Making the Hard Measures


“The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer – it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. Torture is how you set back America’s standing in the world, not how you strengthen it.”-Senator Obama, 2007

“I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationals were used, it was a mistake.”

-President Obama, 2009

“And anybody who has actually read about and understands the practice of waterboarding would say that that is torture. And that’s not something we do. Period.”
-President Obama, 2011

“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.”
-Jose Rodriguez

Until Marc Thiessen’s book, Courting Disaster, came out in 2010, the critics of Bush-era enhanced interrogations (waterboarding specifically) of al-Qaeda high-value detainees have had most of the field to themselves in the media. Former VP Dick Cheney could not restrain himself from making public comments in response to the current president’s political attacks against the EIT program and those who supported it. Those involved directly within the CIA interrogation program itself were not at liberty to defend themselves against the attacks, distortions, smears, and misconceptions. They basically had to bite their lips and weather the storm of slander.

President Obama’s 2009 decision to release the “how-not-to-torture” OLC memos made details of Thiessen’s book possible. Courting Disaster challenged the mainstream narrative that the CIA method of waterboarding (just 3 HVDs) rose to the level of definition for torture and that it was ineffective.

In Dick Cheney’s memoir, In My Time pg 521-2, the former VP writes:

The president decided to declassify a different set of documents. These were the memos produced by the Bush administration Justice Department that explained the legal rationale supporting enhanced interrogation and also detailed the particular methods involved. At about the same time, President Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, signaled the possibility that the lawyers who prepared these memos and the intellgience officers who conducted enhanced interrogations might face professional sanction or even criminal prosecution.

I was appalled that the new administration would even consider punishing honorable public servants who had carried out the Bush administration’s lawful policies and kept the country safe. I was also deeply concerned about the selective fashion in which sensitive information was being declassified and made public. The administration had just revealed to the world, including our enemies, methods used to question detainees thought to have information about future attacks. Yet the information in the memos I had requested- detailing all we had learned, and the attacks we had stopped through the enhanced interrogation program- was being kept secret. A few weeks after President Obama released the legal memos, I heard from CIA Director Leon Panetta, a colleague and friend from my days in the House. He wrote to tell me that my request was being denied.

The memos Cheney wanted to have released eventually were made available. And still the debate over waterboarding and “torture” remain unsettled.

Early this month, we have the indictment of John Kiriakou and the State Department’s release of the Zelikow memo.

The former Bush vice president and the former Bush speech writer aren’t the only ones appalled by President Obama’s branding with the “torture” label libel. And they aren’t the only ones coming forth to give the other side of the story.

Next week will bring us the release of Jose Rodriguez‘s new book, Hard Measures. And it begins with an extensive 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl tomorrow night.


Rodriguez is the ex-CIA chief of the Counterterrorism Center who ordered the destruction of 92 interrogation tapes. Absolved of criminal wrong-doing, why were they destroyed? Rodriguez explains:

The tapes, filmed in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, showed the waterboarding of terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri.

Especially after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Rodriguez writes, if the CIA’s videos were to leak out, officers worldwide would be in danger.

“I wasn’t going to sit around another three years waiting for people to get up the courage,” to do what CIA lawyers said he had the authority to do himself, Rodriguez writes. He describes sending the order in November 2005 as “just getting rid of some ugly visuals.”

*UPDATE 4/29/2012 14:42*

Dana Priest:

A blunt explanation

It became clear immediately that Rodriguez never even got the talking points, which was refreshing and surprising. Right away he began divulging awkward truths that other senior officers had tried to obfuscate in our conversations about the secret prisons: “In many cases they are violating their own laws by helping us,” he offered, according to notes I took at the time.

Why not bring the detainees to trial?

“Because they would get lawyered up, and our job, first and foremost, is to obtain information.”

Concerned that the location of one of the prisons was about to be revealed, Rodriguez writes that he ordered the facility closed immediately and the detainees moved to a new site. While dismantling the site, the base chief asked Rodriguez if she could throw a pile of old videotapes, made during the early days of terrorist Abu Zubaida’s interrogation and waterboarding, and now a couple of years old, onto a nearby bonfire that was set to destroy papers and other evidence of the agency’s presence.

