The interview with Jose Rodriguez, former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, was both fascinating and horrifying as he did his best to defend the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used on terrorism suspects in the years after 9/11. So much of what he said could have been delved into deeper and the interview could have gone on for another hour yet still not covered everything. I’d like to highlight some of the things he said and the weakness of his defense of torture.
We made some al Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days.
This is a tricky quote to some extent. It suggests the torture was only performed on known terrorists and in the case of the CIA only (and not including the other branches of defense) that might be accurate. But we know innocent people were tortured and in some cases died due to torture while in U.S. custody. He also contradicts himself later about the idea of this torture just being “a few days” for some suspects when he talks about sleep deprivation for a week at a time in at least one case. Maybe some members gave up information after a few days but he gives zero examples of that.
So we were facing a ticking, time bomb situation.
This is a common defense of torture by its advocates. The scenario is a bomb is ticking, someone has been caught who has info on its whereabouts, and he is tortured because he won’t give up the location. Which works really well…in movies, not so much in reality. In fact, I’m not sure how this idea gets lumped in with suicidal terrorists. How many bombs have been placed with a timer by Islamic terrorists? I’m guessing the number is around zero since the vast majority are suicide bombers. The “ticking, time bomb” defense is ridiculous when applied to al Qaeda’s actual tactics.
At first, FBI interrogators used their standard interviewing techniques with no coercion, and Abu Zubaydah cooperated, giving tips and leads but–
Jose Rodriguez: After he regains his strength he stopped talking…He shuts down.
Or did he just not know anything else? Rodriguez backs up the idea he had more information with virtually no evidence. It’s pointed out in the story the FBI claims he gave up everything he knew prior to the torture. But someone assumed he knew more and was lying that he didn’t, which we can’t be sure of. Rodriguez defends this by stating:
He gave us a road map that allowed us to capture a bunch of Al Qaeda senior leaders.
He is angry but noticeably stumbles at this point in the interview before he says “a bunch.” It was as if he knew he needed to give something reasonably logical and important here but could come up with nothing. He clearly wanted to be able to give a number or a few names of captured terrorists to corroborate his claim but fails.
Then the interview immediately shifts to Khalid Sheik Mohammed so we are left to assume his capture may have resulted from the enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. This is not properly delved into by 60 Minutes at this point since we don’t know that to be true nor do we know if that capture came from the information the FBI got prior to the torture.
People don’t understand that this program was not about hurting anybody.
Wow. People died because of the bodily harm inflicted by this program. This statement is the equivalent of someone robbing a bank and in the process of robbing that bank, they shoot and kill everyone in the bank. Then when they are put on trial their lawyer asks the murder charges to be thrown out because the crime committed was just about robbing the bank and “not about hurting anybody.” Clever attempt to dance around that one, Mr. Rodriguez. Sadistic, but clever.
But many of the tips from detainees reportedly led to blind alleys and expensive wild goose chases.
Jose Rodriguez: But the issue here was timing. We needed information and we needed it right away to protect the homeland.
Rodriguez is essentially saying the torture was virtually useless when we couple this revelation with an earlier point he made. He stated a psychologist he consulted on torture techniques said it would usually take about thirty days to “break” someone and get pertinent information. By this time, the info leading to other terrorists is likely irrelevant since the free terrorists would probably move from their locations in the interest of their own safety when they realize someone has been caught who knows their whereabouts. Rodriguez is also contradicting himself and the idea of the ticking time bomb scenario with the thirty days revelation.
Lesley Stahl: Now, here’s what I heard: that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told you the courier had retired and threw you off the scent for a while.
Jose Rodriguez: That was the one secret he was going to take to the grave, and that was the protection of the Sheikh. He was not going to tell us.
The courier they are speaking of here is the one that eventually led to Osama bin Laden. An important point since Rodriguez is admitting torture failed on KSM and, not only did it fail, he also shows they had no idea when someone was lying to them even when being tortured. A very poor defense for torture considering KSM is usually the prime example of torture allegedly “working.”
Then comes the most fascinating part of this interview: the discussion of the tapes that recorded the “enhanced interrogation” of Zubaydah and their destruction by Rodriguez.
The reason why we taped Abu Zubaydah was because we– he was very wounded when he was captured. And we feared that he was gonna die in captivity. So we wanted to show the world that we actually had nothing to do with his death. That you know, he died on his own.
First off, I’m assuming he was saying the “died on his own” part tongue-in-cheek. I haven’t known many people to get wounded by another person then ‘die on their own’ because of the wounds inflicted by someone else.
But the bigger question here is why tape the interrogation then destroy it? Zubaydah was one of the first relatively big captures in the War on Terror and was also one of the first to be tortured. Rodriguez claims he destroyed the tapes so they could not be used as propaganda and to protect the identities of his agents in the videos. If they were only making people “uncomfortable for a few days” and it was “not about hurting anybody”, why would the tapes be propaganda? Answer: because it’s actually torture. And the idea he was protecting his agents’ identities? Was the CIA not familiar with blurring stuff out of videos? Could they really not hire a 10-year-old with a computer and video editing software to do this one for them? And if they had a video of Zubaydah giving the location of 9/11 mastermind KSM, wouldn’t this be the best justification of their techniques?
Since Rodriguez gives no real defense of why he destroyed the tapes, I’ll give one considering the evidence we are given. He destroyed the tapes of the Zubaydah interrogation because torture wasn’t working on him and they wanted no record showing their embarrassment of the false information they believed and followed around the world wasting a ton of money and resources. If the tapes existed and showed the FBI was right and he was wrong, he and everyone in the government advocating torture over the past decade would be shamed forever.
Which leads us to one last point. If this were to be true, it would have been even more vicious than the idea of torture itself to continue the program when you know it to be a failure. And they did continue it…