Washington CIA Director Michael Hayden, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors Tuesday, failed to answer central questions about the destruction of secret videotapes showing harsh interrogation of terror suspects, the panel's chairman said.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the committee's 90-minute session with Hayden "a useful and not yet complete hearing" and vowed the committee would get to the bottom of the matter. Among lingering questions: Who authorized destruction of the tapes, and why Congress wasn't told about it?
Hayden told reporters afterward that he had "a chance to lay out the narrative, the history of why the tapes were destroyed" and the process that led to that decision. But since the tapes were made under one of his predecessors, George Tenet, and destroyed under another, Porter Goss, he wasn't able to completely answer all questions, he said.
"Other people in the agency know about this far better than I," Hayden said, and promised the committee he would make those witnesses available.
A similar session is set for today, when Hayden appears before the panel's House counterpart.
Tuesday's hearing came as a former CIA agent who was part of the interrogation team went public with his account, saying the waterboarding of a top al-Qaida figure was approved at the top levels of the U.S. government.
According to the former agent, waterboarding of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah got him to talk in less than 35 seconds. The technique, which critics say is torture, probably disrupted "dozens" of planned al-Qaida attacks, said John Kiriakou, a leader of the team that captured Abu Zubaydah, a major al-Qaida figure.
Kiriakou did not explain how he knew who approved the interrogation technique but said such approval comes from top officials. He did not witness or participate in the waterboarding, he said.
"This isn't something done willy-nilly. This isn't something where an agency officer just wakes up in the morning and decides he's going to carry out an enhanced technique on a prisoner," he said Tuesday in a round of television news show appearances. "This was a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and Justice Department."
At the White House, press secretary Dana Perino said the CIA interrogation program approved by the president is safe, tough, effective and legal.
"It's no secret that the president approved a lawful program in order to interrogate hardened terrorists," Perino said. "We do not torture. We also know that this program has saved lives by disrupting terrorist attacks."
Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee taken by the CIA in 2002, is now being held with other detainees at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He told his interrogators about alleged 9/11 accomplice Ramzi Binalshibh, and the two men's confessions also led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who the U.S. government said was the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Waterboarding is a harsh interrogation technique that involves strapping down a prisoner, covering his mouth with plastic or cloth and pouring water over his face. The prisoner quickly begins to inhale water, causing the sensation of drowning.