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What is torture? Ex-CIA official renews debate

Jose Rodriguez, author and former director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, explains how enhanced interrogation tactics impacted the "War on Terror."

What is torture? In the post-9/11 era, that question has loomed over the country’s efforts to track down and interrogate those planning terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

The former director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service renewed the debate this week with the publication of his book, “Hard Measures,” and an explosive interview on 60 Minutes in which he defended the “enhanced interrogation” program he helped oversee.


On Thursday, Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that what his officers did was legal, noting torture involves the “breaking of bones” and “blood on the walls.” He said CIA officers knew tactics resulting in great bodily harm wouldn’t elicit good intelligence, so they used other ones, like waterboarding and sleep deprivation, on their subjects.

President Obama, who has said waterboarding is “torture,” ended the practice shortly after taking office.

Rodriguez defended the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” program on “Morning Joe,” claiming it added momentum to the “war on terror” as the agency began capturing al-Qaida’s “high command.”

He said the first detainee to provide the big picture on al-Qaida was Abu Zubaydah, who was near death after being wounded by the Pakistanis. He was nursed back to health because the service knew how valuable his information would be, Rodriguez said.
Zubaydah, who had been the third most senior al-Qaida figure, was subjected to waterboarding along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of plotting the bombing of the USS Cole in 2002.

“The program is not about using brute force because we recognize that brute force doesn’t work. So, we’re totally in agreement that torture does not work,” he added.

But critics charge that waterboarding and other “enhanced techniques” are torture, similar to what was practiced by the Japanese or the Nazis.

“This is not that,” he said. “Our waterboarding program is based on the U.S. military training program … tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen were waterboarded pursuant to this program to prepare them for the possibility of being captured someday so that they would know what it felt like.”

The last waterboarding was in 2003. He said there was a lot of confusion among the public over how many times someone was waterboarded versus how many pourings of water there was, noting that “183 pourings of water became 183 times, which is just not the case.”

Of the interrogation techniques, “waterboarding is the most harsh; sleep deprivation is tough, too,” he said. But he noted that when he described the tactics to a U.S. senator who had been a marine, the response was, “’What?’ He said, ‘That’s it?’”

When asked what torture was, Rodriguez said: “Brute force. It’s breaking of bones. It’s people passing out from pain. It’s blood on the walls. This is the way that some of our heroes who’ve actually been tortured tell us what torture is.”

Despite his defense of the technique, Rodriguez doesn’t think waterboarding would work today, since the enemy would be prepared for it. Nonetheless, he said, the controversial interrogation program’s value was “incredible,” providing “thousands and thousands of reports” about al-Qaida.

“The more we captured, the more we learned and eventually it destroyed the organization that attacked us on 9/11 and allowed us to get bin Laden,” he said.

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