John Rizzo: The Legal Case for “Enhanced Interrogation”
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, John Rizzo, a 25-year CIA veteran, was a top lawyer at the agency. After watching the attacks on television, like much of the nation, he scribbled down three words on his legal pad: “Capture, detain and interrogate.”
Less than a week later, the notes on Rizzo’s pad would be transformed into one of the most sweeping covert operations in American history. And 13 years later, Rizzo’s name would be mentioned more than 200 times in a massive Senate report that found that what the CIA called its “enhanced interrogation program” was brutal, mismanaged and ineffective.
In an interview with FRONTLINE, Rizzo said that even though he found “some of these proposed techniques terrifying,” he rejected the Senate report’s conclusions. He said he insisted that CIA lawyers detail every proposed interrogation technique so he could then go to the Justice Department for written approval.
“I did consider the implications of the U.S. government in any way, shape or form going down this road,” Rizzo recalled. “But my major concern as the chief lawyer was: Were these techniques legal?”
Rizzo also discussed the unauthorized destruction of videotapes showing CIA interrogations, how his nomination to become the agency’s general counsel was torpedoed by the torture debate and his specific criticisms of the Senate report.
This is the edited transcript of two interviews conducted by FRONTLINE’s Mike Kirk on Feb. 3 and Feb. 5, 2015.
… Take me to the summer of ’01. … From everything where you were watching, what did it look like? What were you hearing? What was going on?
There was clearly, clearly, increasingly intelligence coming in. Some fragmentary, some perhaps not entirely reliable. But there was too much of it coming in; shards of information hinting at a major Al Qaeda attack against America or against Americans either domestically or located overseas. It was a drumbeat, really.
The CIA director at the time, George Tenet … basically began having twice-weekly, then three-times-weekly meetings in his conference room every night at five o’clock to discuss all of these threats with everyone in the Counterterrorism Center. …
You’re in some of those meetings?
I was in all of those meetings, yes.
What was it like?
Well, it was tense. It was tense. … All of the experts on Al Qaeda — the operations folks, the special activities paramilitary folks, all of the analysts — would sit and brief senior leadership — CIA Director Tenet would sit in the middle — about the daily threats that were coming in and what our experts made of them.
And it was an increasing, increasing drumbeat of danger and foreboding. So it was quite an extraordinary, extraordinary time. …
Give us a sense of George Tenet at that time.
He was ringing all the fire bells. I know he was very aggressive, insistent with the Bush White House and the NSC [National Security Council] staff that these threats were real … and that the agency was basically going to full alert to call out all of the stops, really, to try to get some specific sense of what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. …
Were you worried?
Yeah, I was worried, sure. As I say, I’m the lawyer, I’m not the expert. But what impressed me more than anything else were these people sitting around the table every night at five o’clock in the conference room. These are people I knew in some instances for 25 years. Career CIA people. Not by temperament alarmists. Very, very professional, very low key normally. I could see the expressions on their faces as they were talking, the sense of urgency. The sense of, this is bad. …
John McLaughlin was sitting in those meetings, too. Describe John for us.
John McLaughlin had been at the agency even longer than I had. I began in 1976; he began 1972. Again, we’ve known each other, knew each other throughout our careers. He was an analyst. By dint of his personality, but also because of his academic background, he was professorial. He affected this tweedy, faculty club-like demeanor, very calm voice. But a marvelously interesting man. Very whimsical sense of humor. And also, an extremely accomplished amateur magician. So he was and is a very, very, very interesting guy.
George Tenet picked him to be his deputy CIA director. And men with two more disparate personalities you would never find. But they got along splendidly. They complemented each other.
So everybody sitting in that room are kind of holding their collective breath, right? And it happens. Take me to the day.
… I was sitting in my office on that Tuesday morning, a beautiful fall morning, both in New York and in Washington, sitting in my office on the top floor of CIA headquarters, the seventh floor, where the CIA director’s office is and other senior officials. And I heard the news. And I believe most people in the agency, even in the Counterterrorism Center, first heard the news by watching their TVs in their office. That’s how I heard.
And there was this collective sense of shock. But because of all the signals, all the indications, all the intelligence, this drumbeat that had been occurring for at least a year before, not a lot of surprise, other than the audacity and the location of the attacks.
Almost right away the building is being evacuated. You stay. Tenet and the others, according to your book and other things we’ve read, they go to the old building?
There was a building on the CIA grounds. This is the CIA printing plant. This is because the intelligence products, the reports CIA prepares, are all classified. All the publishing is done in-house. …
So it was to that building, which was physically apart from the main CIA building, to which George Tenet and his immediate coterie — I don’t want to say fled … but there was another plane in the air. No one was quite sure where it was heading, where the target was. The speculation was that it could be going, headed for the U.S. Capitol or for the White House or towards CIA headquarters. So that’s why the evacuation was called.
You don’t leave. And poignantly, you write about sitting at your desk and looking out over the landscape. Presumably you could have seen the plane coming if it was coming.
Yeah. I remember looking out my windows. There are floor-to-ceiling windows on the top floor of the CIA complex. And first of all, looking across the courtyard … to the adjacent CIA building. And looking at a lot of my colleagues, CIA officers, staring back at me through their windows. Some of them looking skyward. It was striking.
A mass evacuation was called for inside CIA. This was around 10:30 that morning. And honestly, the reason I stayed was that I looked out from my vantage point, I could see the CIA parking lots and the roads leading out of CIA, which of course is a fenced facility, and they were all clogged. … It was absolute gridlock inside the CIA complex. So honestly, that was the reason I stayed. Because I knew I couldn’t get out anyway.
… How did you get there? How did you find yourself sitting there?
I had been a CIA lifer. On the morning of 9/11, I was approaching the 25th anniversary of my arrival at CIA. I was a lawyer at CIA my entire career. I rose slowly through the ranks. And as fate would have it, I was not the general counsel on the day of 9/11, but I was the most senior deputy general counsel and most senior career lawyer inside the CIA.
So I’d been through many, many CIA controversies and crises in my then-25-year career. I had acquired a sense, over the years, of what was going to be a crisis and what was more of a political event, so to speak. …
I knew sitting there that morning, trying to process what had just happened, that this was unlike not just anything I had ever encountered in my career, but anything the agency has ever encountered. Because the agency failed to deter and also even know in advance about these massive coordinated attacks on the homeland.
So it was a day inside CIA for both me — and I think I can speak for the rest of CIA — it was shock. But it was also a great sense of shame.
Is this when you write three words?
As I was sitting there in my office, I tried to focus on what was next for CIA. … I knew, for instance, there would be a massive investigation into this catastrophic intelligence failure by CIA and FBI and the entire national security community. So I knew that was coming.
But I also knew that the CIA would be not just asked, but ordered by the president and by the American people and the Congress to take unprecedented steps to ensure that there would not be a second attack on the homeland.
Sitting there, as a lawyer, I took out a yellow pad and tried to sketch out some of the unprecedented actions that we could be told to undertake and what those would entail.
Sitting there, trying to focus on this most terrible of days, I scribbled down words: “Capture, detain and interrogate terrorists.”
We had never, certainly in my career … CIA had never held people against their will, had never interrogated them in any extent. This was actually a new thing for CIA to do.
And as I wrote those words, I did not know at that point how CIA was going to exactly carry out these kinds of activities, but I knew it was something in the wake of 9/11 that it was inevitable that we would be directed to do. …
How did the tenor of the five o’clock meeting change? Did it feel palpably different than it had felt in those months right before?
Yeah, yeah. It did. I mean, immediately. The day after 9/11, that’s really where the CIA paramilitary swung into action into Afghanistan. I mean, the day after. That’s when the notion of, if CIA were going to carry out a program to capture and interrogate terrorists to elicit information about any second attack, how would we do that? Where would we hold these people? Would we let a foreign government hold them on our behalf? …
Keep in mind, there was also a sense that, besides capturing and detaining, some of these guys couldn’t be captured, or wouldn’t be taken alive. So that really began the lethal portion of this post-9/11 CIA counterterrorist program. That even predated, I must say, the interrogation program. …
So in that room, there’s a palpable sense of fear, still, I guess: Are they going to come again? Are there cells in the United States? There’s revenge, to be sure. There’s political maneuvering: Are we going to be blamed? And at the same time, how do we pull the levers of government so we can get going and do what we need to do? Where is the emphasis early on right in those first three or four days? Is it a little mixture of all of it?
A mixture. Also, there was a clear sense, which I shared, that the future and the very institutional existence of CIA was at stake. That if there were a second major attack, the American people would rightfully demand to know what is the CIA there for, if not for this? And the FBI felt the same way. …
I think it’s on that Sunday the vice president goes on Tim Russert’s show and says: “We’re going to have to go to the dark side. The American people are not going to be able to know all the means and methods we do to solve this problem.” Did you see the broadcast? Did you hear those words?
I did. And I knew what he was talking about, because by that Sunday, CIA — and I’d actually played a lead role in preparing basically an operational document for approval by President Bush, carrying out the specific mandates. Again, unprecedented kinds of activities. So at the time Vice President Cheney was speaking those words, we were about to be directed to do many of those same things on the dark side.
You were the dark side.
Yes, we were.
… Where do you first hear about Abu Zubaydah? …
The first time I can remember hearing the name Abu Zubaydah was in the wake of the millennium attacks, or attempted attacks on LAX airport, where, as you recall, a terrorist wannabe named [Ahmed] Ressam was captured on his way, I believe, to the city.
In his interrogation by the FBI, he started talking about a man named Abu Zubaydah, who was basically, he said, the operations logistical commander for Al Qaeda. That was the first I had heard his name. And it came up in one of the five o’clock sessions at that point. …
And then in those months, as the drumbeat of threats and foreboding grew, his name kept popping up at the meeting, that there was some intelligence, electronic intelligence or human intelligence mentioning the name Zubaydah as being a key cog in the Al Qaeda machinery. …
By the time 9/11 actually happened, I must say at least personally, he was the most senior Al Qaeda I’d ever heard of.
