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Torture and the CIA

Former CIA Deputy Director for Operations Jose Rodriguez has written a book with the assistance of former Agency press officer Bill Harlow. Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives [1] is largely a defense of Rodriguez’s role in the CIA’s use of torture on suspected terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11. Rodriguez argues that what he describes as “enhanced interrogation techniques” were necessary to obtain information on terrorist activities. His employment of the euphemism underscores his argument that these procedures were found to be legal by Bush administration lawyers and that they do not constitute torture, which is a war crime.

In November 2005, Rodriguez, who was a classmate of mine at CIA, ordered on his own authority and contrary to Agency general counsel advice the destruction of 92 videotapes that recorded interrogation sessions in a secret prison in Thailand. This was done, he says, to protect the identities of CIA interrogators from possible reprisals by terrorists, not to cover-up waterboarding being used to obtain information, a procedure he claims was both an acceptable interrogation technique and one that was subject to congressional oversight before it was employed. He does not explain exactly how terrorists could obtain the tapes or be able to make identifications from them; perhaps the idea is that someday the recordings might leak to the public. Whatever its plausibility, or lack thereof, his argument might just as well be a deliberate deception if the primary purpose of his actions was to eliminate evidence of what many would consider a war crime. I leave it up to the reader to decide what explanation is most likely. For what it’s worth, Amazon reviews [1] are running about five to one in praise of the book rather than condemning what it describes.

To promote Hard Measures, Rodriguez has been appearing on a number of television programs. I have seen him on “60 Minutes” [2] with Lesley Stahl and on Bill O’Reilly’s program [3]. He has also appeared with Sean Hannity [4]. Stahl failed to push Rodriguez on the illegality of torture and frequently allowed him to drift into the kind of mumbo-jumbo tradecraft language that we former spies use when we don’t want to answer a question. Rodriguez stated that we (CIA) are part of the “dark side — that’s what we do.”  That was the end of the story for “60 Minutes.”

O’Reilly’s interview was somewhat different. Rodriguez seemed unsure of himself, sometimes inarticulate, and was helped along to make the point that the information obtained from enhanced interrogation could not have been obtained any other way. O’Reilly walked him through his assertion that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew all about the waterboarding, but then brought up the account [5] of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah presented by [6] FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan. Soufan, a member of the interrogation team and Arabic speaker, maintains, with considerable credibility backed up by documents, that the only good information obtained came through established interrogation techniques employed before any torture took place.  Rodriguez denied that was so to O’Reilly and became hung up on a discussion of who played the lead role in the interrogation, the CIA or the FBI, before questioning Soufan’s personal history and his reliability as a source.

Agency operations in Afghanistan in 2001-2 were superbly conceived and executed by its Counterterrorism Center, where Rodriguez was deputy, but his book inevitably focuses on trying to defend the indefensible practices that followed. There has been considerable speculation over why the book, with its attendant media blitz, has come out now, in light of the fact that the manuscript had to be approved by the Agency’s Publications Review Board. Was there CIA collusion in its release? Though the review is only supposed to prevent security violations, the Agency tends to be very friendly and helpful to books depicting it in positive terms and hostile to anything perceived as critical. Given the upcoming presidential elections, Hard Measures is also being seen by some as a preemption of any attempt to turn the torture issue into a political football, particularly as Mitt Romney has explicitly approved [7] of the practice. Rodriguez (and the Agency) might be attempting to backstop the Romney position, which otherwise could be difficult to defend.

Another theory is that the long-awaited Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA interrogation techniques is about to come out and will conclude that the enhanced procedures were, in fact, ineffective. Rodriguez’s account might be intended to stake out a position in advance implying that the Senate report, written by a Democratic majority committee, is politically motivated and therefore “flawed.”

What is most disturbing to me about the book and the interviews is that Rodriguez is apparently seen by some in the media as the “new normal” and even some kind of hero. CIA officers overseas are indeed operating on the “dark side,” in that spying overseas is illegal in the countries where one is operationally engaged. But that does not mean all gloves are off in terms of international and U.S. law, especially in the case of war crimes. It is worth noting that Japanese Army officers were executed in 1946 for waterboarding Allied prisoners, while the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution explicitly forbids “cruel and unusual punishment.” The United States is also a signatory to the International Convention on Torture and to the Geneva Conventions. And then there is the War Crimes Act of 1996 [8], which requires the United States Justice Department to prosecute anyone involved in torture, no exceptions.  President Obama has refused to permit justice to be served, making him as complicit in war crimes as his predecessor was.

