One of the several controversies surrounding the CIA’s destruction of tapes of the interrogations of at least two terrorists involves the September 11 Commission. The chairmen of the Commission have expressed outrage over the tapes’ destruction and have alleged that the CIA “withheld” the tapes from the Commission, notwithstanding the Commission’s requests for information about the interrogations.
Philip Zelikow prepared a memorandum for the Commission reviewing the Commission’s requests and the CIA’s responses thereto; he concluded that further investigation was needed to determine whether the agency’s nondisclosure of the tapes’ existence constituted a crime. Zelikow’s memo, dated December 13, was leaked to the New York Times.
I read the memo, thinking that it might shed some light on the operations of the Commission, the CIA or both. In fact, the memo turns out to be interesting mostly for the questions it raises but does not answer.
Zelikow devotes most of the memo to reviewing the Commission’s requests of the Agency and the Agency’s responses thereto, with the apparent intention of showing that the Commission made requests for documents that would have included the video tapes. This effort is not very successful; Zelikow does not quote any request made by the Commission that unambiguously covered the video tapes. But the review raises much more fundamental questions: does the CIA have transcripts of terrorist interrogations, and if so, did the September 11 Commission ask for them?
I would have considered it obvious that the CIA must make transcripts of such interrogations. Otherwise, would it rely on summaries drawn from the memories of the interrogators? That seems a ridiculous suggestion. I also would have thought it obvious that in preparing its report, the September 11 Commission would have asked for and obtained copies of these transcripts, or at least the relevant portions. Both of these assumptions, however, are called into question by Zelikow’s memo.
[The Commission’s] initial presumption was that perhaps there were transcripts of the interrogations that were turned into reports. The initial document request for interrogation material (DCI Document Request No. 4 filed on June 6, 2003) thus asked broadly for