So how do you get him?
It was a combination of wonderful intelligence work, in cooperation with our Pakistani counterparts, and, as most intelligence operations are, a dose of good luck. He was captured in a shootout in Pakistan. He did not go quietly. He was wounded severely. But we got him in late March 2002.
How wounded was he?
Wounded enough so that the agency arranged for three specialists from Johns Hopkins to fly over. Keep in mind that Abu Zubaydah was our first guest, so to speak, at what became known euphemistically as the CIA “black site.”
When you’re in the meeting or when you hear that they’ve got him, what’s the sense? Anticipation? Jubilation?
It wasn’t jubilation. Again, we’re talking only three or four months after 9/11. There was nothing for the agency to be jubilant about. I think it was a sense of quiet satisfaction that we had gotten him, that he was still alive. He was widely thought to be — universally thought to be — a key, key figure in the Al Qaeda hierarchy, someone who, if there were going to be a second attack imminent, he would know about. …
… In the book, you’re very harsh about Abu Zubaydah. Tell me the way you describe him.
I mean, he was a committed, remorseless, psychopathic personality. Now, I must say that before he was captured, and even for a time after he was captured, as events would turn out, he wasn’t quite the dominant figure inside the Al Qaeda hierarchy that our intelligence had indicated.
But that of course is hindsight. He was, by any measure, an important player. Was he the Mr. Big of Al Qaeda just under bin Laden? No. But he was enormously senior, the first big fish we caught. So he was valuable.
Fairly early in this process you need some authorizations to do whatever you’re going to have to do to interrogate him, to hold on to him, to decide is this a law enforcement model or is this a terrorism model? Is this an act of war? Is he an enemy combatant? Many things have to be talked about and thought about from a legal perspective. What were you thinking? What was Director Tenet thinking? What was the White House thinking? And when did you find yourself going to [the Justice Department]?
Well, first of all, for some context: A week after 9/11, President Bush signed the top-secret directive called a presidential finding, which was drafted, written inside CIA and submitted to the White House for approval. I played a major role in writing that document.
It did contain the words “capture, detain and interrogate.” But that’s all it said. The means by which any of this would be done was not in that document. Because, honestly, at the time we wrote that document, I certainly had no specific idea on how we were going to exactly carry out this mission of capturing and detaining and interrogating.
So Zubaydah’s captured in March 2002. He recovered from his wounds. He began to be questioned by a CIA team and an FBI team. The word that came back from the CIA team was that he was clearly holding out, that he was smug, that he was smart, that he was pathological, and that he was making no secret of the fact to his interrogators that he knew what we wanted to get out of him, and he was not going to do it. …
And it was in those fraught times after 9/11, those first months. And the context of the time is so important. In the interim, we had had the shoe bomber attack. We had had the anthrax attacks. The nation was gripped in fear and dread of another attack around the corner. And the people of the United States, certainly the Congress and the White House, were demanding of CIA that it not allow that to happen.
So here we have our first big fish and he ain’t talking. So it was in that atmosphere, in that context that our experts came up with what became known as the “enhanced interrogation program.”
When was the first time you heard those three words? Who did you hear them from and what did you think?
I was approached, as best I can recollect, some time in early April, with what I just described — a defiant Zubaydah, a man that our experts were convinced was holding out. A number of lawyers I had under me at the Counterterrorism Center came to my office with a couple of their clients. I had never heard the words “enhanced interrogation program” before that day. I had never heard the word “waterboarding.” But proposed technique by proposed technique, they were spelled out to me orally. And I was flummoxed.
Flummoxed. I had no idea what waterboarding was before that day. I had no idea, no experience, no expertise in the federal anti-torture statute. Some of the proposed techniques that were being described to me sounded almost something out of a Three Stooges comedy — a facial grab, or a belly slap, and attention-getting devices.
But other things, like the waterboard, like sleep deprivation that would last for days and days, like a technique involving putting a terrorist into a small box, these were totally out of my realm. The hour before I was briefed on these techniques, I wouldn’t have known about any of them.
So it was overwhelming. It was overwhelming.
Any of us under those circumstances would take a deep breath and say, “I’d like to think about this.” Pretty much what you did?
I took a deep breath, yes, I did. And I told them I had to think about this. Keep in mind, by this time I had become the chief legal officer at CIA. The legal buck stopped with me. I was the first lawyer inside the government to hear about this proposed interrogation program. It was a creature of CIA. … This was something our people came up with, this proposed program. …
I said I needed time. I needed to process this. But I also knew I didn’t have the luxury of a lot of time to process this. …
I immediately recognized that this had big-time trouble for CIA written all over it. I didn’t know when, I didn’t know how. But I knew one of two things would happen: Either we would implement this program, assuming we did determine it was legal. There was no second attack, but some years down the road, American political culture being what it was, 9/11 would become a more distant memory and there would be a change of viewpoint, let us say, in the Congress. Perhaps among the American people. The sense of urgency, sense of dread would have dissipated. And some day, somehow, this program would come out and we would be excoriated for conducting these kinds of techniques, for an American intelligence agency, for American government to do this kind of thing.
Or, there was a second attack on the homeland and Abu Zubaydah knew about that second attack. And we went ahead and deployed these techniques and he still didn’t tell us about those attacks. In the wake of that catastrophe, I knew that CIA would be excoriated for having only done a limited program, that they could have done more aggressive interrogations. …
So as I was walking around that building, I fully realized that either way, some day, somehow, we would be screwed.
And the morality of it?
Honestly, honestly, my main focus — I found some of these proposed techniques terrifying. I didn’t know anything about waterboarding, I didn’t know about the history of waterboarding. But as a personal matter, I found it terrifying. And I did consider the implications of the U.S. government in any way, shape or form going down this road.
But my major concern as the chief lawyer was: Were these techniques legal? Mercifully, I had had no prior experience in the anti-torture statute. As I say, CIA had never held anyone incommunicado before now. So I didn’t know where the legal line was.
So my primary job was to attempt to ascertain, to clarify, with certainty, whether or not any or all of these techniques crossed that legal line into torture. That was my primary focus at that point.
The morality of it, sure, I had views about that. But I did not view that as my primary role.
In your job, do you think of Tenet as the client? Do you think of Bush as the client? Do you go to Tenet and say, “I want to tell you something unbelievable is being suggested here and I think we should run the dialectic on this and figure it out”? Or is it you that decides and you ratify it?
Well, I went to Tenet. If you’re chief CIA legal adviser, your most senior client is the CIA director. As a career CIA lawyer, it was always that way. At the same time, I also viewed as my clients everyone in CIA. Everyone.
In the case of the enhanced interrogation program, I was also very focused very heavily on the career CIA people. Not the senior leadership people, but the people who would be actually carrying out this program in the hellholes of the world. I was focused, obsessed with ensuring that if they carried out these activities, in good faith, that they would have the maximum legal protection so that they wouldn’t be subject years down the road to political or even criminal investigation for doing what they were told to do to protect the country.
So in that sense, sure, I talked to George Tenet; he was my client. But if anything, I was even more focused on the rank-and-file people who were going to be asked to do this and put their lives and potentially their professional reputations on the line.
Let’s talk about Tenet for a minute. What are the circumstances that you lay it out for him? How does he react?
Well, the first time, at least as far as I’m aware, that George Tenet was briefed on these proposed techniques was very shortly after I was. Because I was in the room with him. …
Honestly, George Tenet’s first reaction was to turn to me, as was his wont, and say, “Is any of this stuff legal?” So that was his focus. I do not recall him expressing revulsion or enthusiasm about doing this. As I say, his first reaction was to turn to me and say, “Can we do this legally?”
And what’d you say?
I told him I did not know. I told him these techniques were all new to me. This, mind you, was just a few days after I had first been told about these proposals. I told him I was not an expert on the federal anti-torture statute, that some of these techniques seemed relatively benign, but others seemed to, at least to my unschooled perspective, seemed to come close to whatever the legal line of torture was.
I also told George Tenet that if these techniques are torture, there was no argument, there’s no defense that they were necessary to protect the country, even from another second 9/11 attack. That would be no defense.
… How do you get answers to your questions?
Again, time was of the essence. Zubaydah was in custody. He was stonewalling, I was told by our experts. And we didn’t know when the next attack was coming, but that it could be imminent. So we did not have time. I did not have time to conduct a detailed CIA legal analysis of these techniques and whether they violated the torture statute. We would have had to start from scratch on that.
So what I decided to do was to go to the ultimate legal authority in the executive branch for questions involving the federal law or the Constitution. And that was, that consisted of the Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] at the Department of Justice to seek an authoritative, definitive legal opinion on whether any and all of these techniques cross the legal line into torture. …
When I told George Tenet at that first meeting that that’s what I thought we should do, he agreed, as I knew he would. Mind you, this program was still just inside CIA at that point. He said, “We have to brief Condi Rice” — Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser — “about all of this stuff before we go any further.” …
So in light of that, I called my counterpart in the National Security staff, the legal adviser, a good friend I had known for years named John Bellinger, and asked him, given the fact that his boss was going to be told about this proposed program, and that I would be going to the Department of Justice to lay this on them, that John Bellinger convene a meeting, with him, with me, and with the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice.
So that first meeting of lawyers to consider this proposed program occurred in the offices of the National Security Council.
At the White House.
At the White House.
Condi was there?
No. Just the lawyers.
So who represents the OLC? Is that John Yoo that comes over?
John Yoo represented the OLC at that meeting. He was also accompanied by the then-head of the Justice Department criminal division, Michael Chertoff. …
I obviously went, and I brought with me two of my lawyers from the Counterterrorism Center, the ones who had actually come to me first with this proposal. We’re talking here a mere 10 days, maybe less from the first time I ever heard of this. But we had to move quickly.
