Twisted Logic and the New Book by the CIA Spy Who Destroyed Torture Tapes

On Monday, the latest installment in the defense of torture — Hard Measures, by Jose Rodriguez — will hit bookshelves. Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and its former Deputy Director of Operations, will also appear on 60 Minutes on Sunday night. Like many of torture's outspoken proponents, Rodriguez has a personal stake in defending torture: he was intimately involved in the CIA's brutal "enhanced interrogation" regime. According to an internal CIA report, for example, Rodriguez's office proposed the use of "coercive physical techniques" in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. In other words, the CIA's path to torture went directly through Rodriguez.

In the lead-up to the release of Hard Measures, here are four things to look out for.

1. The torture tapes. Expect Rodriguez to offer a full-throated defense of his decision to destroy 92 videotapes depicting the CIA's interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, including the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," such as waterboarding. On November 8, 2005, as judicial and public scrutiny of the CIA's interrogation practices mounted, Rodriguez ordered the tapes destroyed, forever concealing what were likely some of the worst episodes of the CIA's torture of detainees. (Some have suggested that Rodriguez's true motive was to destroy evidence that the tapes had been tampered with by the CIA to conceal the worst torture sessions.)

According to recent news reports, Rodriguez will say that he destroyed the tapes out of concern for the safety of CIA interrogators.. Another story says that Rodriguez's book will describe the tapes' destruction as "just getting rid of some ugly visuals." But it's worth recalling a now-declassified CIA email (page 17 of this PDF), sent just one day after the tapes were destroyed, which more candidly reveals Rodriguez's true motives:

As Jose [Rodriguez] said, the heat from destroying is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into [the] public domain — he said that out of context, they would make us look terrible; it would be 'devastating' to us.

The CIA — and Rodriguez in particular — were more concerned about the public (and perhaps prosecutorial) blowback than they were about the possibility that the tapes would somehow endanger CIA agents. To prevent that blowback, Rodriguez was willing to risk being in contempt of court orders requiring the tapes to be preserved, and to flout Congressional requests not to destroy evidence. Rodriguez has yet to be held personally accountable for his destruction of the tapes.

2. Torture "works." Expect Rodriguez to mount a bitter defense of the CIA's torture program by claiming it "worked." Whether torture works is, of course, beside the point. Torture is illegal and immoral, and as President Obama has recognized, "torture is never justified." Sen. John McCain, an outspoken critic of torture, has captured the problem concisely: "Ultimately, this is more than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is about who we are."

We agree. But for the moment, let's address Rodriguez's argument on its own terms. As framed by most advocates of torture, the question of whether torture works is a dishonest one: it "works" if detainees who are tortured give up useful information. But, no one disputes that brutally mistreated prisoners will respond to questions and may even occasionally provide useful intelligence. As John McCain explains, though:

I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's torture proves McCain's point. Proponents claim his torture led to the identity of Osama bin Laden's courier. (Don't be surprised if Rodriguez makes the same claim in his book or on 60 Minutes.) The contention is astonishing because the apparent proof that torture worked is that Mohammed "repeatedly misled [his] interrogators about the courier's identity," and that these lies somehow showed that Mohammed was protecting important information. This false logic is as disturbing as it is dangerous, and it exemplifies the self-fulfilling nature of the torturer's claims. In the end, not even Leon Panetta, the former director of the CIA, believes that torture was responsible for the location of bin Laden.

But even supposing that reliable information is extracted through torture, there is a more fundamental problem with the claim that it "works." The question is not whether torture, in the abstract, produces information. It is whether torture produces the same or better information more reliably or more quickly than the humane interrogation techniques that the FBI has been using for decades (including in its counterterrorism investigations). On this point, backers of torture have little to say.

Finally, supporters of torture ignore its costs to our national security. Our nation has long been a champion for human rights abroad, but our recent embrace of torture has tarnished our reputation and emboldened our enemies. Interrogators report that the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay are among the primary reasons that terrorists join the ranks of al Qaeda.

3. President Obama and torture. As last night's news reports suggest, expect Rodriguez to criticize President Obama for repudiating torture. President Obama took the only morally and legally defensible step in putting an end to "enhanced interrogation techniques" and acknowledging that waterboarding is torture. Our country has long considered waterboarding a war crime.

