The Misinformant: Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. and CIA Torture

The following is another guest-post by my colleague Dr. Rob Bosco:

Jose Rodriguez Jr. talks a pretty tough game, but readers shouldn’t be taken in.  If you really believe in torture, at least have the guts to admit it.

Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., former Director of the CIA’s Clandestine Intelligence Service and co-author of a new book entitled Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives wrote an opinion piece for CNN yesterday (5/10/2012) called “Harsh Terror Interrogations Were Necessary, Legal, and Effective.”  Ostensibly the piece concerns the trials of the terrorist masterminds at Guantanamo Bay.  I would write “alleged” terrorist masterminds, but according to Rodriguez, we are not supposed to use the word “alleged” in reference to men who have never been tried or convicted of any crime.  Why this is he does not say.  He does however offer up the incontrovertible evidence that one of the accused “previously gleefully accepted” the label of terrorist.  We don’t know when “previously” was, why that particular second or third-hand shred of information is of any legal significance whatsoever, or even whether Rodriguez is making it up.  Anyway, according to Rodriguez, that proves it.  There is no “allegedly” in Guantanamo Bay.  In effect, Rodriguez is arguing that the defendants are already guilty.  It is unclear whether he realizes this.

At any rate, Rodriguez’ opinion piece is dangerous because it deliberately misinforms.  For example, he summons as anecdotal support for his position that the military trial process at Guantanamo Bay has been described in the media as a “circus.”  He then pretends that what the media was referring to by “circus” was the “antics” of the alleged terrorists.  First of all, Rodriguez never bothers to tell us what the “antics” were.  Turns out, the “antics” in question refer to the fact that the accused refused to speak to the judge out of protest concerning their treatment (treatment which, contra Rodriguez, the commission has already conceded invalidates some of the evidence) and the fact that they are guilty until proven innocent (which Rodriguez in fact maintains.)  But don’t take my word for it.  Read the public comments by the detainees’ defense counsel. 

Let’s look at who in the media did call the Guantanamo trials a “circus.”  Checking the major international media outlets, in the 4 May 2012 edition of the UK’s Guardian newspaper, “circus” was indeed used to describe what is happening at Guantanamo.  However, it was not used in reference to the “antics” of the alleged terrorists as Rodriguez claims, but to the military commission system set up to try them.  Now what gleeful terrorist sympathizer dared to use the word “circus” to describe the military commissions?  It was Rear Admiral Donald Guter, Former Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy. 

In his opinion piece Rodriguez also refers to the treatment of detainees in the CIA’s Black Sites.  Rodriguez claims that what the CIA was doing was “legal” and not torture.  What is his source?  It is none other than one of the infamous “Torture Memos.” In fact, it is the torture memo, written by Jay Bybee to the CIA on August 1, 2002.  What we did was not torture, Rodriguez claims, because the Justice Department said that it wasn’t. 

We could just roll our eyes at Rodriguez, but to allow his little arguments to pass unchallenged would be irresponsible on the part of those of us who don’t pretend to have just woken up yesterday from a ten-year sleep.  In 2009 the International Committee of the Red Cross established uncontroversially that the Bybee memo—that precise Bybee memo—authorized what every civilized nation—and signatory to the Geneva Conventions, the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the Rome Statute, and the Convention Against Torture, among others—would consider torture.   Many in the CIA and FBI agreed (see Stephen Grey, 2006.)   It would also be inconvenient for Rodriguez if the readers of his opinion piece should happen to recall that Bybee’s successor Jack Goldsmith declared the Bybee memo dangerous, “legally defective,” and fit to be immediately withdrawn.   

What would be even more inconvenient for Rodriguez’ system of willful deception is if a bipartisan Congressional Committee issued a report that mentioned that precise Bybee memo and concluded that what it justified hampered our ability to collect information, made our enemies stronger, and compromised the country’s moral authority.  It would indeed be unfortunate for Rodriguez’ argument if a report like that should ever be released, say, by the Senate Armed Services Committee, on, say, 20 November 2008.