How did they react to the issue on the table? Were you precise in your description of what was at hand?
Well, we tried to be as precise as possible and hold nothing back. There was no point in sugarcoating any of this. I wanted a definitive, detailed legal conclusion by the Department of Justice. Honestly, it was less important to me which way they came out. But I wanted something definitive. I wanted something in writing. I wanted them to have a comprehensive understanding of what these techniques, as we proposed, consisted of.
So we tried to give them as much detail, as much graphic detail as we knew. Now, keep in mind, this was a nascent program at that point. We at CIA were just beginning to come to grips with how each of these techniques were going to be carried out. …
How did they react to the description of the EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques]?
I don’t know whether it was just being judicial or whether they were stunned, but there wasn’t a lot of feedback at that first meeting. They just sat there and listened. Noncommittal, I guess would be the best way I could describe it. Which is actually what I sort of expected. These were lawyers, after all. …
… It’s not somebody saying: “Wait a minute, this is America. Are you guys kidding me?”
I can’t say I heard that sentiment. You know, this was the crisis of all crises. I think everybody in that room knew what the stakes were, knew of the risks of going one way or the other. There were risks in both directions. So I think everyone there was trying to take it all in.
What eventuated? What did Yoo send you? What was it? When did you get it? And were you happy with what you received?
This first meeting I just described in John Bellinger’s office took place in mid-April. As I say, it was largely intended to just put this before the top legal decision-makers in the Bush administration. …
It was agreed Office of Legal Counsel would begin its research on the scope of the torture statute with the notion of these techniques in mind.
Meanwhile, we would go back to the agency and provide as much additional detail as we could, as these techniques were fleshed out, developed. Things like, well, if you do do waterboarding, in what increments would you do the waterboarding? Would there be medical staff present? How would this be monitored? How would it be reviewed? Things of that nature. …
So that process actually took two months. … That culminated in the second meeting of the same group of lawyers in mid-July 2002. This time, however, there was a new player, the chief of staff and legal adviser to the director of FBI, a guy named Dan Levin. He had not been at the first meeting. Dan was, again, a seasoned Washington lawyer, had worked in the White House in previous Republican administrations. Was an excellent lawyer. So I was happy to see him there. …
At this point, the Department of Justice had written, I think, a draft text of their conclusions. From the beginning I insisted they had to give us a written legal opinion in detail, not a one-liner, “Yes, this is torture; no, this isn’t.” I wanted a complete legal analysis, as detailed and as authoritative and as graphic as possible, because I wanted to have that to protect the agency. So I knew they were getting to that point.
Dan Levin, a wonderful guy and a great lawyer, however, began the meeting by announcing that the FBI, Director [Robert] Mueller, as a matter of policy, would not take part in any interrogations that included these sorts of coercive techniques. In other words, the FBI was opting out. So that was Dan’s main reason for being there. …
How’d you feel about the FBI opting out? You must have known that [FBI interrogator] Ali Soufan complaints —
Yeah, well, it didn’t surprise me. I did not know, actually, at that point — I mean, it’s come out in subsequent years in subsequent memoirs written by various people that at least one or two of the FBI interrogators, original interrogators of Zubaydah, thought that they were making progress with him. I did not know that at the time the proposal was first brought to me. I was told our guys, our interrogators, were convinced he was holding out, and that the equation had to be changed. …
What Dan said, to explain FBI Director Mueller’s decision, was that these kind of interrogations were not consistent with FBI internal directives and policies about how it conducted its interrogations. Which was not a surprise to me. I totally understood the FBI’s position, that they simply, as a matter of history, policy, culture, this was not the kind of interrogation that the FBI wanted to be associated with.
It was not that the FBI was convinced that their guys had Zubaydah ready to talk. I never heard that. I didn’t hear it that day. But the rationale they did express, I found totally understandable and legitimate.
And it didn’t give you pause? You didn’t say, “Wait a minute, if the FBI doesn’t like this, maybe we ought to think twice about this.”
I was thinking twice about this during this whole process. I wasn’t a blind advocate. What I thought was: “Well, FBI really, they do interrogations. This is what they do. They do criminal interviews and interrogations. They have their own rules.” CIA had never done interrogations. So CIA had no such rules. So my view was, well, that’s why I am here at the Department of Justice, seeing what the rules would be for CIA.
Our people were convinced that the kinds of FBI examination techniques, their traditional techniques, were not going to work with a pathological, remorseless, canny operative like Zubaydah, so that we had to try something else, something more aggressive.
So who are your guys? …
Our guys, CIA guys, had brought in some outside consultants, some Defense Department-trained psychologists in interrogations. And our guys, my guys were convinced that these contractors, is what they were, were experts, and that they had a very good feel and sense for these kinds of techniques and what they could accomplish against an intransigent personality like Abu Zubaydah.
And because I knew and trusted our guys and their expertise, I deferred to them that what they were getting and what they were endorsing was legitimate.
This is [James] Mitchell and [Bruce] Jessen.
Had you met them? Did you say, “I’d like to talk to these guys”?
No, I didn’t. I didn’t. I met them at some point, but those first initial months, I did not meet them. I may have been told what their names were, but I don’t even remember that. I do remember being told that outside experts from the Department of Defense psychologists were being consulted and would be brought in to at least get this program off the ground, if it was approved.
On the Yoo memo, did you get what you need? You’re happy with what you receive from OLC and it makes you comfortable to go forward?
I was happy that it was a detailed, graphic description of each technique. So that was very important to me, that it not be cursory, that it not explain and not spell out what exactly these techniques were. So though the memo, at least to my mind, satisfied those requirements. …
And when you get it, how do you get it?
Yeah, I read it. As I say, I’ve been in the CIA for a long time, but this was new territory for me. I mean, reading a memo, an 18-page memo, with my name at the top, describing waterboarding techniques; describing advanced sleep deprivation, going into days; describing putting a detainee in a small box with a bug. There was my name on the top of it. And the memo starts out with “You have requested whether the following techniques, such and such, and such and such.” Sure, that was startling to me, to see it in black and white, honestly.
I received it. The program back in those days, of course, was kept to a very small group of people. So I had the memo. I made a minimal number of copies, gave one to George Tenet and said, “It appears we have legal approval to proceed.” And we proceeded.
Did the president know?
I don’t know that. I don’t know that. In those early months, when this program was first being conceived and approved, I had no personal knowledge that the president himself had been briefed on this program. …
I do know though that right from the beginning, before the program was approved by the Office of Legal Counsel on Aug. 1, 2002, the White House, in the person of Condi Rice, national security adviser, and the vice president of the United States were briefed in detail about the proposed program. …
What’s it mean to you that Condi knew and the vice president of the United States, presumably his attorney David Addington, knew in detail what you had?
I thought it was important to get the most senior policymakers in the national security community involved at the beginning. I did not want CIA to go this alone. I wanted to get, and George Tenet wanted to get, a definitive yes or no from a policy perspective, from a moral perspective, from the White House. Because we were operating at the behest of the White House, after all. So that was critical. …
But they knew in detail. They knew the nudity. They knew the sleep deprivation. They knew the waterboarding. They knew it all.
Yeah. Yeah in detail. There was no intent here to hide anything from anybody. I wanted the people who were going to be briefed on this to be briefed on it in its entire chilling, graphic detail.
How did it work with Abu Zubaydah? Are you personally getting reports from Thailand or wherever he is? Are you getting reports about how it’s going?
Yes. Those five o’clock meetings were continuing obviously every night. … So sure, George Tenet would get, the rest of senior leadership would get a nightly update from the folks in the counterterrorism group who were overseeing the interrogation of Zubaydah: what was happening, how it was going ahead, was he still resisting. So yeah, we were kept, you know, closely informed about all of that.
Were they positive? Were they heading in the right direction?
The Justice Department approved their memo sent to me on Aug. 1. By Aug. 3, the techniques had begun. I mean, that was the whole point, to get legal approval and then start.
The least coercive were begun first. … I can’t remember the exact amount of days, but within seven or 10 days of the initial interrogations, the word started coming back that Zubaydah was — the phrase I came to learn was “learned helplessness”; that they had succeeded in breaking his resistance, and that he was now prepared to talk.
And when he talked, what was he saying?
Well, I mean, with 13 years removed from it, he was a logistics guy. So, as I recall, a lot at least of his early debriefings — and the debriefings, by the way, did not take place during the time he was subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques. They were after they stopped. So after that first seven or 10 days, that was it with him on the program.
He talked about, he knew the logistics routes. He started providing names of other Al Qaeda players. Don’t forget, he was the first one. He was the first big fish we had. So a lot of what he was saying, it was not smoking gun, you know, ticking time bomb kind of information. But it was extraordinarily useful.
And he kept talking. And would continue to talk for years after that. Long after the interrogation techniques had ended.
From what you can tell, to what extent is the stuff that’s happening abroad managed from CTC? Or is it out there, and it’s just happening, and reports are coming in?
No, it was closely managed through the CTC. The day we received the legal approval, legal memo from the Department of Justice, the next day guidelines were dispatched to the field, to the black site, basically saying “OK, sleep deprivation is available to you in the following increments. The waterboarding could be authorized under these conditions and for this duration.” This all came straight out of the Office of Legal Counsel memo.
We had lawyers closely monitoring it from the beginning. I was closely monitoring it, to the extent I could; obviously I wasn’t sitting in the Counterterrorism Center.
So it was not that the people at the black site with Zubaydah were left to their own devices. This program from the beginning was heavily, heavily overseen by CIA headquarters.
The whole thing starts to expand pretty quickly. … Are you aware of the extent to which things are growing and a place like the Salt Pit is being used and built?
