Sometimes some folks who are supporting the unspeakable do protest too much. I have previously reviewed for TAC the book by former CIA senior officer Jose Rodriguez that sought to justify the use of “hard measures” against terrorist suspects. More recently, I again revisited the subject when the United States Senate Intelligence Committee completed a secret report demonstrating that the use of torture by the CIA never produced any intelligence that was critical to the government efforts directed against terrorist groups or their leaders. Now comes the rebuttal. Rodriguez, who was a classmate of mine at CIA, has a featured op-ed in the Washington Post entitled “A CIA Veteran on what ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ gets wrong about the bin Laden manhunt.” The piece is co-authored by former CIA press spokesman Bill Harlow, who also helped Rodriguez with his book.
Rodriguez disagrees with the Senate report, arguing that torture (which he refuses to call torture) produced information that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. He also claims that the film’s depiction of the brutalization of detainees is fiction, that “no one was bloodied or beaten” while CIA officers had to “receive written authorization from Washington…to give a detainee a single open-fingered slap across the face.”
He repeats his belief that “enhanced interrogation” was not torture because a brace of compliant lawyers at the Justice Department said it was okay. CIA “did waterboard three of the worst terrorists on the planet…in an effort to get them to cooperate.” In a bit of chilling prose that might have been written under other circumstances in places like Nuremberg Rodriguez (or Harlow) describes the procedure “Instead of a large bucket, small plastic water bottles were used on the three men…the same tactic used without physical or psychological damage, on tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel as part of their training.” Khaled Sheik Mohamed, who was waterboarded 183 times, must have been delighted to learn that he was actually involved in U.S. Army basic training and that it wouldn’t hurt. As a personal note, I would point out that Rodriguez is not a veteran and may not be speaking authoritatively on the practice of waterboarding GIs. I went through basic training, admittedly many years ago, and no one tried to drown me. It is hard to imagine what waterboarding an Army trainee would seek to accomplish unless it serves as an admission that torture is now part of U.S. military doctrine.
I seem to recall that Rodriguez personally ordered the destruction of the 92 interrogation tapes involving harsh methods “to protect the interrogators,” a Orwellian claim if there ever was one and self-serving in that there survives no primary evidence to double check the claims that he and Harlow make. The destruction occurred in 2005 when Congress and the media were nosing around to learn details of the interrogation program and Rodriguez must have realized that what he had been approving was not exactly kosher. And CIA contractors regularly tortured “ghost” prisoners at Abu Ghraib who were not even entered in the prison records. They beat at least one man to death while another contractor killed an Afghan detainee in similar fashion, but I assume Rodriguez would claim that those deaths and others were not strictly speaking part of the “enhanced interrogation” program which he so carefully supervised. What hard guys like Rodriguez fail to see is that once one opens the door to gratuitous physical abuse of prisoners it is difficult to control what happens next. People are maimed and people die. Some of them are surely innocent. Does Rodriguez really believe that some heavy at a secret prison in Thailand or Poland might actually seek permission from Washington to slap a prisoner around? As Rodriguez’s one time boss at the Counter Terrorism Center Cofer Black once put it, after 9/11 the “gloves come off.” The gloves were indeed off and even if Black and Rodriguez will never pay any price for their calculated brutality it is the reputation of the United States that has suffered.