Rejecting Expert Claims Of Torture’s Efficacy, Former CIA Official Defends Harsh Interrogations

In an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, former Central Intelligence Agency clandestine operations chief Jose Rodriguez defended his department’s use of torture methods when questioning terrorist suspects.

Rodriguez, who had tapes of the interrogations destroyed, was unapologetic. He told 60 Minutes:

We made some al Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days. But we did the right thing for the right reason. And the right reason was to protect the homeland and to protect American lives. So yes, I had no qualms. […]

If there was going to be another attack against the U.S., we would have blood on our hands because we would not have been able to extract that information from [a terrorist suspect]. So we started to talk about an alternative set of interrogation procedures.

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Rodriguez compared so-called stress positions — such as making detainees hold their hands above their heads — and sleep-deprivation to going to the gym and having jetlag, respectively. He cited the interrogations of alleged Al Qaeda terrorists Abu Zubaydeh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. “This program was about instilling a sense of hopelessness and despair on the terrorist, on the detainee, so that he would conclude on his own that he was better off cooperating with us,” he said.


But others — including military and law enforcement officials and politicians — have said that interrogations are most effective when interrogators stick to the script laid out on interrogations in the Army Field Manual, which is informed by decades of military experience. Anti-torture advocates note that the interrogation techniques employed during the Bush administration go against American values, endanger U.S. troops who might facing reciprocal treatment, and often lead to false information because subjects of harsh interrogations will say anything to get the sessions to end.

When confronted by CBS’s Leslie Stahl with the FBI’s contention that Abu Zubaydeh gave up his most useful information before harsh interrogations, Rodriguez said, “It’s not true.” Asked about a CIA inspector general’s report stating that the guidelines — or lack thereof — led to “unauthorized, improvised, inhumane and undocumented” techniques, Rodriguez said, “Well our own inspector general in many cases did very sloppy work. That report is flawed in many different ways.” Told by Stahl that she’d heard information gained from Abu Zubayded through waterboarding led the U.S. on wild goose chases, Rodriguez fired back, “Bullshit. He gave us a road map that allowed us to capture a bunch of Al Qaeda senior leaders.” Still-secret documentation of the claims makes sorting out the disputes difficult.

But former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan said in an interview with CNN that “the examples that they are mentioning as the successes of EITs absolutely were not produced by EITs.” He said the information gleaned from Abu Zubaydeh that pointed to Khalid Sheik Muhammad’s central role in the 9/11 attacks came before waterboarding on Abu Zubaydeh began.

When the debate over harsh interrogations reignited after Osama Bin Laden’s killing, numerous former interrogators, officials who oversaw interrogations, military officials, and national security experts stated that the techniques were not as effective as traditional interrogation techniques and, furthermore, hurt U.S. interests by putting a bad face forward.

Even sometime Bush administration ally Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrote, “Ultimately, this is more than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is about who we are.”