Yeah, I mean, that’s an excellent question and it goes to a lot of what the incidents in the Senate report describes.
The black sites were separate and apart from the Salt Pit. The black sites where the enhanced interrogation program was carried out for the highest level Al Qaeda leaders. About a year after Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured. There had been two or three other senior Al Qaeda operatives captured in the interim.
That was the enhanced interrogation program. That was what I had my fingerprints all over. That’s what headquarters was monitoring closely.
Meanwhile, there was this other facility that was not part of the enhanced interrogation program, it was not a black site, that the more rank-and-file, if you will, Al Qaeda operatives who were taken off the battlefield would be housed. They were not part of the program.
But here I will acknowledge a mistake, a serious mistake, that the agency made, in retrospect. I made it, too. We were so focused on the EIT program and on the black sites and how things were run there, and the people that were actually carrying the techniques that in those frantic, frenetic, angst-filled months after 9/11, not sufficient attention was paid by headquarters to these other detainees, these lower-level detainees at the Salt Pit. And that in fact is where some of the abuses, most of the abuses, described in the Senate report, took place.
And that was a mistake. We should have managed that part of the program as well.
Keep in mind, this was all new to us. It was all new to us. We were trying to train interrogators as fast as we could. The really most skilled, most experienced interrogators were allocated to the black site, because that’s where the most senior leaders were. Those were the guys who knew about any second wave of attacks. Less experienced folks were involved in the interrogations at the Salt Pit, and that inexperience showed.
Walk me back to a five o’clock meeting some time when you hear about KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed]. How do you know about him and how do you get him?
Well, that’s a complicated question to answer in brief. As I say, he was not on the agency’s radar screen as to part of 9/11. His name came up through a variety of detainees, first through an alias. By the time he was captured in March 2003, it was clear from the other detainees — plus, again, intelligence was coming in all the time in those months — that if not the mastermind of 9/11, that he was the biggest fish there was out there, and the guy who would know about a second wave of attacks, if they were coming.
It was fairly clear, the information we were getting, that he was in the midst of planning more attacks when he was captured. So it was a huge coup to get him.
And getting him, there was no question he’d have to get into the enhanced interrogation.
If this program had been designed for anyone, it was for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And sometimes in the ensuing years, I have given some thought to the notion of, what if Abu Zubaydah had not been the first major detainee captured? What if we had known early on who KSM was, and what he had done, and what he was proud of having done, and we had captured him first? We would have constructed an enhanced interrogation program based on him. I suspect that the proposed techniques that I would have been asked to go the Department of Justice for a legal determination would have been even more aggressive than the original techniques that were approved for Abu Zubaydah.
How bad a guy was KSM?
He was brilliant. He was cunning. He was ruthless. He had this perverse sense of pride in having been the mastermind of 9/11. He was proud of it. He also made it clear that he would do it again. And then he wanted to do more.
For instance, it wasn’t shrewd intelligence work that determined that he was the man who was videotaped beheading the Wall Street [Journal] reporter Daniel Pearl. KSM admitted to that. He was proud of it. He wanted the credit. …
And as you’re sitting there thinking about the fact that these EITs will be applied to him as soon as he gets to his black site location, do you have any doubt that they’ll work? Are you by then pretty convinced of their efficacy?
Well, again, they’ve been tried on Zubaydah and a couple of subsequent detainees. And in each case, they did not have to be applied for a long duration before it was determined that the detainee was going to be compliant and would talk. So that was the full realm of experience we had. By that point, based on everything I’d heard, they seemed to be effective.
KSM was clearly going to be a new and the most difficult challenge. So I suppose what I thought at the time, before the techniques were begun on KSM, that he might be a tougher nut to crack, but that he would crack.
As it happened, he was a far tougher nut to crack than I, and I believe even people administering the program had assessed. The program, the waterboarding, as we all know now, went on for much longer against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed than certainly I would have anticipated. And he withstood it much longer than I would have anticipated, thought humanly possible.
How were you hearing? Did it all come up at the five o’clock?
Yeah, every night. Headquarters was on top of this program from the beginning. So sure, we would hear the details every night. We would hear reports coming back from the black site, what had happened that day, what he had said that day, how he was behaving that day. If EITs were being conducted, what they were, how often were they applied, how were they being regulated.
So it was a detailed, nightly data dump on these ongoing interrogations.
So you guys would have known [KSM was waterboarded] 183 times or whatever they said.
Well, personally, I didn’t keep score. I didn’t keep score. But I mean, I knew enough sitting there listening to — it was clear to me that he was being subjected to more waterboarding certainly than, by far, any of the few previous detainees who were conducted by it. And that he was withstanding it.
Does remorse cross anybody’s lips, minds? While that’s happening, is it, we’ve got to get this guy, we’re getting there, we’re going to get him?
No, it was the latter. You mean remorse that we had started down this road? No. No. Certainly I can speak for myself. This was a road that none of us wanted to go down. But once we had begun, and once the program — again, it was being developed and we were getting better at it as time went on. And all of us were convinced, as I am convinced to this day, that it was yielding extremely valuable intelligence benefits. There was a sense of stoic determination, I suppose, that this was what had to be done, and that it was a worthwhile program.
And are you getting reports, progress reports about Jessen and Mitchell that let you believe that they are doing good work?
Sure, absolutely. … The agency people who were overseeing their activities were convinced that these guys knew what they were doing, that they were professionals, and that the program — by this time, of course, they were training CIA people to conduct the interrogations — so that they were skilled trainers, that they were patient teachers, and that they were doing everything that was expected of them.
In the year between Abu Zubaydah and KSM, are you hearing reports from the field that are saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t know that this guy seems done,” or “We’re not getting anything”? Or any of the stuff that we subsequently heard?
I would hear some of it. My recollection was that people would come to a five o’clock CTC meeting, the people overseeing the program and say about one or more of the detainees, “Well, we’re satisfied that the EITs can end.” And my recollection in all of those cases, the EITs had ended, that, you know, the professionals had determined that the detainee was now compliant and that they would stop.
Learned helplessness had been achieved.
Yeah. So I, so my recollection and experience was, when the experts came up with that determination, then that was that. …
Now, in terms of what the feedback was between the people in the CTC overseeing the program and the people in the black site, I did not have a window in to that. And I’ve subsequently learned there would be occasional disagreements between those two entities about whether to continue a technique, whether the detainee was compliant or not. …
The Office of Inspector General is looking into things. How does that come about? How do you feel about it? …
… I wasn’t surprised. This was an unprecedented program that the CIA was undertaking. Highly risky. Highly aggressive. Bound to be highly controversial. So for the CIA inspector general to conduct a review — and that’s what it was called, a review, not an investigation — was not a surprise. I certainly expected it. …
Were you aware of Gul Rahman’s death? Were you aware of those things?
Yeah, yeah. Those had happened in late 2002. … When CIA discovered these abuses had been conducted — and again, these are the early years of the program — the CIA inspector general was informed and/or the Department of Justice criminal division was informed. So these were well known inside the executive branch oversight community at the time.
So sure, I knew about those. I was apprised promptly when they were uncovered.
… How does that feel to you? How worried were you about how this would get out of hand?
You asked about, did I ever think on a morality perspective. And when these things happened, yeah, I thought this is appalling. This is appalling conduct. Not just I, but everyone in the senior management of the agency. Allowing a man to die of hypothermia, doing a mock execution with a power drill — these were abhorrent. They were totally unauthorized. They were never, ever part of that program. …
They were not everyday occurrences. These abuses would happen occasionally. As time went on, they happened far less frequently. And it was one of the reasons — I mean, you know, the program was certainly not perfectly run, but it was one of the reasons at the outset that I had some considerable foreboding about how this would turn out for the agency.
The CTC pushes back. There is a lot of claims of success right around this time. … Did you vet those claims? Did you know about them? Were they common knowledge? Did it ever feel like maybe they’re gilding the lily a little bit?
I knew about the claims. I would prefer to call them reports, the progress reports on the program. I knew about them at the time.
For one thing, in 2004, we returned to the Department of Justice. I was still in the chief legal position, mercifully, at that time. We returned to the Department of Justice to receive an updated legal perspective from Justice about the program, as it had evolved in the two years previously. As part of that presentation, we presented the benefits that the program had derived during its first two years as part of the case to present the Department of Justice for their consideration, to basically update on how the program was going.
These claims of successes were provided by the professionals in the Counterterrorism Center to me. I did not independently vet them. Honestly, I did not have the capacity to independently vet these kinds of complicated, complex, analytical judgments. I knew the people who were making them. I trusted them. I relied on them. I still do. I’ve no reason to think anything that they said in terms of benefits was false or pumped up. I never heard that.
I put those results into the follow-up letter I sent to the Department of Justice. And I would not have put that in a letter over my signature if I didn’t think they were accurate. And I have no reason sitting here today to believe that they were not accurate.
Another piece of bad news hits right around the same time, and that’s Abu Ghraib. Those photos. Your reaction?
… Abu Ghraib was not part of the CIA enhanced interrogation program. As we all know, it took place in a U.S. military prison in Iraq. So it was never part of the CIA program.
But by 2004, details about the CIA program had been leaking out for some time. References leaked about what is waterboarding, and there was these black sites they’d been using. It was dribbling out, as it was inevitable to happen.
Abu Ghraib happens. Those horrific photographs. The agency’s program is still top secret, kept to only a few people in Congress. It was inevitable and understandable for the public or for members of Congress to conflate the two programs — one top secret, the other one exposed in all its horrific detail for the world to see.
So that, in my view, was really where the tide fatefully and irreversibly turned against the CIA program. It was washed up into this new controversy about how the U.S. government treats prisoners. Even though they were totally separate programs.
It’s right around then that [Sen.] John McCain [R-Ariz.] steps up and says “I’ve got something to say about this.” Take me there.