Rodriguez presents himself and his “dark side” persona as representative of CIA thinking about the proper way to fight terrorism, but that is just not so. The assumption that there is broad support inside the Agency for the use of torture presumes that anyone working there was ever actually asked for an opinion. The CIA undoubtedly has a peculiar culture that breeds an us-against-them mentality, but I would guess that few employees would have supported waterboarding if they had known it was occurring. The procedure was top secret inside the Agency, a clear indication that even the upper echelons of CIA management knew that it was at best questionable. The impression that CIA, which has something like 20,000 employees, marches in lockstep as some kind of secret army is ridiculous. Nobody checks his or her conscience at the door when entering the building. Agency analysts resisted endorsing the false intelligence used to justify war with Iraq, and they continue to hold the line against a conflict with Iran. I would also note the large number of former intelligence officers who have become outspoken in the antiwar movement: Ray McGovern, Michael Scheuer, Paul Pillar, Bill and Kathleen Christison, and Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett.

Rodriguez might find comfort in his apologia pro vita sua, but I rather suspect his is a voice in the wilderness. Thankfully, I do not know anyone inside the intelligence community who considers torture morally acceptable under any circumstances, and most intelligence officers would regard its use ipso facto as an egregious failure. Secret prisons, renditions, and enhanced interrogations are characteristic of police states, not constitutional republics. Thirty-six years ago Rodriquez and I together took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Today he would be well advised to remember that moment.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

4 Comments (Open | Close)

4 Comments To "Torture and the CIA"

#1 Comment By Rossbach On May 23, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

When offered the “Domesday Option”, which asks, “If you had
the chance to save thousands of lives by torturing an enemy prisoner, would you
do it?”, one could respond by asking, “What if our enemies threaten to nuke a US
city unless we torture one of our national leaders publically and on TV”.  Would the end still justify the means?  Nations that wish to retain any sense of
decency will not use torture anywhere or for any reason.  Once they start using torture and consequently can no
longer differentiate themselves from their enemies, does it make any sense to
continue opposing those enemies?

#2 Comment By Howard T. Lewis III On May 27, 2012 @ 12:25 am

  Torture Rodriguez and see how long it takes his stupid self to realize his mistake.

#3 Comment By Leon Berton On June 7, 2012 @ 9:30 am

I find it a bit difficult to detect a strict definition of ‘torture’ when this issue being discussed.

The etymology does not help greatly, since it denotes causing intense suffering, torment or pain. And the term has roots connoting being ‘tortus’ or twisted, contorted.

So, when a college student leaves a calculus exam and said it was pure torture, s/he isn’t that far off the mark, although no physical torture was imposed. And an inmate convicted of felony who has committed a further crime while in prison may claim solitary confinement is torture, and that too, seems a reasonable assertion.

Is torture ANY duress imposed on person against that person’s free consent?

The student did not fully consent to be subjected to the stress caused by the complex problems selected by a professor for an exam, nor did a prisoner foresee the psychological stress s/he would suffer in solitary confinement.

A significant number of our military personnel are subjected to ‘water torture’, so that they can anticipate what might (and that is only a minimal hint) happen, were they to be captured by an enemy. And most of our enemies certainly do not adhere to any Geneva Conventions.

Is this not then torturous because our military personnel, only in a half-voluntary manner, consented to it? After all, if you refuse you are kicked out of the program to be, say, a SEAL.

But why should a known enemy, who intends death or extreme harm to many, be permitted to choose whether she or he is subjected to duress or stress to obtain potentially important information that might prevent their intentions, or that of their colleagues, from being actualized?

Why should we not limit torture to ‘actions performed on (sleep deprivation, noise subjugation, sensation of drowning):

a) a person already determined by overwhelming evidence to intend (directly or by collusion with others) acts that will result in the death of innocent persons;
and
b) that result in no long-term, detrimental or irreversible physical effects when discontinued without intervention of a physician’?

I do not quite understand why some clarifications cannot be given to this heated topic.

#4 Comment By Rattoo On June 17, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

nhanced Interrogation as part of a HUMINT collection program works! Anyone who denies this knows nothing about interrogation or HUMINT. Jose Rodriguez is a great American Patriot. Thank God we still have a few people like this left to keep us safe. On the other hand, the book reveals what many Americans have suspected for some time: There are anti-American ideologues in the government and media, who will do everything within their power to harm the U.S. and anyone who tries to protect and defend her. In simply doing his job, Rodriguez had to contend with self-serving bureaucrats, politicians and malignant reporters hell-bent on releasing classified information to the world. It is these illegal leaks, and not Rodriguez’ noble and necessary HUMINT activities, that are criminal.

The book demonstrates what a hopeless bureaucratic nightmare our intelligence and defense services have become; an endless charade of paperwork, rules, attorneys and confusing nonsensical, bureaucratic steps, just to conduct simple intelligence activities. Certainly, at this rate, we will not–we cannot–prevail in a war with a capable adversary. And the facts revealed, so far, demonstrate this is exactly what liberals in the U.S. want. Consistent with facts revealed in this book, and stated liberal ideology, we now see irrefutable evidence that the Obama administration and its corrupt Attorney General and his minions, are behind further leaks of classified information and a grand cover up of the same. No amount of sham regime “investigations,” however, can cover-up the truth. Lawless Obama, Holder and treasonous leaker-liberals should be tried and jailed. Rodriguez deserves high praise and our gratitude for doing what needed to be done to keep us safe, all in the face of liberal treason.