Whitewashing Torture, Redux

I miss Mike Wallace and Morley Safer on 60 Minutes. I just cannot imagine them doing a two-part interview like the one CBS aired on Sunday where Lesley Stahl did a nice soft, gentle friendly interview with former CIA torture architect Jose

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I miss Mike Wallace and Morley Safer on 60 Minutes. I just cannot imagine them doing a two-part interview like the one CBS aired on Sunday where Lesley Stahl did a nice soft, gentle friendly interview with former CIA torture architect Jose Rodriguez. If you didn't watch it and want to, Part One is at the top of this post. Part Two will be at the end. I warn you to hide sharp or heavy objects before you watch it.

It is 40 minutes of justification, intellectual dishonesty, authoritarian bluster, and will make you remember exactly what things were like when George W. Bush was in office.

If you don't want to watch it, then let me summarize it for you. Anyone who dares to disagree with Rodriguez and his decision to torture detainees and destroy the evidence that they were tortured is a traitor. Also, the torture was necessary to cover the CIA's behind, not for the previously-claimed purpose of eliciting information. Here it is, in Rodriguez' own words:

Jose Rodriguez: If there was going to be another attack against the U.S., we would have blood on our hands because we would not have been able to extract that information from him. So we started to talk about an alternative set of interrogation procedures.

Lesley Stahl: So you're the one who went looking for something to break this guy.

Jose Rodriguez: Yes. And let me tell you something, you know, because years later the 9/11 Commission accused, or said that 9/11 was a failure of imagination. Well, there was no lack of imagination on the part of the CIA in June 2002. We were looking for different ways of doing this.

In their imaginations, they imagined themselves to be the equivalent of our former Cold War enemies, and hired a psychologist trained up in those ways:

His search led him to a former military psychologist who had helped train American soldiers in how to resist torture if they were captured. The psychologist adapted the brutal tactics of our Cold War adversaries into what the CIA called "enhanced interrogation techniques." A team of interrogators -- about six of them -- was given a two-week training course and while Jose Rodriguez himself never engaged in any of the sessions with detainees, he supervised the program.

Because somehow, it's justifiable to become what we hate(d).

However, Mr. Rodriguez would like for all Americans to know it wasn't really as bad as all that:

Lesley Stahl: But I mean, these were enhanced interrogation techniques. Other people call it torture.This was-- this wasn't benign in any-- any sense of the word.

Jose Rodriguez: I'm not trying to say that they were benign. But the problem is here is that people don't understand that this program was not about hurting anybody. This program was about instilling a sense of hopelessness and despair on the terrorist, on the detainee, so that he would conclude on his own that he was better off cooperating with us.

Oh, well that's a relief. I was so worried that it was all about hurting other human beings, and really it was simply coercion. I wonder, is instilling hopelessness and despair with the goal of convincing the detainee to act in his best interests something like self-deportation?

Coming toward the middle of the second half of the interview, Rodriguez justifies the whole thing with strange and wonderful (not) logic. Essentially, the argument is that because we don't know whether there would have been attacks without detaining and torturing these operatives, they succeeded. Also? We don't know whether Martians would have landed, or an earthquake would have dropped half of California in the ocean. So many unknowns, so few detainees. Rodriguez does a terrific job of trying to pull a fast one though, saying that the mythical anthrax and nuclear programs hatched by al Qaeda were stopped in their tracks. Just like that.

It's easy to stop something that didn't exist in the first place.

Lesley Stahl: You told us that the whole rationale, justification for the whole interrogation program was to stop an imminent attack. The inspector general says it didn't stop any imminent attack.

Jose Rodriguez: I submit to you that we don't know. We don't know if, for example, al Qaeda would have been able to continue on with their anthrax program or nuclear program or the second wave of attacks or the sleeper agents that they had inside the United States that were working with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to take down the Brooklyn Bridge, for example. So, it's easy, years later, to say, "Well, you know, no ticking time bomb-- nothing was stopped."

Rodriguez is proud of what he and his cohorts did. Very, very proud. It's the crowning accomplishment in his career. There's just one problem. What he claims to be proud of happened after he left the CIA. He didn't have a damn thing to do with it.

I am proud of the fact that after 9-11 the agency became the pointy end of the spear going after those who killed 3,000 of our countrymen and go after al Qaeda and we did an incredible job. We focused on going after each one of the leadership of al Qaeda and one by one, over the years -- it took ten years -- but over the years, we were able to destroy that organization.

I'm very proud of that accomplishment.

This interview made me physically sick to watch, beginning to end. This man is crazy. He revels in humiliation and physical harm to others. He justifies it by using an event that is tragic, but not justification to toss morals and ethics out of the window. He confesses to criminal acts, including destruction of evidence. It's sickening, but what's most sickening is his motive for coming out now with his brazen self-justification.

There's only one reason to do it, and it's political. He intends to convince the public that the capture and killing of Bin Laden and dismantling of al Qaeda happened under the Bush administration rather than the current one. This is for two reasons. First, because Mitt Romney is a neocon of the first order and is assembling a team that looks very much like the old Bush team. And second, the one area Romney cannot compete with the Obama administration is on Obama's strategy to dismantle al Qaeda and kill Bin Laden. That doesn't mean he's not trying, of course, which is why he gave this interview and confessed in writing to his crimes in his book.

Marcy Wheeler, regarding the soon-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report timing and Rodriguez' book tour:

Whether the timing–coming out just as Mitt Romney and his torturer-advisors face off against Obama in the General Election–was planned or not, the effect will be to turn torture into a campaign issue with two sides treated as legitimate by a spineless press, rather than one side with self-preservation in mind and the other with exhaustive study.

And sadly, that will probably mean the most interesting (and politically explosive) result of the investigation gets lost, relegated to paragraph 26 of 27.

Critics also say that still-classified records are likely to demonstrate that harsh interrogation techniques produced far more information that proved false than true.

Dana Priest reveals that, when Jose Rodriguez tried to persuade her not to publish news of the black sites in 2005, he tried to argue torture “was producing real results and helping to keep the country safe.” We’re about to get validation that the example of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was not unique (though his treatment was included in the scope of the SSCI study). If torture “was producing real results” those results were false confessions, not real intelligence.

If we’re going to have a debate about torture, the fact that Cheney and his torturers used it to create false stories to–among other things–get us into the Iraq War should be at the center of that debate.

I expect Rodriguez' next stop will be the Fox News circuit, with special softball interviews with Hannity and O'Reilly conveniently timed to drown out any truth that might leak into the news about how the Bush administration with Rodriguez at the helm took the entire country into a dark place where we now inhabit what we abhor.

Watching Rodriguez was like staring into the face of Satan. It's mind-blowing to see him sit on a respected national news show and play mind games with the viewers. Next we'll get word that he's been hired as an advisor to the Romney campaign. It's only a matter of time, whether it's official or not.

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