Well, yes, he did say that. Now, Sen. McCain was not part of the original small — in retrospective too small — group of senior congressional leaders who knew about the CIA interrogation program, were briefed on it. So he was outside of that loop.
But he began making public statements, I believe in 2004, that from what he heard about the CIA program, reading in the media, the leaks, that it all sounded like torture to him.
First of all, no one, certainly not I, is ever going to question Sen. McCain’s credentials for deciding in his own mind what is torture. I mean, it is, he has a unique, tragic perspective on that issue. …
When the program began to really head into turbulent political waters, right after Abu Ghraib, 2004, 2005, the new CIA director at the time was Porter Goss, a former longtime colleague and friend of McCain’s when they were both serving in Congress.
Porter Goss got pushed from the White House — and for what it was worth I endorsed him doing this — to provide a special briefing to Sen. McCain about the program, what it had accomplished, what it was going to look like in the future, because the program was evolving by that point. …
At the end of that session — I was not there, it was just the two of them I believe — after Porter ran through all the techniques, Sen. McCain, who said very little during the briefing, simply said, “I think it’s all torture.” Got up and left. So that was that.
When you heard that story, what do you think?
… To have someone of the stature and experience of Sen. McCain, even after having been briefed on the program, what it accomplished, what its limits were, how it was being monitored, all of that, for him to react, “I still think it’s all torture,” that was, I must say I found that alarming. Alarming.
And it wasn’t that [he] was just expressing his personal view on that. He was in the process of enacting legislation to basically outlaw the enhanced interrogation program. So sure, that was deeply concerning to me, that the political landscape had evolved to that extent, and that the agency, notwithstanding all the measures we took, all the measures I took to try to insulate itself politically and legally from any opprobrium, that that was crumbling. …
When Jack Goldsmith comes in [as head of the OLC] and is re-evaluating many things, is read in to lots of stuff, he recoils. One of the things that causes him to recoil is that original Yoo memo and other things.
… John Yoo actually issued two memos on Aug. 1, 2002. He issued a long legal analysis memo to the White House, addressed to [White House Counsel Alberto] Gonzales. That was not a classified memo. That contained no description of the techniques. It was a bone-dry legal analysis of the torture statute. It contained, you know, became that famous phrase torture’s only something that causes, you know, “major organ failure.” So he had that. And Jack was looking at it with a very jaundiced eye.
At the same time, he had this memo signed on the same date by the Office of Legal Counsel to me, 18 pages … describing all of the techniques and concluding that the techniques did not violate the torture statute.
Jack Goldsmith at the same time, he was heavily, heavily doubtful of the legal analysis of the Yoo memo to the White House. Made it clear to me that he was not going to back away from the conclusions reached in the classified John Yoo memo to me. He never backed away from that.
My worry was that if he was re-evaluating the underlying legal analysis of the Yoo memo, which provided the undergirding for the top-secret memo to me, then that by implication that was not helping the continuing legal foundation of what we were relying upon. So that’s what I was worried about. …
What they ultimately did was withdrew that original memo to Gonzales and replaced it with another one. And took out some of that over-the-top language about organ failure. …
We’re going to go right into the [former CIA clandestine chief] Jose Rodriguez and the tapes controversy. In your book you talk about a meeting with Bellinger after Abu Ghraib where he sort of asks the question, “You don’t have any tapes, you don’t have any pictures, right?” Take me there.
Yes, in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, there was a meeting among lawyers in the national security community at the White House, in the office of John Bellinger, national security legal adviser, in which the discussion turned inevitably to Abu Ghraib. And also at the meeting was White House Counsel Al Gonzales and the vice president’s counsel, David Addington.
We were talking among ourselves about how awful, horrific the pictures, photos were coming out of Abu Ghraib. And John asked, I think as a rhetorical question, something to the effect of: “Thank God, the agency doesn’t have any photos of any of its detainees. You don’t, do you?” And of course, we, Scott Muller, the [CIA] general counsel at the time, and I had to concede that, well, actually, we do.
And what did you have?
They were videotapes. They were videotapes dating back to the summer of 2002. They were videotapes of our first high-value detainee, Abu Zubaydah. And they were videotapes of — well, actually, 24-hour spool of him in his cell, but also during his interrogation, including that phase of the interrogation that involved waterboarding and other of the enhanced techniques. So it was all captured on 98 hours, I believe, of videotapes.
Now, the videotapes began shortly after the interrogation began. They were stopped in October 2002. So it was a discrete, limited kind of presentation.
Were you worried about that? Have you seen them?
I had not seen them. I did not see them. I was not made aware that they existed until right about the time that the Counterterrorism Center people decided to stop videotaping. It was only at that point that I learned that there had been videotapes made of the interrogation. And of course I asked, “Why’d you do that?” To this day I’m not sure who actually ordered that be done. Some say it was in the field, the people in the facility. Some say it was people at headquarters. I honestly don’t know.
I was told that the decision to do videotapes was largely based on the fact that Zubaydah was our first detainee who was going to be subjected to waterboarding and the other techniques. He’d also been seriously injured during his capture, where there had been a really wild shootout. So there was some concern — and keep in mind, this was right at the beginning of the program. We were just feeling our way along, trying to be very careful. In any event, we want to take these videotapes to ensure there is a record that we have not, are not abusing this guy, or not going beyond the guidelines that were issued by the Department of Justice to govern how these interrogations are done.
There was also a fear that during the interrogation sessions … the simple question-and-answer part of the interrogation of Zubaydah, there was a fear that our people might miss something in their notes. And so, again, this was at the outset. They wanted to ensure there was some audio record.
Two months after the taping began, as I say, the decision was made by the operational people to stop it.
Before Abu Ghraib, is there a discussion that says we should get rid of these things? …
I first learned about the existence of the videotapes because I was approached by our senior operational folks at headquarters to tell me there had been such tapes, but also implore me to give them permission to destroy them. That would have been October 2002. …
And their strong desire to destroy those tapes was unrelenting for the next three years.
Well, as it was explained to me, first of all, they believed the tapes really were not doing them any good in terms of writing down or capturing everything Zubaydah was saying, that their notes were more reliable. The audio in some of the tapes, it was unintelligible. In other words, in terms of a recordkeeping device, they simply didn’t need it.
The other reason I was told is that these tapes were quite graphic. While I was assured that there was nothing on there, including the waterboarding, that went beyond the prescribed standards, they were very tough to watch. And our folks had this fear that somehow, some day those tapes would be leaked to the public. The faces of our interrogators were clearly visible on those tapes, I was told, and so, the operational leadership at the agency were quite fearful that when these tapes were leaked, somehow the identities of the interrogators would be found out by the bad guys, and that these people would be in danger.
Obviously they weren’t destroyed, you didn’t grant permission. Why not?
Well, several factors. At the time, beginning October 2002, there had already begun a number of outside investigations into the interrogation program. There had been a number of criminal prosecutions that had begun against some senior Al Qaeda operatives. While the existence of the tapes had not yet become a factor in any of these investigations — in other words, no one had asked for any CIA tapes, anything like that — these investigations are ongoing. And as a lawyer, the perception, the appearance of destroying videotapes, especially videotapes of very aggressive interrogations, the appearance, at a minimum, would have been awful.
So I think any reasonably sentient lawyer advising a client would say: “Look, this will look bad. Do not destroy the tapes, at least not now. Maybe some day. But not now.” And that was the position I took consistently for years after that.
Did it feel like a ticking time bomb to you?
Well, yeah. It was constantly in my, in my thinking, for no other reason than our operational people kept coming back to me, seemingly every couple of weeks, saying, “Was it time yet? Can we do it now?” you know, “Is it reasonable to do it now? Will it be safe to do it now? We want to do it.” I mean, it was an insistent sort of drumbeat. …
I knew the people who were making these pleas. They were longtime CIA professionals. I didn’t and don’t question their sincerity about why they felt these tapes had to be destroyed. But I resisted. I consistently said, “Look, this is not the right time.”
With the concurrence of Bellinger and the White House guys?
Yeah, when we first told the White House lawyers about the existence of these tapes — again, these are Bush administration White House lawyers: Gonzales, Addington, Bellinger — we also told them that our client, the CIA, were strongly desirous of destroying them. And the reaction from the White House lawyers was, as lawyers, similarly, “For God’s sakes, don’t destroy the tapes without coming back here to the White House first for permission.” So that was their reaction, and it was consistent with my reaction.
And then one day —
One day, Nov. 10, I believe, 2005, this would be three years after I first learned about the existence of the tapes, … one of my lawyers in the Counterterrorism Center sent me a cable from the facility to headquarters. A very short cable that essentially says, “Pursuant to headquarters’ directions, the videotapes have been destroyed.” And needless to say, after 25 years at CIA, I didn’t think too much could flabbergast me, but reading that cable did.
Is Jose the headquarters that ordered the destruction?
Yes, yes. I subsequently find, found out, sort of frantically trying to determine how this could have happened, he sent out a cable a couple of days earlier, basically directing the black site managers to destroy the tapes. The only two people who apparently saw that cable before it went out were Jose and his chief of staff.
You promised Bellinger, Gonzales and Addington that you’ll warn them, you’ll talk to them about it before it happens. … What now vis-à-vis them?
Once I got past my shock and anger that this has been done, the CIA director — who at that time was Porter Goss, and also had no prior knowledge that these tapes were going to be destroyed — divided up responsibility on about who was going to relay this news to the folks in town that needed to know.
It fell to me to inform the White House. And I informed the relatively new White House counsel at the time, Harriet Miers. And Harriet, who was and is a low-key, very gracious person, went ballistic. So it was not a pleasant conversation. …
What do you mean ballistic? What does it mean?
… She demanded to know, as I would have in her place: “How on earth did this happen? We had told you not to do this without coming back to the White House.” And I had to concede that I myself did not know.
