Jose Rodriguez, Poster Boy: Why the former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, destroyed tapes of interrogation sessions
Why did Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, destroy ninety-two tapes of interrogation sessions in which terrorism suspects were subjected to waterboarding and other torture techniques? On Sunday, Lesley Stahl put the question to him on 60 Minutes, and he provided an answer:
rodriguez: To protect the people who worked for me and who were at those black sites and whose faces were shown on the tape.
stahl: Protect them from what?
rodriguez: Protect them from Al Qaeda ever getting their hands on these tapes and using them to go after them and their families.
Rodriguez’s claims don’t stand up. Tapes are released with some regularity by the government, and when they are, the identities of any Americans shown in them are almost always obscured—in fact, U.S. law would generally require that this be so. So his first concern hardly makes sense. His second, that the interrogators would become Al Qaeda targets, is similarly a stretch, not only because their identities would not be disclosed, but because of the clear success of the U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda. The terrorist organization has been decimated; it is now struggling from the margins against extinction. And even if it were in a position to strike, low- or mid-level CIA interrogators would hardly be high on its list of targets.
So why did Rodriguez really send those ninety-two tapes through an industrial-strength shredder? We know that they contained information sought under court order for use in civil and criminal litigations. Their release would probably have resolved questions about whether certain prisoners had been tortured, and about the circumstances under which the prisoners made certain statements. Disclosure would also have resolved questions about which techniques the CIA used and how they were applied. These are hardly abstract concerns—even today, former attorney general Michael Mukasey regularly explains to incredulous audiences that when America waterboards, it is entirely different than the waterboarding of the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, and the Spanish Inquisition. Such claims might not be so easy to repeat if we could actually witness what the United States had done. Clearly Rodriguez didn’t want these details to come out.