torture. John McCain has persuaded me that that's something that we should never do. It hurts our image abroad, and it's not effective.

My view also is that the Senate is right and the House will apparently do this tomorrow to add to the intelligence authorization bills in this cycle the requirement that all interrogation by any government employee conform to the Army Field Manual, that there not be a separate carve-out for the CIA.

I thought that was a mistake when we passed the Military Commissions Act a year or two ago. And I think we should learn by now that we're much better off, having a series of interrogation techniques that conform fully to our federal law against torture and our international obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Senator Bond a little bit about this issue of waterboarding. And let me describe for our viewers first to remind them what it is. It's when there's a piece of cloth that's placed over the mouth of a person who's been strapped down, and water is poured on their face so they feel like they're inhaling water, and it gives a sensation of drowning. Do you think that's torture?

SEN. KIT BOND: First, let me go back and take issue with some of the things that have just been said. Number one, what the CIA is doing is not torture. It conforms to the Detainee Treatment Act, the Geneva Convention, the Convention against Torture. None of these things that are being used, by any stretch of the imagination, could be described as torture.

Now, I think it was a terribly bad idea that in the intelligence authorization bill there was a ban imposed on the CIA using any techniques other than those in the Army Field Manual. The Army Field Manual is meant to advise junior officers in the field who are questioning the people picked up in the field who perhaps have tactical knowledge.

The information in those field manuals are included in all of the al-Qaida training, and they know how to resist those. If we are to get any information from high-value detainees, such as the ones on whose these enhanced techniques were used, then there have to be different techniques.

And I think, as a side note, I think it was absolutely outrageous that a former CIA agent would discuss these kinds of things, because once you describe what techniques are being used, and they are far less serious and threatening than techniques we use on Marines and pilots who go through our training, then the high-value detainees will never speak to us. That's why they used....

GWEN IFILL: I just would like to -- but do you think that waterboarding, as I described it, constitutes torture?

SEN. KIT BOND: There are different ways of doing it. It's like swimming, freestyle, backstroke. The waterboarding could be used almost to define some of the techniques that our trainees are put through, but that's beside the point. It's not being used.

There are some who say that, in extreme circumstances, if there is threat of an imminent major attack on the United States, it might be used, but I certainly would not favor it in any circumstance...

GWEN IFILL: Jane Harman has a chance -- I'm sorry, Jane Harman can respond.

REP. JANE HARMAN: Yes, I think waterboarding -- another name for which is the Chinese water torture -- is torture. And I think that John McCain is right that, if we use it, then it easily can be used against us.

Senator Bond is right that we do do training of troops to resist various kinds of interrogation and pressure. That's a good thing. But my view is that we put our troops at unnecessary risk by using some of these enhanced techniques.

And, finally, they don't work. I mean, the proof is that the best -- the proof that I've seen in my time on the Intelligence Committee -- and, oh, by the way, we asked the government, the White House repeatedly to prove to us that these techniques did work and never got that, so far as I know, that demonstrated -- but the proof I have seen and read about is that the old-fashioned forms of interrogation get the truth.

Things that are more extreme are the ones that get the people being tortured just to say anything to get that treatment to stop.

Preventing further damage

Rep. Jane Harman
I'm worried -- in fact, I think this may turn out to be the case -- that our committees were misled by the agency in 2005 in response to questions that we asked.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you both a final question briefly.

SEN. KIT BOND: May I just comment on that?

GWEN IFILL: Well, certainly. In fact, let me just piggy-back this one final question, too. Since this is really about destruction of records, Senator Bond, are you confident, as you answered the other question, that records are now being preserved that need to be preserved?

SEN. KIT BOND: We've certainly made that point.

Now, with respect to the enhanced techniques, that's setting waterboarding aside, they have said that enhanced techniques on the high-value targets, the al-Qaida kingpins, who know all the plans, who know who the operatives are, are the one thing that have been able to get them significant amounts of information.

The most fruitful form of interrogation come after those techniques are used, not during the use of those techniques, when the high-value detainees are willing to talk.

GWEN IFILL: Jane Harman, finally, are you confident that those records are now being preserved, the records that should be preserved?

REP. JANE HARMAN: I surely hope so. But I'm worried -- in fact, I think this may turn out to be the case -- that our committees were misled by the agency in 2005 in response to questions that we asked. If that turns out to be the case, that is a very serious thing that happened.

I'd just like, finally, to say that I've heard the same things that Senator Bond has heard about the use of these techniques, but I'd like some corroboration of that. I think we could have gotten and should get accurate information from those we detain, especially high-value targets, by using techniques that are consistent with our values.

GWEN IFILL: Jane Harman and Kit Bond, thank you both very much.

SEN. KIT BOND: Thank you.

REP. JANE HARMAN: Thank you.

SEN. KIT BOND: Thanks very much.