Did you feel a personal responsibility for the failure and the jeopardy it put the agency in?
Yeah, I do. I do. Notwithstanding the fact that I had resisted these entreaties for years, I could have done more, in retrospect, to ensure that the tapes not be destroyed. …
You never wrote anything that might have been construed by underlings, Jose in particular, that said it’d be OK?
OK to destroy them? No. No. And again, as I say, looking back on my own conduct, perhaps if I had delivered my orders in writing it might have had a greater impact. I relied on regularly admonishing the operational folks that they did not have the authority. I told Jose Rodriguez that he did not have the authority to destroy the tapes.
There’s a meeting that you talk about in the book, where you’re at the Roosevelt Room. … It’s the fall or August ’06, whenever it is.
Yeah, September, yeah.
September ’06. Tell me about that meeting, what was said, what was the decision, what was going on then.
Well, this was a key juncture in the history of the enhanced interrogation program, the CIA black site program. This is early September 2006, actually on the cusp of Labor Day weekend. The still relatively new CIA director at the time, Mike Hayden, had concluded, a conclusion with which I had agreed, that the interrogation program, which by this point was still top secret, but immersed, awash in controversy because of the media leaks, that it had to be refined and pared down if it were to survive, and that more members of Congress needed to be briefed on the program. And to his great credit, Mike persuaded the White House that the program had to be ratcheted back.
Who’s in the room?
Well, it was basically what we call the principals of the National Security Council. This would be the president, the vice president, secretary of defense, secretary of state, who at that point was Condi Rice, … [National Security Adviser] Steve Hadley, sort of the top echelon of the president’s national security team. CIA director, of course. …
I think both Secretary Rumsfeld and the vice president were out of town, out West somewhere. So they appeared on these, each of them, separately, one on one large screen at one end of the table; the other on a large screen on the other end of the table. …
There’s a vote taken.
There was a vote taken.
The vote is to?
The vote is to, one, pare down the program to eliminate some of the more coercive techniques, notably waterboarding, to a more streamlined kind of interrogation menu, if you will; and also to bring more members of Congress into the program. Up to that point, four years, the program had only been briefed to the congressional leadership, eight people. The new approach would be to bring the full membership of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, roughly 35, 36 members of Congress, to bring them into the program, to brief them on all the details, what had been done. So that was really what was on the table.
And I should mention that President Bush chaired that meeting. That was the first time, at least that I personally saw him discussing the interrogation program. …
So what’s the vote?
Well, the vote is near unanimous to open up the program to more members of Congress and to streamline it down, eliminating waterboarding, cutting back significantly on how long a detainee could be made — well, sleep deprivation. So the vote was, as I say, near unanimous.
But the people on the television monitors, how did they go?
… I looked up at Rumsfeld’s image and he looked somewhere between stoic and disinterested, but I mean, it was clear he wasn’t going to oppose it.
Looked up on the other screen and there was Vice President Cheney. And everyone in the room turned to his screen because at the end of the vote, I can’t recall what the president said, like, “Are we OK with going forward on this?” And there was no one who objected until the voice on the screen coming from the vice president, a loud, “No, I vote no.” The vice president said the program had been effective, that he believes that in its current form it was necessary, it was proper, and he was certainly not in favor of expanding its knowledge to more members on Capitol Hill.
And for a brief instant, everyone in the room, including the president, stared up at his image on the screen. It wasn’t a long, impassioned defense; he simply said loudly and unequivocally, as was his wont, “No, I vote against this.”
The way the story is sometimes reported is that it feels in that moment … that the president was going to go forward eventually to the American people and say: “OK, we’re scaling back. We’ve told the Congress.” Essentially declare the end.
Yeah, part of this new initiative, new point of departure would be for the president to deliver a speech at the White House for the first time acknowledging the existence of the CIA black sites. Not the location. But also for the first time, publicly announcing that at that point there were 14 high-value detainees CIA had in custody, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, announcing that all 14 of those prisoners would be transferred to Guantanamo Bay. …
The purpose of the speech, I think, was largely to turn the page on a new era — reflecting the political realities — a new era of the interrogation program. It was not an announcement that the program was stopped.
There are those who tell the story in a way that says Condi and certain forces were thrilled that he was going to do this, that they were surprised when the speech finally came out. … Cheney, in the end, he looked like he lost at the meeting, but he got what he wanted in the long run.
Yeah, I was involved in all of the meetings at the White House, interagency meetings leading up to this announcement. It had been several months in the making. It is true that Secretary Rice was one of the leading advocates for scaling the program back and for bringing more members of Congress into it. That is true. But during that period, I never heard either she or any of her designed senior representatives at these meetings ever express a view that the program needed to be stopped and ended. …
[The program] had yielded successes, from your perspective.
It had yielded successes. I know that in the years since there’s been intense debate about that. All I can say about that is that this was a program that had begun in summer 2002. Certainly beginning in 2004, it was becoming increasingly controversial, increasingly politically toxic in terms of the agency. It was already prompting investigations. It had the potential, and in my case was actually beginning to cause considerable harm to my professional standing, as well as the agency as an institution.
Why would CIA continue a program in the face of that kind of increasingly hostile environment? … Why would those of us who were continuing to be involved in that program, at professional risk to ourselves, continue a program that wasn’t doing any good, that was useless? I mean, you know, people in the CIA, they’re not sadists, they’re not masochists, and they are not stupid.
You get nominated for what some could consider the dream job. … Take me to those hearings. …
Yeah. By 2006, I had been the chief legal officer at CIA for five years, shortly after 9/11. I was the acting general counsel. The general counsel position is a presidentially nominated, Senate-confirmed position.
In March 2006, President Bush nominated me to the CIA general counsel on a permanent, official basis. That, as I say, required Senate confirmation.
It was a dream job for me. This was a culmination of a three-decade legal career at CIA. No career CIA lawyer had ever been nominated by a president for that top legal position. So it was a real honor, and I eagerly accepted the nomination.
That turned out to be an extraordinarily naive decision for me to have made. Even as a CIA veteran and observer of CIA controversies for a long time, I did not foresee the controversy that would erupt over my nomination on Capitol Hill.
I became, for lack of a better term, a foil, a symbol of the increasingly harsh, raging controversy over the wisdom, morality and efficacy of the CIA enhanced interrogation program. And that consumed what my congressional confirmation process was about, and what my confirmation hearing was focused on.
… You must know as you’re entering that [hearing] and the photographers are waiting for you, and everything else, that this could be problematic, to put it mildly, going into that room.
Yeah, well, as I say, I was naive. I should have seen all the warning signs leading up to my confirmation hearing, which actually took place in June 2007. …
I still clung, however, to a naive belief that I was a career CIA lawyer. I was a career public servant. I was not some political hack that was being parachuted in to take over this job. I had served under administrations of both parties for, at that point, over 30 years. I thought that there would be a reservoir of good will for a career person taking over the chief legal position at that most necessarily apolitical of agencies, the CIA. I thought that, together with my long experience in the intelligence community, would garner me some points. Well, of course, it didn’t. But that was the hope I clung to up to the confirmation hearing. …
[In your book you wrote about how] you promised to answer pointed questions in a closed session that often follows a hearing like this, where you can explain actions that were taken and other things. What happens when you go to the closed session?
Yeah, first of all, I was in a difficult, if not untenable position in trying to answer pointed questions about the enhanced interrogation program during the open session with the TV cameras. The program was still top secret. Large chunks had leaked to the media, but it was still officially a top-secret program, so I was constrained about how much I could say publicly.
So I took, again what I thought was a reasonable approach, which was to, each time I was confronted with these questions, to request, implore, the questioner that I would be pleased to answer that question in the closed-to-the-public session part of the confirmation hearing that was to take place immediately after the open session. …
None of the most ardent questioners ever showed up for the closed session. That would be Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein [D-Calif.], Sen. [Ron] Wyden [D-Ore.], Sen. Carl Levin [D-Mich.]. Those were the senators who had pounded me most mercilessly in the open session about the interrogation program, and who had led me to believe that they would follow up in the closed session.
But long story short, none of them showed up. The closed session of the hearing was perfunctory. I believe it lasted all of 35 minutes, as opposed to two hours of the public hearing. And that was that.
What do you make of that?
I make that my confirmation hearing at least was viewed by the opponents of the program on Capitol Hill as a cause for a public flogging. And I happened to be the flog-ee. …
Then Mark Mazzetti writes a story in The New York Times that is the explosion of the ticking time bomb about the tapes. When do you know he’s writing? What are the implications from you … about what was about to happen?
… I did not know that the story was coming. It was only a couple of days beforehand when Mazzetti called the CIA office of public affairs to say he was writing a story about the destruction of CIA videotapes involving the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah. So that’s when I learned about it.
And that’s when I also learned, belatedly, that the Intelligence Committees had never been informed that the tapes had been destroyed due to a miscommunication that happened in 2005 between myself and the CIA director Porter Goss.
I immediately saw this as one of the ultimate nightmare scenarios for CIA. A sensitive, politically controversial CIA decision or action had been taken, and CIA had failed to tell Capitol Hill about it in advance, so that the lawmakers overseeing CIA would learn for the first time about a major CIA activity or debacle by reading it in the media. And I learned down through the years, nothing makes Congress madder than that chain of events.
Take me to when you discover that Goss had [not informed] Congress that the tapes had been destroyed two years earlier. …
Yeah, when I found out that The New York Times was going to be break this story, which was sure to be explosive. … At that point I was the only remaining senior CIA official who had been involved in this whole videotaping episode from beginning in 2002 up to that point. So I was the only one left. Jose Rodriguez, a man who had made the decision to destroy the videotapes, had just retired. Porter Goss was no longer CIA director. So it was just me.
So I scrambled, trying to recollect my own actions of a couple years before when I had first learned about the destruction, and just trying to ensure that we had covered all the bases on this.
