Ex-Top CIA Official On Destroying Torture Tapes: ‘Just Getting Rid Of Some Ugly Visuals’

In a new book, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) operations wing discussed publicly for the first time his role in destroying videos of interrogations that involved torture — including 92 videos of the waterboarding of suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah. The former official, Jose Rodriguez, reportedly laces his book with scathing criticisms of President Obama and his administration’s anti-torture policies. “I cannot tell you how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labeled ‘torturers’ by the president of the United States,” he writes in “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives,” due out next week. Rodrigues was referring to “waterboarding,” which the American people, international law, and even some Republicans consider to be torture.

But for some reviewers, the most eye-catching revelation has focused on Rodriguez’s role in destroying the interrogation tapes that included waterboarding. Upon the closing of one of the CIA’s “black sites” — secret detention centers used to keep so-called “high-level detainees” off the grid and outside even U.S. law — Rodriguez was asked about destroying the tapes, and leaned toward the affirmative. But a memo from his superiors told him to hold off. After his superiors’ wavering between allowing the tapes’ destruction and then backing off, it was finally the Abu Ghraib prison scandal that pushed Rodriguez to order the videos destroyed. According to a review in the Washington Post, Rodriguez wrote:

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.


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

Dana Priest, the Post reviewer who had her own run-in with Rodriguez when in the process of exposing the “black sites,” commented on the ex-spy’s motivations for destroying the videos:

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.

Rodriguez also contends in his book that it was the Bush administration’s torture program that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden — a common theme among proponents of torture:

I am certain, beyond any doubt, that these techniques… shielded the people of the United States from harm and led to the capture and killing of Usama bin Ladin.

That view is at odds with former interrogators and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Diane Feinstein. Amid an extensive investigation of the techniques, Feinsten was asked if the harsh methods played a role in finding and killing Osama bin Laden. “To date, the answer to your question is no,” she replied.