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CIA Briefs Congress on Destruction of Interrogation Tapes

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael Hayden, briefed members of Congress Tuesday about the CIA's decision to destroy videotapes of terror suspect interrogations. His appearance on Capitol Hill comes as a former CIA officer says interrogators had used the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, which he believes amounts to torture. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

CIA Director Michael Hayden met with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss his agency's destruction of videotapes detailing harsh interrogations of two terrorism suspects.

General Hayden spoke to reporters ahead of the closed-door meeting, as demonstrators protested nearby.

"I am very delighted to come down and lay out the facts as we know them, and we will be very happy to let the facts take us where they will," said General Hayden.

Hayden, who is to brief the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday, told CIA employees last week that the agency had videotaped the interrogations of the terror suspects in 2002, and destroyed the tapes three years later.

Congressional critics argue the CIA destroyed the tapes to hide evidence of illegal torture, but the agency says it did so to protect interrogators from possible retaliation. Critics also question whether the tapes' destruction was illegal, noting that a judge had ordered them preserved as possible evidence in a lawsuit brought by terrorism suspects held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, says his panel will conduct a thorough investigation.

"There are a lot of questions to be answered: the question of the destruction of the tapes, who authorized them, how come we did not know about them, all kinds of things are going to be the subject of an inquiry," said Senator Rockefeller.

Speaking after General Hayden's briefing, Intelligence Committee vice chairman, Republican Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri, said he heard nothing to convince him that the tapes were destroyed to hide evidence of torture.

"Nothing I have heard indicates there was anything illegal, unlawful or in violation of treaty or law in the interrogation methods used," said Senator Bond.

The Justice Department and the CIA's inspector general are conducting their own investigations into the matter.

Speaking at a news conference earlier in the day, Attorney General Michael Mukasey would not elaborate on the Justice Department probe.

"We will find out what the facts are, and if there is a law to be applied, it will be applied," said Michael Mukasey.

At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino refused comment on the destruction of the tapes, but reiterated that the CIA's interrogation program is lawful.

"They are measures that have been tough and limited," said Dana Perino. "They are safe and have been very effective in helping prevent terrorist attacks on this country. The entire program has been legal."

A former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, told reporters in a series of interviews that the agency had used the interrogation technique known as waterboarding on a senior al-Qaida member, Abu Zubaydah, and that it yielded valuable information. He said Zubaydah began to talk 35 seconds after the waterboarding began.

But in an interview with NBC's Today program, Kiriakou said he believes waterboarding, which simulates drowning, amounts to torture.

"I think, yes, torture," said John Kiriakou. "I'm not saying it was not necessary at the time, and I will let the lawyers decide if it was legal or not."

Kiriakou said he now believes waterboarding should no longer be used.

News reports say the CIA stopped using the technique in 2003. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says Congress should pass legislation outlawing the practice.