Rodriguez may think the president went too far in repudiating torture, but we don't think the Obama administration has gone far enough. As we have explained before, President Obama's politically expedient decision not to criminally investigate the architects of the Bush administration's torture program undermines America's standing abroad and compromises the rule of law here at home.

4. Transparency. Finally, expect the release of Rodriguez's book to highlight our national-security state's secrecy problem. Notwithstanding several historic disclosures by the Obama administration of information relating to the CIA's interrogation program, the CIA continues to suppress information critical to understanding the torture that took place in our name. This problem is partly attributable to Rodriguez himself: he deliberately destroyed hundreds of hours of "devastating" evidence of torture. But many other documents remain locked away, including over 2,000 photographs of abuse at facilities throughout Afghanistan and Iraq, the presidential notification of September 17, 2001, that authorized the CIA to set up black sites to detain and interrogate terrorists, and dozens of CIA cables describing the use of waterboarding.

Because the government carefully controls the flow of classified information, the narrative that emerges from the CIA's voluntary releases is often skewed. The problem is a systemic one: the same agency responsible for official torture gets to decide what information about that torture is released, and courts overwhelmingly defer to the CIA's decisions. The result is that defenses of torture, such as Rodriguez's book, offer a one-sided story. Books by those who seek to tell the other side — such as the one by an FBI interrogator, Ali Soufan, whose book is intended in part to explain why torture was counterproductive and didn't work — are heavily redacted.

And of course, while Rodriguez goes on a national book tour to defend torture, the government has succeeded to this day in suppressing the accounts of the men who were tortured.

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Anonymous

From all that I have read and all, that i have learned. America is no stranger to underhanded and dark acts of espionage. We have actively engaged in scores of misdeeds over the past decades. We may have not written the book of dirty tricks but we sure as hell perfected it. All in the name of Manifest Destiny, to combating Communism. From the over throw of Democratically elected heads of state like, the president of Iran during the Eisenhour admin to the Bay of Pigs. From the Mexican American war to the Gulf of Tonkin we have been aggressively, and myopically groping clawing our way neck deep in criminal acts so as to directly keep us the 'top dog.' In every thing. That's a given fact. Not pretty but factual.Enter on to the modern stage those devious and criminal actors Dick Cheney and his side kick the other criminal G.W.Bush. Who, expanded and blatantly, brought us a whole new level of dirty deeds. With the event of 9/11 and the destruction the World Trade Center/: Constructed of steel, buildings specifically designed to withstand an assault of a plane crashing into them and the mystery of Bldg 7. With all our air capabilities strangely absent at just the exact moment. Insured to the hilt with the shock and awe and lame excuses coupled and excepted unanimous? call of vengeance and the rush to war with a country that had not attacked us. The, following stories of torture and the subhuman behavior that was unleashed has damaged not only our reputation but us as a once great nation, beyond the pale of forgiveness. This country has experienced a coup of one extraordinary happenstance yet equally one as old as the first pages of history. As old as Cain and Abel we have fallen pray to evil men subverting something good into evil. This country used to stand for something. The rule of law for starters. Now with the dismissal of all the lies and distortions and high crimes that the previous admin did. This admin. has not only signed off on it they have codified them. From the killing of high profile American citizens one week to the killing of their progeny the next. To the jailing of American born muslim's to prison for being guilty of nothing but translating and speaking the truth. We have descended from a nation of laws and world standing to the worlds laughing stock left to be scorned and hated. A different nation that is practicing the behavior of corporate fascism. Ruled by oligarchs in a totalitarian society. Ruled by the wizards of high finance that bring the world economy to its knees and no one goes to jail except young army soldiers and welfare mothers. For not playing by the rules.

Sydney Raymond

I wrote a comment but perhaps it was too long. I have been accused of being long winded before. But let me try again. We as a country have never been above dirty tricks. We didn't write the book on them but since the past administration we sure did perfect them and add our special chapter. It's bad enough that since Sept.11 We as a nation have fallen from a country with some standing in the world to being the laughing stock of shame. Americans have no idea what has happened. Only that we were attacked and that we live in fear of some unknown 'terrorist" doing something again. We have sheepishly ran away from our constitutional rights all in the name of safety. If not for the ACLU and a few others most of us would be left in the dark.

Anonymous

Enhanced 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.

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