I don’t recall – that sounds familiar

From cnn.com – Hey, it worked for Ronald Regan….

WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. President George W. Bush “has no
recollection” of videotapes of CIA interrogations of some al Qaeda
suspects or of plans to destroy the tapes, a White House spokeswoman
said.

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CIA Director Michael Hayden says congressional leaders were told about the tapes.

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Bush and Vice
President Cheney learned about videotaped interrogations of some al
Qaeda suspects on Thursday, when CIA Director Michael Hayden briefed
them about the existence of the tapes and their subsequent destruction,
administration officials said Friday.

The interrogations —
using newly approved “alternative” interrogation techniques — of two
al Qaeda suspects were recorded in 2002, Hayden said Thursday in a
letter to CIA employees. They were destroyed three years later when the
agency determined they had no intelligence value and could pose a
security risk, he said.

“I spoke to the president this morning
about this,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “He has no
recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction
before yesterday. He was briefed by General Hayden yesterday morning.”

The vice president learned about the tapes and their destruction at the same time, another administration official told CNN.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut, said that was “stretching credulity.”

“There’s something going on here,” Dodd, a candidate for the Democratic
presidential nomination, said on CNN’s “The Situation Room. “We’re not
getting the full story, hence the reason why there should be an
investigation. It goes to the heart of our national security, our
protection, our safety, our isolation in the world. That’s why this is
so important.”

Later Friday, two senior administration officials told CNN that
then-deputy White House counsel Harriet Miers was aware of the tapes
and told the CIA not to destroy them.

The officials, who spoke
on the condition of anonymity because of potential investigations on
the matter, said they believe this is “exculpatory” for the White House
because it shows a top official had told the CIA not to destroy the
tapes. The officials also said the information about the tapes was not
relayed to the president until this week.

Democrats reacted
strongly to the news of the existence of the tapes and their subsequent
destruction, particularly given the continuing controversy over use of
harsh interrogation techniques — believed to include waterboarding, a
technique that involves restraining a suspect and pouring water on him
to produce the sensation of drowning — and whether they constitute
torture.

“It is a startling disclosure,” Sen. Richard Durbin,
D-Illinois, said Friday on the Senate floor. “The United States of
America — a nation where the rule of law is venerated — has now been
in the business of destroying evidence. Evidence of a very sensitive
nature — evidence which clearly should have been protected for legal
and historic purposes.”

Durbin said he was sending a letter to
Attorney General Michael Mukasey calling for an investigation into
whether any laws were broken by “CIA officials who covered up the
existence of these videotapes.”

The Justice Department later
said it had received Durbin’s letter, but would not comment other than
to say it had begun gathering facts. Sen. Edward Kennedy,
D-Massachusetts, joined Durbin’s call for an investigation.

Democrat disputes CIA chief’s account

In his letter to CIA employees, Hayden wrote that the leaders of the
CIA’s congressional oversight committees were informed of the videos
“years ago” along with the agency’s intent to destroy them.

But Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, — who was the ranking Democrat on
the House Intelligence Committee when the tapes were made and when they
were destroyed — told CNN that was “not true.”

Harman said
she’d attended a classified briefing in 2003 that “raised some concerns
in my mind,” prompting her to send a classified letter to the CIA’s
general counsel.

“Obviously they both remain classified,” she
said, “but I have raised with the CIA my view that no videotape should
be destroyed. Let me just leave it there. …

“Segue to two
years later, we have now learned that the tapes have been destroyed,”
she said. “I was still the ranking member of the committee, (and) no
one ever informed me that tapes were being destroyed.”

Former
Rep. Porter Goss, R-Florida — who was head of the CIA when the tapes
were destroyed — was told about the tapes when he served as chairman
of the House Intelligence Committee, a former intelligence official
told CNN. The official said that Goss agreed with Harman that the tapes
should not be destroyed and, when he became director of the agency in
2004, he let “the appropriate people” know his opinion.

The
official said Goss was unhappy when he learned after the fact that the
tapes were destroyed. Goss resigned in May 2006; Hayden was his
successor.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, currently the ranking
Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, was chairman of the
committee after Goss joined the CIA until the Democrats won control of
the House last year, covering the time when the tapes were destroyed.
He told CNN he was never briefed about the tapes’ existence or their
destruction.

Other senators and representatives added their
voices to the calls for investigations, including House Judiciary
Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Michigan; Sen. Carl Levin,
D-Michigan; and presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware. And
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, a member of the Senate
Intelligence Committee, said that panel “will be doing their own
investigation.”

Daniel Marcus, who was general counsel for the
9/11 commission investigating lapses in intelligence and security prior
to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, said the commission was not
informed about the videotapes and that the decision to destroy them
“reflected very bad judgment.”

Tapes were ‘an internal check,’ chief says

Osama bin Laden lieutenant Zubayda was one of two al Qaeda suspects
whose interrogations were videotaped, according to a government
official with knowledge of the tapes.

A government official with
knowledge of the CIA’s interrogation practices described the detention
and interrogation program as “very tightly held.” This was a “highly
compartmentalized program,” the official said. “Relatively few” people
had “knowledge of or access to” the tapes even within the agency.

Hayden, who was not CIA director at the time of either the
interrogations or their destruction, said in his letter to CIA
employees that the tapes were made as “an internal check” on the CIA’s
use of harsh interrogation techniques, which, he said, became necessary
after Zubayda’s “defiant and evasive” response to “normal questioning.”

John McLaughlin, who was deputy CIA director when the tapes were made,
told CNN he and then-CIA Director George Tenet were told the
interrogations were being taped after they had already begun. He said
the reasons for the taping were consistent with what Hayden said in his
letter. Neither McLaughlin, now a CNN analyst, nor Tenet were with the
agency when the tapes were destroyed.

Hayden said the tapes were
viewed in 2003 by the Office of the General Counsel and the Office of
the Inspector General, both of which said the interrogation techniques
used were lawful.

The agency made the decision to destroy the
tapes “only after it was determined they were no longer of intelligence
value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial
inquiries,” Hayden said.

“Beyond their lack of intelligence
value — as the interrogation sessions had already been exhaustively
detailed in written channels — and the absence of any legal or
internal reason to keep them, the tapes posed a serious security risk,”
Hayden said. “Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification
of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and
their families to retaliation from al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”

Levin called the security risk concern “a pathetic excuse.”

“They’d have to burn every document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory,” he said.

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Hayden, in his letter, said he was
providing the background information to CIA employees because he
expected possible “misinterpretations of the facts in the days ahead.”

Current and former government officials said that Jose Rodriguez, head
of the CIA’s clandestine service at the time, authorized the tapes’
destruction. Rodriguez, who resigned from the agency earlier this year,
was not immediately available for comment. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN’s Pam Benson, Kathleen Koch and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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