Former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Counterterrorism Center and its former Deputy Director of Operations Jose Rodriguez appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” to flaunt his new book Hard Measures, which details how he came to be in charge of CIA torture against terror suspects at “black site” prisons, why he believes torture was effective and why it should not be vilified.
The segment with Lesley Stahl has the same title as Rodriguez’s book. The title sounds like the name of a film starring an action movie star like Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal, which makes it appropriate because each answer from Rodriguez is dripping with bravado. From Rodriguez’s first answer to the last, one cannot help but realize he believes it is somehow unmanly to be concerned that torture of terror suspects violates the rule of law. He appears in his sleek white Camaro rolling down the highway to the CIA. And he says at one point, “We needed to get everyone in government to put their big boy pants on and give us the authorities we needed.”
Of course, like most establishment media interviews, the torture is not called torture. It is called “harsh techniques.” Or the official term Cheney coined for it—“enhanced interrogation techniques.”
The first words in the segment are, “After the attacks of 9/11…” That phrase is all one needs to hear to know that this is going to be a tireless exercise in explaining away acts that historically have been considered war crimes when carried out.
Stahl opens the segment saying, “It’s the first time someone this close to the program, this accountable, has gone public on why techniques that have long been condemned by the US as torture were employed.” Going on television is positioned as some admirable heroic feat. He talks about “the enemy” coming into our homeland and how he is tired of having to justify the use of torture. And, he is this accountable, because he has been held accountable or, rather, as one following the interview might note, he has been cleared of culpability by the Obama Justice Department.
What does Rodriguez say to the idea that CIA “enhanced interrogation techniques” were essentially war crimes?
We made some al Qaeda with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days, but we did the right thing for the right reason. The right reason to protect the homeland and to protect American lives.
“After 9/11,” “protect the homeland” and “protect American lives” basically form the Holy Trinity of National Security Doctrine in the United States. There is not much that one cannot get away with legalizing or normalizing. All manner of atrocious conduct that blatantly violates human rights is justifiable if one invokes this Trinity. That includes the Obama administration’s drone killing program now.
Rodriguez describes having authority to carry out torture as “going to the border of legality.” The “border” was conjured up by torture memo authors David Addington, Jay Bybee, Steven Bradbury and John Yoo and signed off on by John Ashcroft, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes, Geoffrey D. Miller, Condoleezza Rice, John Rizzo, and Donald Rumsfeld.
A rather sadistic exchange occurs when Rodriguez is asked to explain the torture techniques that were authorized. Nudity is effective, he says, because it makes people feel “vulnerable.” Also, in “their culture” (he’s referring to Muslims or Arabs) it is not “something that is common.”
Of insult slaps, Rodriguez says the CIA doesn’t break jaws. “The objective is not to inflict pain.” But how does that not conflict with what he said next?
The objective is to let him know there’s a new sheriff in town and he better pay attention.
I’ve seen enough movies with interrogation scenes to know that you don’t just glad hand a person’s face when slapping them to get them to realize you mean business. What would be the point of an insult slap if it didn’t have force and did not, after a number of times, have a cumulative effect where it did damage to the person?
In fact, that was the point of the “enhanced interrogation techniques.” They were developed to instill a “sense of hopelessness” and make a detainee feel like he was “better off cooperating.” This is how he claims the CIA broke Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Rodriguez consistently tries to cast the sadism used to break detainees as some kind of normal experience humans might experience in life. He attempts to cast “sleep deprivation” as something similar to “jet lag” and says it is what you feel like when you don’t get enough sleep for two or three days. This is quite mendacious as the reality is sleep deprivation induces hallucinations, paranoia and disorientation. A person loses sense of time. It, as one victim who was tortured by the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1960s said, tampers with people’s equilibrium and “their sanity.” A victim of KGB torture wrote it is worse than hunger or thirst.
Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. He was put into diapers (which Stahl calls “so humiliating”). But, Rodriguez sociopathically justifies the torture of Mohammed:
I don’t know what kind of man it takes to cut the throat of someone in front of a camera like that, but I can tell you this is probably someone who didn’t give a rat’s ass about having water poured on his face.
One might hear that and agree, because Mohammed is suspected of being involved in plotting the September 11th attacks, but if “not giving a rat’s ass” because someone is a bad dude is justification for war crimes, there is not much depravity that can be conceivably considered off limits.
Stahl reacts to all these descriptions of torture techniques and Rodriguez’s logic by saying, “This is Orwellian stuff. The United States doesn’t do that?” To which he responds, “Well, we do.” The two even share a creepy laugh as Rodriguez blasts Mohammed for wanting to use the federal criminal courts as a platform for his ideology. The criticism is somewhat hypocritical coming from someone using a television program to defend torture.
Rodriguez is asked to address the decision to destroy CIA interrogation tapes. He tells Stahl that the reason the CIA taped Abu Zubaydah was because he was “very wounded” and they feared he was going to die in captivity. They needed to be able to prove he died on his own.
STAHL: That’s ironic. You wanted to have a record that he was well-treated but in the end they became a record that he had been subjected to these harsh techniques.
RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, we weren’t hiding anything.
STAHL: But, you then ordered these tapes destroyed?
RODRIGUEZ: Correct, 92 tapes.
STAHL: 92 tapes — Why did you order that they be destroyed?
RODRIGUEZ: To protect the people who work for me and who were at these black sites and whose faces were shown on the tape.
STAHL: Protect them from what?
RODRIGUEZ: Protect them from al Qaeda ever getting their hands on these tapes and using them to go after them and their families.
His maniac rationale is that the tapes would at some point have become public, but it is not clear why he thinks the US government would ever have disclosed these tapes. The US government has suffered from a cancer of secrecy especially since 9/11. Obama refused to release “torture photos” because he didn’t think they would reveal anything new and because he thought they would just inflame people in regions where US troops are located and provoke violence. So, no reasonable person should be able to cite fear of disclosure as justification for destroying tapes that one contends showed rules were being followed.
Rodriguez can claim there was nothing to hide, but no member of the public can challenge him. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained some documents that mention details on the contents of the tapes, but there are numerous sections fully blacked out. A CIA email shows he was certain “the heat from destroying” the tapes would be “nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into [the] public domain.” He said, “They would make us look terrible; it would be ‘devastating’ to us.”
The “Abu Ghraib effect”—the fact that a distinction between a “legally authorized program” and “illegal activity by a bunch of psychopaths was no longer being made—greatly bothered him, he says. It’s pretty clear he was worried about what happened in the tapes. It suggests he thought there was real possibility that he would become the subject of prosecution, and he wanted to save himself and others in the Bush administration from accountability.
What is made very clear in the “60 Minutes” segment is that torture techniques were legalized. President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and the entire Justice Department have decriminalized torture by refusing to prosecute former Bush administration officials like Rodriguez. And, there were rules for how the torture program be administered and protected. The sadism was pre-meditated and planned out meticulously to give people involved cover to avoid jail if something went wrong.
Rules were followed just like rules are followed by the Obama administration when they carry out drone attacks on people in countries where the US has no declaration of war. Rodriguez does not like that Obama uses drones to kill potential prisoners and incredulously says, “How can it be more ethical to kill people than to capture them?” This is what Bradbury said during a congressional hearing. And this is what the Wall Street Journal was critical of in a recent editorial. (They called the victims of drone attacks “missing detainees” because they can’t be dragged to Guantanamo, Bagram or some CIA black site to be waterboarded.)
It’s a Machiavellian critique of Obama’s national security policy and one that is hard to answer. Obviously, two sociopathic policies are in conflict here: one policy involves breaking, as Winston is broken in George Orwell’s 1984, and the other does away with the mess created (renditions, secret detentions, enhanced interrogations, secret prisons, detention at Guantanamo, etc) and simply takes capital punishment to a new level.
One cannot ignore the stirring statement that Rodriguez makes at the end of the segment against President Obama, who did condemn CIA torture:
He is breaking the Covenant that exists between intelligence officers that are at the pointy end of a spear hanging way out there and the government that authorized them and directed them to go there.
The Covenant is not only an unspoken understanding among national security establishment personnel and the administration staffs of presidents; it is also what gives Rodriguez the freedom to publish his book and go on a tour while others, like whistleblowers, are targeted for writing books exposing the crimes, dysfunction or misconduct of intelligence agencies, military or other departments.
FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, former CIA officer Kevin M. Shipp, former CIA agent “Ishmael Jones,” Lt. Col Anthony Shaffer, former CIA agent John Kiriakou (who is now facing prosecution for talking about his role in waterboarding) and soon-to-be-former State Department employee Peter van Buren are all individuals, who have seen prepublication review boards censor their books or refuse to allow their books to be published. They are all individuals who dared to be critical and have been suppressed.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, can say whatever he wants because he upholds the Covenant. He followed the Rules. The Rules are limited to what was agreed upon by the parties involved in the development process and any other Rules from outside bodies such as domestic or international legal bodies are moot. The Rules do not include disclosing information that could invite scrutiny or lead members of the public or press to second-guess decisions that were made. The Rules give him the confidence to say he is “very secure” in what he did.
The Rules in service of the Holy Trinity of National Security Doctrine can be anything, but if anyone suggests they were illegal or inhumane, if anyone tries to prosecute people for engaging in war crimes that they all privately agreed were not war crimes at all, the Covenant will be considered broken. Loyalty will have been violated and the price of disloyalty will be severe. Chances are you will never work a job in Washington, DC, doing what you were trained to do ever again. (He called the CIA IG report “bullshit” so that tells you what he thinks about professionals that do not fully adhere to the Covenant.)
This man who destroyed interrogation tapes and oversaw CIA torture may have been cleared of wrongdoing when Obama Justice Department officials decided not to go after him, but the truth is Rodriguez was never concerned about judicial courts. The court of public opinion, the outrage at torture and the fact that history might regard what he did as depraved, bothers him. So, he sociopathically went on a television show on a network owned by the same corporation that published his book hoping all Americans would realize “harsh techniques” or torture really wasn’t so horrible after all.