May 1st, 2012
06:35 PM ET

'Hard Measures' offers hard look at enhanced interrogations

By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

Two months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Pakistani forces captured and handed over to the U.S. a Libyan who was fleeing Afghanistan and was suspected of having knowledge that could help expose the locations of al Qaeda operatives around the world.

Ibn al Sheikh al Libi was briefly in CIA custody before being turned over to Egyptians for questioning. It was a method often employed by the CIA in cases where the agency had no authority to hold suspected terrorists as long as they might need in order to collect valuable intelligence.

Back in Langley, Virginia, Jose Rodriguez, then chief of staff at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, was eagerly awaiting reports detailing information that al Libi was providing his interrogators. But the reports, according to Rodriguez, were slow and incomplete.

"It was clear that they were not going to look after our national security interests like we would look after our national security interests," said Rodriguez, who has just written a book, "Hard Measures," that justifies the use of secret CIA prisons and enhanced interrogation methods that include the controversial method of waterboarding.

He said he was frustrated by how slowly the information was coming in.

"It became obvious to me that we could not contract out interrogations," he said. "We needed to bite the bullet and do it ourselves."

That, in essence, according to Rodriguez, was what got the CIA into the detainee and interrogation business.

"It was a slippery slope, but it was a necessary slope, because we had been whacked and killed - 3,000 of our fellow citizens," he said, referring to those killed in the 9/11 attacks.

In the following years, the enhanced interrogation techniques were used against a handful of the detainees, with three of the terrorism suspects being subjected to waterboarding, a technique that is said to simulate drowning. Details of the interrogations were made public in 2009, when the Obama administration released a redacted report done by the CIA inspector general in 2004. Whether the information those techniques yielded was of any value is the subject of heated debate, as is the decision to first document the interrogations on video, and then later destroy those visual records.

The first high-value detainee held by the CIA was Abu Zubaydah, a senior al Qaeda leader who was captured in March 2002 during a joint Pakistan-FBI raid of a house in Faisalabad.

"The tapes were made because, as you know, Abu Zubaydah was severely wounded by the Pakistanis when they were capturing him, and we were afraid that he was going to die in captivity, and we wanted to take the tapes to demonstrate that we actually were doing everything we could to keep him alive," Rodriguez said. "They were also made because our psychologist felt that we could learn something from him, you know, from his reactions."

But as the interrogations of Zubaydah were coming to an end, Rodriguez said, the tapes were not needed anymore and the agency officers at the secret prison recommended that they be destroyed.

"Then it became a security threat to the people who were there, so the black site asked for permission to destroy them," said Rodriguez, who says he was concerned that someone would eventually get hold of the tapes, identify the interrogators and use the information to target them or their families.

For three years, CIA, White House and Justice Department officials put off making a decision about the tapes. By the end of that time, Rodriguez had risen thorough the ranks of the CIA to head the Directorate of Operations, the clandestine side of the agency. With no decision in sight, Rodriguez authorized the tapes' destruction, setting off a firestorm of criticism that led to a federal investigation that would eventually clear Rodriguez of wrongdoing.

"We were given guidance that it was all legal," Rodriguez said.

That is his account. There is another.

A Senate report on coercive interrogation techniques is expected to tell a very different story than that detailed in Rodriguez's book, particularly when it comes to the effectiveness of the enhanced methods of interrogation.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, issued a joint statement Monday, saying they are "deeply troubled" by Rodriguez's claims about the effectiveness of the techniques.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive review of the interrogation program after filtering through about 6 million pages of records.

Feinstein and Levin wrote: "Statements made by Mr. Rodriguez and other former senior government officials about the role of the CIA interrogation program in locating Usama bin Laden (UBL) are inconsistent with CIA records. We are disappointed that Mr. Rodriguez and others, who left government positions prior to the UBL operation and are not privy to all of the intelligence that led to the raid, continue to insist that the CIA's so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques' used many years ago were a central component of our success. This view is misguided and misinformed."

Rodriguez left the Agency in January 2008 and now works in the private sector.

When it comes to the decision to destroy the tapes, Feinstein and Levin said, "We are also troubled by Mr. Rodriguez's statements justifying the destruction of video tapes documenting the use of coercive interrogation techniques as 'just getting rid of some ugly visuals.' His decision to order the destruction of the tapes was in violation of instructions from CIA and White House lawyers, illustrates a blatant disregard for the law, and unnecessarily caused damage to the CIA's reputation."

Rodriguez says he wrote the book defending his decisions, in part, because he doesn't think the public really understood the nature of the threat at the time, or the methods the CIA needed to employ in order to fight it.

"I don't think people have any understanding of what the agency does," Rodriguez said. "They don't have a good understanding of what the enhanced interrogation techniques are. They don't understand what waterboarding is. All they know about waterboarding is what the press says, and it usually says it's compared to what the Japanese did or what the Khmer Rouge did, which is not true."

The Senate committee report promises a very different narrative of the controversial measures. A detailed public summary of the classified report will be released this summer when the review is expected to be completed.

soundoff (5 Responses)
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    May 21, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  2. Thor

    Not as bad as what Israel does to suspected Hamas operatives...not nearly.

    May 1, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Reply
    • Trevor

      And versus what these operatives have done to Israeli citizens (now dead ones)...not nearly.

      May 2, 2012 at 7:35 am | Reply
    • Adam

      Maybe so, Thor. However, Israel is being assaulted from all sides so they have to take more contreversial measures just to stay on the map if you know what I mean.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:14 am | Reply
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