The U.S. Justice Department and CIA announced a joint inquiry Saturday into the spy agency's destruction of videotapes of interrogations of two suspected terrorists.

The review will determine whether a full investigation is warranted.

"I welcome this inquiry and the CIA will co-operate fully," CIA Director Mike Hayden said in a statement. "I welcome it as an opportunity to address questions that have arisen over the destruction back in 2005 of videotapes."

Hayden told agency employees Thursday that the recordings were destroyed out of fear the tapes would leak and reveal the identities of interrogators. He said the sessions were videotaped to provide an added layer of legal protection for interrogators using new, harsh methods authorized by U.S. President George W. Bush as a way to break down the defences of prisoners.

The methods included waterboarding, which simulates drowning, government officials said.

The CIA's acting general counsel, John Rizzo, is preserving all remaining records related to the videotapes and their destruction, according to Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general.

Justice Department officials, lawyers from the CIA general counsel's office and the CIA inspector general will meet early this coming week to begin the preliminary inquiry, Wainsteinsaid in a written statement toRizzo on Saturday.

"I understand that your office has already reviewed the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the videotapes, as well as the existence of any pending relevant investigations or other preservation obligations at the time the destruction occurred," Wainstein wrote.

"As a first step in our inquiry, I ask that you provide us the substance of that review at the meeting."

The White House had no immediate comment on the decision. On Friday, presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino had said that "of course the White House would support" the attorney general, Michael Mukasey, if he decided to investigate.

On Friday, angry congressional Democrats had demanded that the Justice Department investigate. Some accused the CIA of a coverup and described the CIA's explanation as "a pathetic excuse."

The House and Senate Intelligence committees are beginning their own inquiries.

The tapes were destroyed at a time of national debate over interrogation practices involving suspected terrorists. Not long after, Congress passed legislation that prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of all U.S. detainees, including those in CIA custody.