Feds Launch Inquiry Over CIA Tapes

The Justice Department and the CIA today announced they're opening a "preliminary inquiry" into growing questions about the destruction of CIA tapes showing the harsh interrogation of terror suspects.

"I welcome this inquiry and the CIA will cooperate fully," CIA Director Michael Hayden said in his agency's statement. "I welcome it as an opportunity to address questions that have arisen over the destruction back in 2005 of videotapes."

The statement noted that the Justice Department uses the term "preliminary inquiry" to refer a fact-gathering investigation intended to determine whether a wider investigation may be warranted.

The inquiry comes amid growing outrage on Capitol Hill.

Today, Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official at the center of the tapes controversy, was not talking. Rodriguez, who is retiring from the agency, gave the order to destroy the tapes.

Mike Scheuer, a former CIA officer who once worked for Rodriguez, told ABC News he did the right thing.

"It contained the video of the interrogation techniques that were permitted by the White House," Scheuer said. "Most importantl,y it contained photographs and the voice of officers whose ability to operate in defense of America depends on their anonymity. So I think Mr. Rodriguez was very much correct in destroying those tapes."

Hayden backed up Rodriguez by saying the tapes could have revealed the identity of covert agents.

But that does not wash with members of Congress who called for investigations. They say the names of CIA interrogators could have been protected without destroying the tapes.

"There's a law against disclosing the names of agents," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "We have a law against it. We can't disclose the names of agents. So it was a pitiful excuse."

Even though the tapes show the agents, the CIA's critics say that is still no reason to destroy them. They say the tapes could have been electronically altered to protect identities, a familiar technique on television.

Critics suspect the CIA was trying to protect itself from disgrace and criminal prosecution. The tapes were destroyed in November 2005, the same month ABC News reported harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding were used.

"The CIA knew that people committing torture could be tried criminally themselves," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, "so the very people engaged in alleged criminal conduct destroy the evidence."

Congress wants to know whether Rodriguez acted alone in having the tapes destroyed.

ABC News reported that White House lawyer Harriet Myers urged him not to do it. But, a former CIA official told ABC News that, if she had wanted to, "she could have ordered him not to destroy them."

"After all," the source said, "Rodriguez and the CIA work for the White House … not the other way around."

ABC News' John Cochran reported this story for "World News."