But Rodriguez insults his reader’s intelligence by pretending none of this ever happened.   His one rebuttal to the ICRC report quibbles that waterboarding happened only a few times, not lots of times, so there.

And here is Rodriguez’s argument for why waterboarding is obviously legal and does not constitute torture: when U.S. military instructors waterboard their own personnel for training purposes in boot camp, we don’t court-martial them, do we?  Therefore waterboarding can’t be torture and must be legal. 

I will pause for a moment while you read that again. 

Moving on, Rodriguez claims that there is no possible way that the treatment of detainees in CIA custody could have amounted to torture because the enhanced interrogation techniques were not designed to cause physical harm but only to “get the attention” of the detainees and perhaps “scare” them.  Rodriquez should actually read the UN Convention Against Torture that the U.S. signed and ratified and incorporated into our domestic law.  There are a number of interesting points there that bear directly on his arguments.  Here are a few: physical harm is not necessary for an act to rise to the level of torture.  Cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment is also prohibited.  Whether torture “works” or yields useful information is totally irrelevant to its illegality.  And as a former official of the CIA, Rodriguez may wish to read the section on rendition. 

In conclusion, Rodriguez can offer no evidence whatsoever that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were legal because there is none.  Nor can he argue that what he defensively describes as “a short period of enhanced interrogation” yielded information that saved lives because if it did, we will never know whether torture was necessary to get the information, and if it didn’t, what idiot would admit it?   

6 responses to “The Misinformant: Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. and CIA Torture

  1. I hope you read the book “Hard Measures”I feel like your attitudes toward these murders are not not good ! I feel like we needed more aggressive action than we did after 9/11.
    I hope that Obama is not re-elected. He is a terrible President, worst than Jimmy Carter .
    Jose Rodrigues is my hero.
    I would hope we would have more like him in future CIA .
    You can have opinion but I have mine.

  2. Jose A. Rodriguez is a hero and a patriot in all senses of these terms. If there were more men and public servants like him, this country would be a better and far safer place in which to live. He has dispensed with the political BS that denigrates this country and has taken legitimate and well needed actions to protect our nation. I would like to meet this gentleman and shake his hand for a job well done despite all the unneccessary obstacles he had to overcome.
    I just finished his book and was inspired by Jose A. Rodriguez

    • HI Mel, I refer you to my colleagues’ very informative post on this website, called Why Partisans Reject Factual Information.

  3. Dear Mr. May, thank you for reading my post. I have read Mr. Rodriguez’ book and there is little in it that is new or interesting. The fact that the CIA tortured to get information is well established. My point is that Rodriguez won’t just come out and say it. If you believe in torture, at least admit it. As far as your comments on Obama, I have no idea what they have to do with my post. We should stick to the topic. It may also interest/inconvenience you to know that the most vehement critics of Rodriguez and the methods the CIA employed at the time were conservatives, including Colin Powell, Alberto Mora (Secretary of the Navy) and, as I point out in the post, even Bybee’s replacement, Jack Goldstone, a well respected conservative lawyer.

  4. Benjamin Knoll

    The following comment was submitted via email:

    Dear Professor:

    I do not really care about your educational qualifications, because you are certainly not qualified or educated sufficiently to judge the actions of our government employees who are dedicated to protect the nation that I love and respect.
    The Justice department has deemed legal and had instituted as rule of law the procedures used by the CIA.
    If you deem those rules to be illegal nonetheless, then maybe you are not willing to follow the rule of law set forth by this great nation.

    In any event, I am just ashamed as well as concerned that so-called educators such as yourself teach our children.
    You will never live up to the patriotic and heroic standards of sacrifice that Mr. Jose A. Rodriguez has.

    Mel Irvin

  5. Orgullo patriótico

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