Just at that moment, according to his account, a cable from headquarters came in saying: “Hold up on the tapes. We think they should be retained for a little while longer.”

“Had that message been delayed by even a few minutes,” Rodriguez writes, “my life in the years following would have been considerably easier.”

Those actions led to a lengthy and still ongoing investigation of the agency that produced no charges. Rodriguez retired in January 2008 and now works in the private sector.


Shredding the tapes

Rodriguez writes that he ordered the tapes’ destruction because he got tired of waiting for his superiors to make a decision. They had at least twice given him the go-ahead, then backed off. In the meantime, a senior agency attorney cited “grave national security reasons” for destroying the material and said the tapes presented ‘“grave risk” to the personal safety of our officers” whose identities could be seen on the recordings.

In late April 2004, another event forced his hand, he writes. Photos of the abuse of prisoners by Army soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq ignited the Arab world and risked being confused with the CIA’s program, which was run very differently.

“We knew that if the photos of CIA officers conducting authorized EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques] ever got out, the difference between a legal, authorized, necessary, and safe program and the mindless actions of some MPs [military police] would be buried by the impact of the images.

“The propaganda damage to the image of America would be immense. But the main concern then, and always, was for the safety of my officers.”

Readers may disagree with much of what Rodriguez writes and with the importance of some of the facts he omits from his book, but the above sentence speaks volumes about why this book is important. In this case, a loyal civil servant — and the decision-makers above him who blessed these programs — were not thinking about the larger, longer-lasting damage to the core values of the United States that disclosure of these secrets might cause. They were thinking about the near term. About efficiency. About the safety of friends and colleagues. In their minds, they were thinking, too, about the safety of the country.

And after some back-and-forth with agency lawyers for what seemed to him the umpteenth time, he writes, Rodriguez scrutinized a cable to the field drafted by his chief of staff, ordering that the tapes be shredded in an industrial-strength machine. The tapes had already been reviewed, and copious written notes on their content had been taken.

“I was not depriving anyone of information about what was done or what was said,” he writes. “I was just getting rid of some ugly visuals that could put the lives of my people at risk.

“I took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit Send.”


I have no doubt that had these videos of Zubaydah and al-Nashiri’s interrogation sessions been made public, the only ones who stand to benefit would be Code Pink anti-war groups, bleeding heart human rights groups, the Taliban in Afghanistan, anti-Americanists around the world, and al Qaeda’s propaganda bureau. Not because there’s anything in the video that probably should alarm; but because by nature, those who live in modern civilized society are squeamish…and thus, would be alarmed and horrified. The EITs themselves were designed to make the HVD feel like the situation he was placed in is worse than the actual reality of it- a case of the bark being worse than the bite.

I’d say executions of mass murderers and serial killers is highly justified. But should they be witnessed by the public at large? Killing the enemy is necessary in wafare; but should all the sheep of society bear witness to what wolves and sheepdog do to one another? Maybe…but this isn’t the philosophical argument I’m wanting to have. My point is that watching the most sensationalized selective scenes that the media may find from these videos (devalued and devoid of relevant context) had they not been destroyed, would only be bad for our CIA…bad for our soldiers still in this fight on the frontlines…and ultimately bad for America.

“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.”


“We made some al-Qaida terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days. I am very secure in what we did and am very confident that what we did saved American lives.”

-Jose Rodriguez, former chief of the CIA’s clandestine service

Rodriguez’s book probably won’t quell the debate anytime soon (A 3-year probe by Senate Democrats is scheduled to be released sometime soon, discounting the value of the EIT program) but it will most certainly enrich the debate to be had on both sides.

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What these libs fail to understand is that war is the very antithesis of “the law”.

# Wordsmith,

I just want to preference these questions by stating I highly respect your opinion and reporting efforts on these topics.

You have possibly answered these questions previously, but I’d love to get your perspective.

