Soufan Debunks Rodriguez on Torture

Ali Soufan, the former FBI interrogator and outspoken critic of the use of torture, is interviewed at the New Yorker and responds to the recent claims of Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who has written a book claiming that torture was crucial in the fight against Al Qaeda.

The claims he’s recently been making about the success of the harsh techniques are the same false claims that have appeared in now declassified C.I.A. memos, and which have been thoroughly discredited by the likes of the Department of Justice, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the C.I.A.’s Inspector General…

In this area it’s not a question of memory but of factual record. There are now thousands of pages of declassified memos and reports that thoroughly rebut what Mr. Rodriguez and others are now claiming. For example, one of the successes of the E.I.T.s claimed in the now declassified memos is that after the program began in August, 2002, Abu Zubaydah provided intelligence that prevented José Padilla from detonating a dirty bomb on U.S. soil, and identified Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks. Mr. Rodriguez has been repeating this claims.

The reality is that both of those pieces of intelligence were gained by my partner and me, with C.I.A. colleagues, in early April, 2002—months before the August, 2002, start of the E.I.T. program. But in the memos they were able to promote false facts, even altering dates, to make their claims work. In the so-called C.I.A. Effectiveness Memo, for example, it states that Mr. Padilla was arrested in May, 2003. In reality, he was arrested in May, 2002. But saying 2003 fits with the waterboarding narrative. When the Department of Justice asked Steven Bradbury, acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and the author of the 2005 O.L.C. memo to reinstate E.I.T.s, why he didn’t check the facts, he replied, “It’s not my role, really, to do a factual investigation of that.” …

The claim about waterboarding leading to unmasking of K.S.M. as the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks is similarly false. We got that information in April, 2002, before the contractors hired by the C.I.A. Counterterrorism Center even arrived at the site. One by one, the successes claimed by E.I.T. proponents have been shown to be false.

I went before the Senate Judiciary Committee and under oath recounted what happened. And, as I note in “The Black Banners,” I sent daily reports from the secret interrogation location, to Washington, recording what happened, which the U.S. Government has in its possession. After I left the location in 2002, I wondered if they got anything of value. Until 2005, I was still in the government, and I know that nothing of value from E.I.T.s reached us. I thought perhaps the information was only shared with others. But with the declassification of previously secret memos, it became clear that every example given of claimed successes was factually incorrect—and I know this from firsthand experience of how those pieces of intelligence were really gained. It’s because of all this that I spoke out in 2009 to correct the false claims the American people were being told.

He also points out that Rodriguez has changed his story about why he destroyed 92 tapes of interrogations, in violation of a direct order. He told one story in private and now tells another in public:

On “60 Minutes,” Jose said he destroyed the evidence of the interrogations “to protect the people” who worked for him, from Al Qaeda going “after them and their families.” But that’s not the reason Mr. Rodriguez gave at the time, and it’s a shame he wasn’t challenged on it.

One declassified C.I.A. e-mail, dated November 10, 2005, and written by the deputy to Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, then executive director of the C.I.A., notes that Rodriguez thought that “if the tapes ever got into [the] public domain… they would make us look terrible.” It was about their reputation, not safety.

That’s part of a larger pattern under both Bush and Obama to prevent the release of information that shows how our government tortured people, even to the point of threatening the British government over it.

13 comments on this post.
  1. grumpyoldfart:

    Land of the free :)

  2. abb3w:

    @-1, Ali Soufan:

    In this area it’s not a question of memory but of factual record.

    In some ways, it may be a bit of both. See “There Must Be a Reason”: Osama, Saddam, and Inferred Justification, Prasad et alia (doi:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2009.00280.x).

    See also “confabulation”.

    @-1, Ali Soufan:

    One declassified C.I.A. e-mail, dated November 10, 2005, and written by the deputy to Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, then executive director of the C.I.A., notes that Rodriguez thought that “if the tapes ever got into [the] public domain… they would make us look terrible.”