To that end, I called Porter Goss in retirement at home in Florida, just sort of compare recollections about both of our reactions and actions two years previously. We had a pleasant, direct conversation. I’d come to admire Porter tremendously. And I believe, as the best I can recall, near the tail end of the conversation I said: “Now, Porter, you remember that we had divided up responsibilities back in 2005 after we learned about this destruction. I was going to tell the White House and you said you would inform the heads of the Intelligence Committees on the Hill.” I said, “Do you have a record of that conversation? Did you write notes of it?” …
I’ll never forget this. There was a pause on the other end of the line, and Porter said, responded, “Well, actually, actually, I don’t think I ever really told the heads of the Intelligence Committees. The words he used was, “There just didn’t seem to be the right time to do it.”
And of course, my heart sank, because here we were going to have this huge explosive story, front page of The New York Times, about something that had happened that CIA had not told anyone on Capitol Hill about in advance. As I say, the ultimate nightmare scenario.
You looked guiltier than you may even have been.
The perception, the optics, or whatever they call them.
Yeah, yeah. … I think in retrospect, our already rancid atmosphere between CIA and the Hill over this program really became toxic, because the Intelligence Committee leadership became convinced that CIA was purposely hiding things from them.
[How do you find out that the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are going to investigate the enhanced interrogation program?]
At the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration, there was a new CIA director, Leon Panetta, coming in with the Obama group. I was still acting general counsel at that point. I fully expected, given my own checkered experience with the Congress and the controversial public profile I had acquired, being associated with the interrogation program, that I would be gone. And I accepted that. I understood it. I’d been at CIA for 33 years. So I was happy to go quietly.
Amazingly enough, Leon Panetta, a man I did not know previously, asked me to stay on for several months until my successor could be identified. So I actually had this unexpected window into the first several months of the Obama administration, and in the directorship of Leon Panetta.
Sen. Feinstein, at that point, had just succeeded Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Jay Rockefeller had begun an inquiry, a limited staff investigation a year or two earlier, into the interrogation program. New Chairman Feinstein, another ardent critic of the program, had determined that she wanted to not only continue what Sen. Rockefeller started, but expand upon it, make it a major, full-scale, comprehensive review of the program.
So to that end, she prevailed upon her fellow Democrat from California, Leon Panetta, to cooperate in the investigation, which he agreed to do, unsurprisingly, and to make available literally every record, every piece of paper, every email, every operational cable, available to the Senate Intelligence Committee staff to conduct what was advertised as a comprehensive inquiry of the program from its beginnings in 2002 to its demise in early 2009, when the newly installed President Obama basically repudiated and revoked it. …
Did you figure there had to be bomblets, maybe bigger that, smoking guns floating around inside there somewhere, that somebody like you in your capacity would not have known about?
Oh, sure, sure. I mean, we’re talking about a program of seven years’ duration, involving ultimately hundreds of people in the agency, if not more. I can’t count the number of emails I probably wrote during the course of that period to somebody about something. And I couldn’t imagine the number of emails other people had written or operational cables they had written or memos of telephone conversations they had to which I had not been privy.
And you know, I’d been, again, through a number of CIA controversies during my time, the most notable being Iran-Contra. And I knew that when gimlet-eyed Congressional staffers start burrowing through all of that stuff, there were going to be things in there that I had written or said, or that other people had written and said that would be, you know, cause surprises. …
What is now called the Panetta Review also gets rolling at about the same time. What was the genesis, what was the theory? Did you have any involvement with it?
I retired basically September 2009. What became the Panetta Review was just, had just started. Leon Panetta had just basically commissioned it. I don’t know what the ultimately product was. Apparently it never got past a draft report stage.
But in terms of an initiative, it was not an unprecedented thing for a CIA director to do; namely, when a congressional committee is undertaking a large-scale investigation of a CIA activity and is seeking access to voluminous amounts of agency documents, internal documents — I had done this myself during various congressional investigations over the years — the idea is, before you, or as you are turning over documents to this investigating committee, you want to know, for the sake of your institution, what it is you’re turning over so you can keep track. …
That, as I understood it, was the purpose of the Panetta Review, to basically monitor and summarize what it was that was being simultaneously provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee. …
Barack Obama becomes president. He’s campaigned against torture. …Your expectation of him and his administration and his approach is what? …
The initial briefings of President-Elect Obama and shortly thereafter his incoming senior national security team, on all CIA covert action programs, including the enhanced interrogation program, that was done in the interregnum, before President Obama was sworn in. This is something all incoming presidents get, sort of the CIA jewels.
Based on what he had campaigned on, none of us who were involved in those briefings of the new team were under any illusions that the enhanced interrogation program was going to survive. So we understood, we accepted that. Speaking just for myself, I was slightly relieved that this was, that this was finally going to be over. …
But in those initial briefings, the new president and his senior team, incoming team, made it clear that they were going to be just as tough, if not tougher, than the Bush administration in not just the counterterrorist arena, but the nonproliferation arena.
All of the CIA ongoing covert action programs that had been authorized under the Bush administration turned out — with the notable exception of the enhanced interrogation program — all of them were endorsed, if not expanded, by President Obama.
It was almost like it was a switch that was going to take place over a little bit of time, from a capture machine to a kill machine.
Yeah, the connection to me is inescapable. Although I suspect the Obama administration people to this day would deny it. But one of the first things, he arrives in office, he eliminates or repudiates the enhanced interrogation program. He shuts down the CIA prison system. …
So where does that leave you? It leaves you without a really viable, potentially effective program of capturing, incarcerating and aggressively interrogating a detainee. So he ceases to become a source of information. So if you have a terrorist and it’s no longer viable or worth the effort really to capture him, what’s the alternative? You kill them.
And to me, the fact that the Obama administration doubled down so dramatically and so quickly on the lethal program against Al Qaeda terrorists, there has to be a connection. There had to be a connection in the fact that it was prompted by, if not compelled by the fact that there was no longer a viable program for capture then. …
Osama bin Laden gets killed. Cheney comes out and asserts it was from information garnered from KSM and Abu Zubaydah and everybody else. … The president comes out to the CIA and says thank you to everybody. As you watched those events unfold in 2011, you’re out now, it was like the next chapter in the war of public appearances and much more, because the stakes are a lot higher than just public opinion.
Yeah. Even after I retired, every time I thought, “Well, this whole firestorm over this interrogation program,” which was since 2009 totally defunct, every time I thought, “Well, this is going to finally, finally fade away,” something would happen and the fires would start again. The takedown of bin Laden, being the first such event that occurred after I’d retired. This issue seemed to have such resilience. To this day it has such resilience. I’m sitting here talking to you because it has such resilience. It’s remarkable, really.
Being on the outside, I was thrilled, obviously, that the CIA had pulled this off. I was thrilled and proud. I was also, I must say, extraordinarily impressed when I read about the fact that President Obama had approved this risky, risky strike, rather than, say, accomplishing it via a drone attack. …
Now, in terms of what led to finding bin Laden. Again, the debate starts, started immediately. I mean, at first it wasn’t just Sen. Feinstein and the Democrats. Sen. McCain came out shortly after the attack and said this had nothing to do with the enhanced interrogation program.
I was particularly taken though with comments in the immediate aftermath of the takedown by senior Obama administration officials; namely, Leon Panetta and John Brennan and the national security adviser at the time, Tom Donilon, all of whom acknowledged, perhaps conceded is a better word, that the enhanced interrogation program and the information derived from it played a role. Played a role, not the only role, but a role in the ultimate ability to find and track down bin Laden. This coming from, this is coming from the Obama administration. So that sounded right to me. …
… Did you read the [Feinstein] report? What did you think of it when it came?
… The first time I saw the report was the day the rest of the world saw it. This effort had gone on for four years, during which time, I was never approached for an interview by the Feinstein staff. Neither was any other current or former CIA official. For the record, I would have happily granted an interview to explain and defend my actions. …
I have read parts of the executive summary. I have not yet read the entire executive summary. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a very difficult document to read, regardless of the merits.
But, you know, by the time I actually read it, it really held no real surprises for me. I mean, it’s a hit job on most of us. And in my view, a one-sided, unfair hit job.
It’s very tough, it’s very aggressive. As you were saying before when we were changing the tape, many of the former directors didn’t want to talk about it. Why?
I don’t know. I can only speak for myself. I went public immediately after it was released — again, having not had time to absorb what was in it — because I thought it was important to emphasize, at least from my perspective, and dispute any allegations especially that any of us who were involved in this program over the years were somehow acting in a way that was intentionally misleading to the Congress, to the White House, to the Bush White House of all places. These kinds of spurious, unfair charges, I just didn’t think, for the sake of my own honor, I could let, I could let unrebutted.
And again, had I [had] the opportunity to be interviewed, I probably, you know, wouldn’t have felt as strongly about it as I did. But the fact that this thing was put together, reached conclusions, made accusations without ever any of its drafters having the courtesy to talk to any of us, to give us our chance, I personally found the most despicable. …
One of the things that the Senate report focuses on is the choice of [James] Mitchell and [Bruce] Jessen. They write, “Neither psychologist had experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of Al Qaeda, background in terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, linguistic expertise.” Did you have concerns then or now about these two men being the architects of the program?
… The people in the Counterterrorism Center who sought them out, recruited them, brought them on board were people I had known and worked with for years and years. All of them assured me that these guys were experts in the field, specifically on the use of these kinds of techniques in the military for training purposes. And it was an expertise I knew that CIA did not have internally.
So it did not surprise me. And it was actually reassuring to me that our folks were taking the time to bring in experts. And I had no reason to doubt that, dispute that.
And you know, as time went on and I began to interact personally with Mitchell and Jessen, I had no reason to doubt their expertise. They seemed to know what they’re doing.
