July 22, 2012



Jose Rodriguez spent more than thirty years with the Central Intelligence Agency, eventually serving as the director of its Counterterrorism Center. He was involved in the Agency's detention-and-interrogation program, which included holding prisoners in black sites and waterboarding them. Rodriguez wrote a book about his career, "Hard Measures: How Aggressive C.I.A. Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives," which I've written about and discussed in a Q. & A. with Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent (and the subject of a Profile by Lawrence Wright). Rodriguez and I discussed his book and the choices he and the C.I.A. made in e-mail and phone exchanges; questions and answers are collected below, edited for length.

In your book, "Hard Measures," you write, "I cannot tell how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labelled 'torturers' by the President of the United States." That struck me and also confused me a bit. After all, your book argues that practices generally regarded as torture are necessary, and you express pride in carrying them out. Was the problem that the President used the word "torture"? Or just that he spoke openly about something you felt ought to be kept secret?

The practices the C.I.A. used were not torture. If that is the way they are "generally regarded" then the general impression is wrong. That is one of the reasons I wrote "Hard Measures." The techniques we employed were sometimes harsh, but fell well short of what is torture. My problem with what the President said had nothing to do with secrecy--it had everything to do with the fact that he, too, mischaracterized what was done by C.I.A. officers. These actions were undertaken at the request of his predecessor, judged to be legal and not torture by the Department of Justice, and briefed to appropriate members of Congress.

So if everybody else defined something as torture, but we don't, they're wrong and we're right? Does that come across as defining away torture? And why do you think that the word "torture" matters so much? If waterboarding is something that's regarded as abhorrent in a lot of the world, why does the label matter so much?

Well, because torture is illegal. Over the summer of 2002, when we knew we had to do something different to get information out of Abu Zubaydah, who had been captured a few months earlier, we worked with our lawyers to make sure that we came up with techniques that were within the law. These techniques were vetted with the Department of Justice and the White House--with the policy people and the leadership people at the White House. Then, on August 1, 2002, we received a binding legal opinion in writing from the Justice Department that said waterboarding and nine other techniques we wanted to implement were not torture. We then went to the White House and asked the N.S.C. to give us policy approval to proceed, and for the President to direct us to proceed. And they did. A month later, when the Congress came back to town, we briefed the leadership of the House and Senate committees on intelligence, both Democrats and Republicans. They had no objection.

You say it's not torture because torture would be illegal, but you were told this was legal, even though it's a technique that in the past has been called torture and that a lot of the world calls torture?

The waterboarding that our critics and many others who do not know or do not understand--the waterboarding that they refer to is torture. They're talking the waterboarding that was used by the Japanese in World War Two, for example, or by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or even by the Spanish in the Inquisition, which was torture. But our waterboarding technique was different. It came from a U.S. program called S.E.R.E., a military training program, and under that program, tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen have been waterboarded.

Posted by at July 22, 2012 9:10 AM

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