Fear drives de­ci­sions, CIA mem­oir re­veals

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - MATT APUZZO

John Rizzo Scrib­ner WASH­ING­TON — There is a mo­ment in John Rizzo’s new mem­oir when the long­time CIA lawyer has the chance to change his­tory. It is March 2002, and Rizzo has just been briefed on the agency’s pro­pos­als for in­ter­ro­gat­ing sus­pected ter­ror­ists.

Rizzo walks the grounds of the CIA, smok­ing a cigar, think­ing about wa­ter­board­ing and other un­prece­dented tac­tics that seem “sadis­tic and ter­ri­fy­ing.”

Rizzo re­al­izes that, on his own say-so, he can end the dis­cus­sion right there. With the stroke of a pen, Rizzo, the CIA’s act­ing gen­eral coun­sel, could kill the pro­gram be­fore it starts.

“It would have been a rel­a­tively easy thing to do,” he writes.

Then he thinks about what would hap­pen if ter­ror­ists struck again. Peo­ple would blame the CIA. Rizzo would blame him­self. And he couldn’t deal with that.

So de­spite his reser­va­tions, Rizzo sends the in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­posal to the Jus­tice Depart­ment, be­gin­ning a process that gave the green light to tac­tics the United States once con­sid­ered and pros­e­cuted as tor­ture.

Mo­ments like this re­oc­cur in the roughly six chap­ters Rizzo ded­i­cates to the CIA’s post-9/11 re­sponse: Peo­ple set aside nag­ging ques­tions about mo­ral­ity (should we?) and fo­cused in­stead on the le­gal­is­tic ques­tion (can we?).

Rizzo’s por­trayal of key meet­ings of­fers an un­prece­dented and some­times star­tling look at how un­com­fort­able the en­hanced­in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques (EIT) made peo­ple.

Don­ald Rums­feld, then the de­fence sec­re­tary, “didn’t want to get his fin­ger­prints any­where near the EITs.” Then-sec­re­tary of state Colin Pow­ell seemed “in­tensely un­com­fort­able.” Con­doleezza Rice, then na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, was dis­turbed that the de­tainees were forced to be naked.

Yet there were no dis­cus­sions about whether this path would dam­age U.S. re­la­tion­ships with al­lies, harm U.S. long-term in­ter­ests or weaken its moral stand­ing.

Even though the in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­gram is more than a decade in the past, the topic re­mains timely. Since leaked doc­u­ments showed the U.S. vac­u­um­ing up mil­lions of do­mes­tic phone records, track­ing cell­phone lo­ca­tions and eaves­drop­ping on calls, of­fi­cials have de­fended the tac­tics as le­gal.

Again, the ques­tion of whether the gov­ern­ment should do some­thing is get­ting less at­ten­tion than the ques­tion of whether it can.

Many in­sid­ers have writ­ten mem­oirs about the post-9/11 CIA. Of­ten, those who ap­proved the in­ter­ro­ga­tion pro­gram are por­trayed as two-di­men­sional he­roes will­ing to make un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions to help the coun­try.

Rizzo paints a less flat­ter­ing but more re­veal­ing pic­ture, one in which fear hung over im­por­tant de­ci­sions — fear of another at­tack, fear of blame, fear of po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­ity.

De­pend­ing on your pol­i­tics and your views on wa­ter­board­ing, that may make th­ese fig­ures more re­lat­able and hu­man, their de­ci­sions that much more wrench­ing. Or it may make them seem cowardly.

What­ever con­clu­sion you draw, Rizzo’s book makes an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to his­tory and the de­bate over in­ter­ro­ga­tion. And it serves as a re­minder of how much fear drives de­ci­sion-mak­ing in Wash­ing­ton.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.