Probe begins over destroyed interrogation tapes

/ Source: NBC News and news services

The CIA announced Saturday that the Justice Department and the CIA's internal watchdog have "initiated a preliminary inquiry" into the destruction of interrogation videos of two al-Qaida operatives.

The preliminary inquiry will be used to to gather initial facts needed to determine if a full investigation is warranted, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said in an e-mailed statement.

"I welcome this inquiry and the CIA will cooperate fully," CIA Director Mike Hayden said in a statement. "I welcome it as an opportunity to address questions that have arisen over the destruction back in 2005 of videotapes."

Hayden told agency employees Thursday that the recordings were destroyed out of fear the tapes would leak and reveal the identities of interrogators.

He said the sessions were videotaped to provide an added layer of legal protection for interrogators using new, harsh methods authorized by President Bush as a way to break down the defenses of recalcitrant prisoners.

The CIA's acting general counsel, John Rizzo, is preserving all remaining records related to the videotapes and their destruction, according to Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general.

Justice Department officials, lawyers from the CIA general counsel's office and the CIA inspector general will meet early this coming week to begin the preliminary inquiry, Wainstein wrote Rizzo on Saturday.

"I understand that your office has already reviewed the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the videotapes, as well as the existence of any pending relevant investigations or other preservation obligations at the time the destruction occurred. As a first step in our inquiry, I ask that you provide us the substance of that review at the meeting," Wainstein wrote.

Congressional Democrats had demanded that the Justice Department investigate. Some accused the CIA of a cover-up and described the CIA's explanation as "a pathetic excuse."