Leaving aside the legality, do you have any sympathy for the argument that enhanced interrogation goes against the ideals of America? I guess I would call this the “we’re too good to do that” argument. I find it quite powerful in its simplicity. There’s nothing easy about sticking to an ideal, but the nice thing about not crossing a line is that you don’t have to invent complicated excuses.

Strategically speaking, what is the real tangible benefit of enhanced interrogation? Do you believe the incremental benefit of the intelligence that’s gathered out-weights the cost of what’s generated by the idea that America will do whatever it takes to get answers? If we’re going to recruit our own enemies, what are we getting in return? The best people on the other side will, rightly, see our actions as dishonorable: what is the payoff?

Finally, has Obama’s decision not to continue “enhanced interrogation” adversely affected our security?

An erudite and respectfull debate between folks like Tom and Word is worth the price of admission.

Semper Fi

Very nice.


I have often felt, as Tom kind of alluded to, and you talked about, that America SHOULD rise above the rest, and be better than others, even if it seemingly hurts our ability to fight and prosecute a war. Even so, I’d never been critical of the EIT’s used during Bush’s presidency, mainly because I felt they didn’t rise to the truly despicable.

It should be noted that America and her soldiers have never been “innocent” when it comes to war-time atrocities committed, from the Revolutionary war up to today’s ‘War on Terror’. What we have been, when allowed to prosecute a war “to win it” by the military’s civilian masters, is brutally efficient when it comes to winning battles, and, eventually, the wars themselves.

I think that where America stands head and shoulders above others is in the aftermath of wars and the treatment of those we have battled with. Rebuilding cities and countries that we’ve destroyed, extending olive branches(to the extent it has been possible), and generally regarding the “enemy” with respect has gone a long way towards strengthening our position with them, to the point that some of those we beat into submission eventually became our allies in the continuing fight for freedom and liberty in the world.

The goal in any war, during the war, should be to gain total dominance over the enemy. And in that respect, we should do almost whatever it takes to gain said dominance, including the EIT’s that some are squeamish about. Where is the “line” that we shouldn’t cross? I do not know that, and I hope to never be in a position to make a decision on such a thing, as it has to be one of the most difficult decision’s one could make as a president, or leader of a country. I only know that, in my opinion, we haven’t come close to the atrocities committed by other nations, or empires, in the history of the world. And in the aftermath of the wars, we, as a country, have stood above all others.

There have been and will almost certainly continue to be isolated incidents; Abu Grhraib, and Mei Li to name a few. War does things to people and ultimately military folks are people. As a country, we have try to maintain the high road. To compare what happened to John McCain and the other residents of the Hanoi Hilton to what was done to KSM and the other two HVDs is ludicrous. Does anyone actually believe a medical team was standing by while McCain was being tortured? Did McCain go back to a clean cell with a nice Christian meal waiting for him?
Word touched on it briefly, but just because something sounds barbaric doesn’t make it any less torturous than something else. Listening to the Barney Song all day would definitely fit into my category of torture. They could make it worse and fire up some It’s a Small World. There are so many more things that can be done to the mind that may never heal than can be done to the body.
If you know anyone that has been to SERE, just ask them which they prefer……getting beat or the mind games.

I’m sorry, but all this armchair anguish over what countries have to do to win wars is making me want to puke. Would anybody like to discuss the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo while sitting safely in our homes sipping on a fine Chardonnay and sampling a selection of Brie?

The military is under-reporting the number of times that Afghan soldiers and police open fire on American and other foreign troops.
The U.S.-led coalition routinely reports each time an American or other foreign soldier is killed by an Afghan in uniform.
But The Associated Press has learned it does not report insider attacks in which the Afghan wounds — or misses — his U.S. or allied target.
It also doesn’t report the wounding of troops who were attacked alongside those who were killed.



Don’t misunderstand me. I wasn’t criticizing, nor was I cheering on, any of the acts that have happened in the wars we have been in. It is the aftermath of the wars that I was concentrating on, not the prosecution of the wars themselves.

I was just adding to what you posted JG. I thought it was a good post.