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Ex-CIA Lawyer Says No One Was Misled On Torture, Abuses Were Reported


The CIA's enhanced interrogation program used in the years after 9/11 brought the terms waterboarding and black sites into the American conversation - and the word torture. That's the word commonly being applied to a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated the interrogation of terror suspects by the CIA.


California Democrat Dianne Feinstein chairs that committee.


SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: In contrast to CIA representations, detainees were subjected to the most aggressive techniques immediately, stripped naked, diapered, physically struck and put in various, painful stress positions for long periods of time. They were deprived of sleep for days, in one case, up to 180 hours. That's seven-and-a-half days.

MONTAGNE: The intelligence committee spent five years and $40 million on that report. It concluded that the CIA went well beyond what it had been authorized to do and misled the White House and Congress about what it was doing.

INSKEEP: Republicans on the intelligence committee called this investigation a partisan witch hunt, and they refused to participate. One Republican, though, Senator John McCain, supported the report's conclusion. McCain himself was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and said he spoke from personal experience about whether brutal techniques produce accurate intelligence.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering.

MONTAGNE: One former official who appears in the committee's report is John Rizzo, the CIA's top lawyer during the time the interrogation program was running. We reached him just after the report was released, and I put to him the concerns about extreme brutality and whether that was authorized.

JOHN RIZZO: Well, first of all, Renee, as we speak here now, I have not yet seen the report. It has just been - it's just been put out. So I actually sought to have access to it a few months ago. That was denied by Chairman Feinstein. So with that as background, in answer to your question, there were occasions where there were abuses, where the techniques went beyond those that had been authorized by the Department of Justice. So I don't dispute that. In all of those cases, at least to my knowledge, when that happened and when we discovered that it happened, we reported those abuses to both the CIA inspector general and, in some cases, to the Justice Department for investigation. But, as I say, that did take place on occasion over the years. So I don't dispute that.

MONTAGNE: Some of what's in this report is very hard to hear. And I should warn our audience that there is a difficult couple of techniques that I'm just going to describe in a line - one, putting a drill to a detainee's head, another, threatening sodomy with a broom handle. These were techniques that this report found were used. Do they constitute torture?

RIZZO: Well, they certainly were not authorized. And they are indefensible. So sure, I mean, if those Justice Department legal opinions established the legal lines and legal limits and those that we abided by, anything that went beyond those techniques, especially the gruesome ones that you described there, sure, they would probably constitute torture. I certainly - the drill incident you cited, I certainly remember that because in that case, I personally went down to the Justice Department with a couple of colleagues and to the criminal division and described that incident. So I have a vivid recollection of that one.

MONTAGNE: One thing that's been talked about a great deal and that this report addresses and concludes is that enhanced interrogation techniques, what many call torture, have never produced actionable intelligence that was not available by other means. The report accused the CIA, in fact, of misrepresenting torture as a key source of information included in the takedown of Osama bin Laden. What about that?

RIZZO: Well, of course, that's one of the key ultimate questions. Did these techniques work? Did they produce valuable intelligence?

MONTAGNE: Did they?

RIZZO: Yes, clearly - clearly they did over the period of the seven years of the program. I would cite to you, for example, Leon Panetta, the first CIA director under President Obama, a man who, during his confirmation hearings, described the program as torture. So this is no cheerleader for the program. In his recent memoir he said, and I'm quoting directly, "there is no question that the interrogation program produced important, even critical, intelligence." He went on to say that nonetheless, it was a stain on American values, and he still opposed it. But Mr. Panetta, who I admire greatly, really said it all very concisely.

MONTAGNE: President Obama put an end to these techniques when he took office - officially - although, they had not been used for the previous year or so, we were told. There has not been a domestic attack by al Qaida, a successful one, since then. Does that prove or show that it's possible to defend the country without the use of this type of enhanced interrogation or, as so many people see it, torture?

RIZZO: Well, I mean, again, this controversy is filled with so many almost existential unknowables, Renee. I'm not going to tell you that the information that was acquired during those seven years could not have been acquired elsewhere. The issue there is how long would it have taken for - to get threat information in a period of national crises - and that context is so important - in 2002? How long would that have taken, to get that same kind of intelligence that were derived from the techniques? And time, at that point, was the one thing that this country did not have. And it was a time when everyone - the Congress, the White House in the wake of 9/11 attacks, and I believe the American people - were demanding of CIA that they take the necessary risks to protect the country at all costs. That was the absolute priority.

MONTAGNE: John Rizzo was acting general counsel at the CIA in the years after 9/11. His book, "Company Man," is a memoir of his 30 years as a lawyer for the CIA. Thank you for joining us.

RIZZO: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.