    And if it becomes clear to the public that this torture was furthermore ineffective, then it will also make them look terrible. Thus, their actions must have been justified, and it is simply a question of looking for the justification.

    It makes horrible amounts of sense, in a motivated reasoning sort of way….

  3. lancifer:

    Is it really important whether torture provided credible information?

    Even if it was 100% effective it would still be counter to the values and laws of this country.

  4. d cwilson:

    The values this country has espoused since 9/11 are “America, f**k yeah!” So, torture fits right in.

  5. timberwoof:

    Some people aren’t convinced by the immorality and illegality arguments … and they will probably not be convinced by any arguments from fact. As has been suggested elsewhere, torture is more about hurting people than trying to get information out of them.

    I wonder if Jose Rodriguez would have written a more factual book if the methods he promotes had been used to obtain the truth from him.

  6. laurentweppe:

    Is it really important whether torture provided credible information?

    Yes, because it shows that torture advocates are also liars and not merely sadistic.

  7. Modusoperandi:

    In this area it’s not a question of memory but of factual record.

    Well, there’s your problem right there.

    The reality is that both of those pieces of intelligence were gained by my partner and me, with C.I.A. colleagues, in early April, 2002—months before the August, 2002, start of the E.I.T. program.

    Ah, but how does he know that they weren’t torturing his subjects when his head was turned, hmmm?

    It was about their reputation, not safety.

    See? The conservatives are correct: government can’t do anything right!

    abb3w “See also ‘confabulation’.”
    I fail to see what the word for “Two floats at the Gay Pride parade running into each other” has to do with this.

    timberwoof “I wonder if Jose Rodriguez would have written a more factual book if the methods he promotes had been used to obtain the truth from him.”
    His hands would be shaking too much to type.

  8. iainr:

    threatening the British government over it

    The British government were in it up to their necks and don’t need threatening.

    They’re not beyond using “we have to keep it secret or the US will stop telling us stuff” as an excuse but I don’t buy that there were any real threats.

  9. F:

    “It’s not my role, really, to do a factual investigation of that.” …

    Official slogan of the intelligence community.

  10. democommie:

    F@9:

    But it’s much classier in latin:

    “In inertiae veritas!”.

  11. abb3w:

    lancifer:

    Is it really important whether torture provided credible information? Even if it was 100% effective it would still be counter to the values and laws of this country.

    Historically, the values of the US are a lot less lofty than Americans try to idealize them as. And laws can be changed.

    So, in so far as it’s not 100% against the actual values of the country, and laws can be adjusted to suit those actual values if need be, the effectiveness remains relevant.

    Contrariwise, if you can show it’s not merely illegal and immoral, but ineffective, that leaves only the basest of motives: situations like this leave people wanting to hurt someone over it, and not all that concerned about who, or how doing so makes us look before the much-seeing eye of history… or the all-seeing eye of God.

    (No, not a theist. Still, rhetorically useful for persuading those who are. Might help if you’ve a good enough memory to recite the parable of the Sheep and the Goats from Matthew 25.)

  12. lancifer:

    abb3w,

    I understand your point, but then if evidence that torture was used effectively, in some situation, to gain credible information it would be playing into the hands of torturers to have hung your hat on its ineffectiveness. “A ha! See it does work.”

    Also, while understanding the data about torture not giving reliable information on the whole, and thus ruling out systematic torture as a intelligence gathering tool, it is ludicrous to suggest that it has never produced important information.

    I think the proper line of argumentation is to condemn it even if it was 100% effective on moral and legal grounds. The argument that morals and laws change could be used to justify torture for the sake of retribution, even if it didn’t produce useful information.

    Thus getting into a debate on effectiveness plays into the hands of torturers. Since actual scientific study of the subject would be heinously unethical only anecdotal information can be used to settle the issue and I’m less than confident that no such anecdotal information supporting its effectiveness exists.

  13. dingojack:

    iainr – “The British government were in it up to their necks and don’t need threatening”.

    Do you have citations for this assertion?
    What kind of involvement are we talk about here?

    Dingo

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