TOPEKA — The CIA on Wednesday backed off a recently released 2003 internal memo that suggested Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts approved of the destruction of videotaped interrogations of two suspected terrorists, saying the document should not be taken as an exhaustive review of what happened.
The Feb. 3, 2003, memo discusses a briefing at which CIA officials told Roberts about the interrogation of two detainees suspected of terrorist activities against the United States. The existence of the videotaped interrogations was disclosed during the briefing. The CIA was concerned about them being leaked and the safety of the interrogators.
The memo said that Roberts, a Republican who was then the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, "listened carefully and gave his assent" to destroying the tapes.
Roberts disputes that.
CIA spokesman George Little said Wednesday that such accounts of briefings were never meant to be exhaustive.
"They are not perfect, and no one should view them that way," Little said in a statement. "To be sure, different people may reach different judgments about what they do or do not show."
The Department of Justice released the memo Monday following freedom-of-information litigation by several groups. One group, Judicial Watch, posted the document, as well as other memos, on its Web site.
On Wednesday, Roberts called on the Justice Department to release all existing memos from all briefings to members of Congress.
"These observations of one of the first briefings of my chairmanship on the nation's most highly classified intelligence sources and methods do not begin to represent the entirety of my oversight of interrogations," Roberts said. "It was simply a snapshot in time regarding complex issues that the committee dealt with for many years."
In 2007, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden disclosed that the tapes were destroyed and that it was a decision made by the CIA alone after informing Congress they existed.
Roberts said the interrogation program was judged to be a legal and effective means for gathering intelligence to further U.S. security. The February 2003 briefing dealt with interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaida operative captured in March 2002, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. The tapes of the two men were among 93 the CIA destroyed.
The release of the memos is part of an investigation that the Justice Department launched in November 2008 to determine whether laws were broken regarding the preservation of evidence related to the detention and interrogation operations.
According to the February 2003 memo, Roberts didn't think it was necessary to send a staffer to witness the interrogations or for the full Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to hear more about the operations and the videotapes.
Roberts said he could think of "10 reasons right off why it is a terrible idea" to push the matter further, according the memo.
Roberts said Wednesday that he "revisited the issue with the CIA soon after this briefing and successfully pushed to give access to the staffer."
The briefing took place roughly 18 months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
According to the memo, Roberts' briefing was similar to one given to Sens. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who chaired the committee in 2002.