You never personally went down and watched any interrogation.
No. No. Not that I recall. I certainly never watched any of the more aggressive interrogations, like waterboarding. I did see, from time to time over the years, reports about the interrogation sessions. But after the first two months, there were no videotapes, so I would have had to go to the black sites to see the techniques being carried out.
You wouldn’t have wanted to as a senior —
We had lawyers that were all over this program on a daily basis, who witnessed the interrogation sessions. I myself went to a couple of the black sites in 2004, in early 2005, to review them. I saw the detainees. I suppose I could have, but I was confident that the lawyers at CIA were on top of things.
I think the most serious section that concerns you in the Senate report is about the CIA’s representations to the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice. They write: “Much of the information the CIA provided to the OLC was inaccurate, immaterial specs.” … When you hear that or when you read that, what do you think?
Well, they basically accuse me, I take it, in the report for intentionally misleading the Department of Justice in the run-up to their issuing the Aug. 1, 2002, memo. I did not. I would not ever mislead the Department of Justice, with which I had dealt over three-plus decades. Never would consciously mislead the Department of Justice about anything, much less a program of this unprecedented scope. …
I was going to the Department of Justice to get comprehensive, authoritative, reliable, ironclad legal advice. I would not have done that, I would not have accomplished that, it would not have been in my interest to try to pull the wool over their eyes. That was the entire rationale for going to Justice in the first place.
Now, 13 years later, perhaps there was an internal email at the time descending from what the information that was ultimately given to me by my clients to pass to the Department of Justice. As we discussed earlier, I didn’t know every single jot and tiddle about what was going on at the time. I was briefed completely. And the representations I made to the Department of Justice were based on representations made to me by people I had trusted and worked with in, over many years. …
So I would just, I would just reject the characterization, the personal attack on my honor and integrity.
And you were dealing with, at CTC, the people who were briefing you, lawyers?
Lawyers, but also operatives. I was also taking part in those daily five o’clock briefings to the CIA director, where a lot of these representations were made about Abu Zubaydah’s state of mind and capabilities and background. And this reflected what was being told at the time to the CIA director, George Tenet. Why would CIA people in a close environment like that lie to the CIA director about their best knowledge at the time?
Now, again, these were the early days after 9/11. I did ultimately find out that Abu Zubaydah turned out to be not quite as big a fish as our people had thought at the time he was captured. That happens. And that was understandable.
But to somehow go from that to a conclusion, you know, reached on second guessing, based on picking shards of information out of decades-old email, that somehow that was indicative of CIA trying to make Zubaydah into something he wasn’t from the beginning is, I mean, it was preposterous. …
Six days into Abu Zubaydah, the team who’s interrogating him says that they don’t believe he has any more information and apparently, according to the Senate, headquarters says to continue using the EITs anyway.
I do remember. Zubaydah was the first detainee. But this was not an unusual phenomenon during the course of this program on various detainees. By which I mean, the interrogators at the site doing the interrogation made a judgment, an assessment about the status of whether there was value in continuing the techniques, and headquarters taking a different view.
Now, sometimes it was headquarters wanting to continue techniques that the site thought were not necessary. Sometimes it was the site wanting to continue techniques and headquarters saying, “No, we think this is enough.”
So yeah, sure, there were these kinds of differences of opinion. Ultimately the headquarters view prevailed in all such cases, whether it be for more or less interrogation.
And again, we’re going back here, what, 12 years. It would not surprise me if there had been such a colloquy about the techniques on Zubaydah. …
The Senate disputes the claim that Abu Zubaydah provided useful information after undergoing the enhanced interrogation techniques. They say that the quality and the type of intelligence provided by Abu Zubaydah remained largely unchanged during and after the CIA’s interrogation techniques, but that the CIA claimed that the interrogation techniques had made a difference. Does that ring true? Did you ever hear anyone inside the CIA raise questions about the fact that the enhanced interrogation techniques had worked?
No. No, I never did. Everyone who was involved in that program over the years I was involved in it — it was hundreds of people, you know, five o’clock meeting after five o’clock meeting. I never once heard anyone at that table express the view or anyone come to me who was involved in that program and express a view that the program was ineffective, it wasn’t working. I would have remembered that. And I never heard it.
All I was hearing, on a daily basis, is that the program was yielding valuable results. So I never had doubt then. And I don’t have any doubt of that today.
We already talked about the techniques that were outside what was authorized. And the Senate really makes a point that this was a pattern. They say at least 17 detainees who were under the EIT program were subjected to unauthorized techniques without approval. … They basically say headquarters was looking away from the use of unauthorized techniques, even when they were detailed in cables. If that’s true, were you confident in the CIA’s ability to control what was going on in the program, how the EITs were being used, that the legal memos were being followed?
There were occasional abuses in the program. There’s no question about that. I was involved in the program for the entire time. Every such abuse was reported internally by CIA, self-reported to either our inspector general or to the criminal division of the Department of Justice. So there was no pattern of abuses here.
Again, the conclusion by the Feinstein report, that this was apparently some sort of dark conspiracy by CIA to sweep under the rug these occasional abuses is simply false. …
The picture that the Senate paints of the KSM interrogation is one where they basically say the EITs don’t really work. He provides some accurate information and a lot of inaccurate information. … What was your assessment? What were you hearing? Were you hearing concerns that the EITs were not working or were producing inaccurate information?
Listening to the results of the interrogations of KSM, notably the extensive amount of waterboarding, it was far more than I would have imagined was sustainable. In other words, I was surprised, as I think most people involved in the program were surprised, at how durable and intransigent and tough this mass murderer was. He was truly, no question about it, the toughest detainee we had, most obdurate. So yeah, I remember being struck by that.
Now, in terms of how much the waterboarding affected his ultimate cooperation, you know, I can’t say. I don’t think anyone could definitely say. I will say that the people that were closely involved in the interrogation of KSM told me that in their view, while the entire constellation of techniques was used on KSM, the one technique that seemed to be the most effective of all was not the waterboarding, but the sleep deprivation.
And they believed they got things that were useful.
You heard things from them that you believe were useful.
Yeah, yeah. And again, I’m listening to this as it’s happening. And they were gaining very useful information from it. He became downright loquacious.
He was and is a devious guy. So sure, not everything he was probably telling us was true or was complete. But he was giving up a lot.
And the things that he denied, that we knew were ultimately verifiable elsewhere, caused our analysts to conclude that, well, why is he lying about this if he’s telling the truth about this? This has to do with specifically with the couriers. He denied knowing about a specific courier that was to bin Laden when we knew from other detainees that that courier existed. So that led, that was key for our analysts, because they thought, well, KSM, why is he lying about this?
So this idea of interrogations and how and whether someone’s telling the truth or was fabricating or holding back — I mean, it is a complex science. It calls drawing in other independent sources of information, asking him questions you know the answers already to test if they’re going to be candid with you. It’s not, as sometimes depicted in popular culture, that you waterboard someone and they say: “OK, you got me. I’m going to talk.” I’m just a lawyer, but I came to learn this over several years watching this closely. It’s a very complex, sophisticated process. …
They looked at 20 cases. They say there’s no proof — and this is all from CIA documents. There is no proof of any plot being stopped. There’s no proof that anybody important was found due to it. How do you respond to this claim? …
Well, I mean, a couple things. In the first place, there is a — one that’s been apparently widely ignored by the media — detailed rebuttal by the CIA. This is by the current CIA leadership, the Obama CIA people who had nothing to do with the program that took some considerable length to rebut the notions set forth in the Senate Democratic version.
There was also a Republican minority report, again taking serious issue and citing what it found to be flaws in the analysis of the Senate Democratic versions. So there’s that.
I would just, again, emphasize that, why would we continue a program for seven years involving hundreds of people, involving a very risky and increasingly controversial, politically toxic activity if it was doing no good, if it uncovered no plot, that yielded no benefits? Why would CIA continue to persist in doing it? For the fun of it? For the joy of it? I mean, it beggars the imagination.
I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t have been part of that. Lord knows, it took a large chunk of out of my professional reputation. Leaving aside everything else, that makes no sense. It would have been suicidal for CIA to blunder forward in the course. CIA is not like that. …
The legacy of all this. What’s the argument about? What’s actually going on here? …
This interrogation program, I knew from the beginning that it was risky and it would be controversial. Somewhere, somehow, some day. I honestly did not think it would have the staying power that it has had, as we are now sitting here five years after the program was eliminated.
So, you know, there was something I can’t adequately explain in the political American psyche that this program strikes a chord, raises emotions, evokes emotions, on both sides. I can’t fully explain that. As I say, this has had more durability than I would have imagined.
I don’t think that there will be ever another president or ever another CIA director who would advocate a program such as this one, regardless, even if there was another terrorist attack. I just don’t see that. I don’t see that happening.
What I would fully anticipate, however, is in the wake, God forbid, of another major terrorist attack, whether it be Al Qaeda or ISIS, on the homeland, as there were in the aftermath of 9/11, it will be immediate outcries from the Congress, from the media, from the American public: How, CIA, could you have let this happen? Were you risk-averse in the run-up to this second attack? That as sure as day will happen. No doubt about that.
Finally, I would note the nationwide polls that have come out since the issuance of the Senate Democratic report on interrogations, where, surprising actually to me, large majorities apparently of the American people have concluded that, one, believe that waterboarding is an acceptable technique on terrorists; secondly, that torture — and that’s the word the poll asked; they use the word torture, the pejorative word torture — torture should be, is a useful tool, a necessary tool to elicit information about another attack. Three, that the CIA, in the enhanced interrogation program, yielded valuable intelligence.
In other words, the American people, at least in my assessment, have arrived at a judgment that they want to be protected, and that they are willing to not only tolerate, but endorse aggressive and controversial methods undertaken by the intelligence community to protect them. I think that really is the lesson of all of this.