CIA intentionally impeded Sept. 11 inquiry, officials say

The commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks made repeated and detailed requests to the Central Intelligence Agency for information about the interrogation of operatives of Al Qaeda

CIA intentionally impeded Sept. 11 inquiry, officials say

And was told by a top official that the CIA had "produced or made available for review" everything requested, according to a new review of classified documents by commission members.The review was conducted this month after the disclosure that in November 2005, the CIA destroyed videotapes documenting the interrogations of two operatives from Al Qaeda, well after the commission made its requests in 2003 and 2004.

A seven-page memorandum prepared by Philip Zelikow, who was the panel's executive director, concluded that "further investigation is needed" to determine whether the CIA's withholding of the tapes from the commission violated federal law.

In interviews in the past week, the chairman of the commission, Thomas Kean, and its vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, said their reading of the report had convinced them that the agency had made a conscious decision to impede the Sept. 11 commission's inquiry.

Kean said the panel would provide Zelikow's memorandum to the federal prosecutors and congressional investigators who are trying to determine whether the destruction of the tapes or withholding them from the courts and the commission was proper.

A CIA spokesman said that the agency had been prepared to give the Sept. 11 commission the interrogation videotapes but that the commission's staff members never specifically asked for interrogation videos. The commission concluded its work in June 2004, and in its final report, it praised several agencies, including the CIA, for their assistance.

The review by Zelikow does not assert that the commission specifically asked for videotapes, but it quotes from formal requests by the commission to the CIA that sought "documents," "reports" and "information" related to the interrogations.

Kean, a Republican, said of the agency's decision not to disclose the existence of the videotapes, "I don't know whether that's illegal or not, but it's certainly wrong." Hamilton, a Democrat, said the CIA had "clearly obstructed" the commission's investigation.

A copy of the memorandum, dated Dec. 13, was obtained by a reporter. Among the statements that it suggests were misleading was an assertion made on June 29, 2004, by John McLaughlin, deputy director of central intelligence, that the CIA "has taken and completed all reasonable steps necessary to find the documents in its possession, custody or control responsive" to formal requests by the commission and "has produced or made available for review" all such documents.

Both Kean and Hamilton expressed anger after it was revealed this month that the tapes had been destroyed. However, the report by Zelikow gives them new evidence to buttress their views about the CIA's actions and is likely to put new pressure on the administration of President George W. Bush over its handling of the matter. Zelikow served as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2005 to the end of 2006.

In an interview on Friday, McLaughlin said that agency officials had always been candid with members of the commission and that information from the CIA proved central to their work.

"We weren't playing games with them, and we weren't holding anything back," he said.

The memorandum recounts a December 2003 meeting between Kean, Hamilton and George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence. At the meeting, it says, Hamilton told Tenet that the CIA should provide all relevant documents "even if the commission had not specifically asked for them."

According to the memorandum, Tenet responded by alluding to several documents that he thought would be helpful to the commission but made no mention of existing videotapes of interrogations.

The memorandum does not draw any conclusions about whether the withholding of the videotapes was unlawful, but it notes that federal law penalizes anyone who "knowingly and willfully" withholds or "covers up" a "material fact" from a federal inquiry or makes "any materially false statement" to investigators.

Mark Mansfield, spokesman for the CIA, said that it had gone to "great lengths" to meet the commission's requests and that commission members had been provided with detailed information obtained from interrogations of detainees.

"Because it was thought the commission could ask about the tapes at some point, they were not destroyed while the commission was active," Mansfield said.

Intelligence officials have said that the tapes that were destroyed documented hundreds of hours of interrogations during 2002 of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, two people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda who were taken into CIA custody that year.

According to the memorandum from Zelikow, the commission's interest in obtaining accounts from Al Qaeda detainees in CIA custody grew out of its attempt to reconstruct the events leading up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Its requests for documents from the CIA began in June 2003, when it first sought intelligence reports describing information obtained from prisoner interrogations, the memorandum said. It later made specific requests for documents, reports and information related to the interrogations of specific prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah and Nashiri.

In December 2003, the commission staff sought permission to interview the prisoners themselves but was permitted instead to give questions to CIA interrogators, who then posed the questions to the detainees.

Abbe Lowell, a veteran Washington lawyer who has defended clients accused of making false statements and of contempt of Congress, said the question of whether the agency had broken the law by omitting mention of the videotapes was "pretty complex" but said he "wouldn't rule it out."

Because the requests were not subpoenas issued by a court or Congress, CIA officials could not be held in contempt for failing to respond fully to them, Lowell said. Apart from that, however, it is a crime to make a false statement "in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch."

The Sept. 11 commission received its authority from both the White House and Congress.

On Friday, the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Michael Mukasey, the attorney general, and to Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, asking them to preserve and produce to the committee all remaining video and audio recordings of "enhanced interrogations" of detainees in U.S. custody.

The chairman, Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and ranking minority member, Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, asked for an extensive search of the White House, CIA and other intelligence agencies to determine whether any other recordings existed of interrogation techniques "including but not limited to waterboarding."

Government officials have said that the videos destroyed in 2005 were the only recordings of interrogations made by CIA operatives, although in September government lawyers notified a federal judge in Virginia that the agency had recently found three audio and video recordings of detainees.

Intelligence officials have said that those tapes were made not by the CIA but by foreign intelligence services.

IHT

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Aralık 2007, 14:35
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