John Rizzo Pre-Empts the OPR Report

As we speak, the CIA–including, by all appearances, John Rizzo–is reviewing the Office of Professional Responsibility’s report on OLC’s torture memos.

As if on cue, the LAT has a story profiling him. (Also, as if on cue, I take up Spencer’s bait.)

Given its scope, the OPR report must focus on two different periods: the months leading up to the August 2002 OLC memos, and the months leading up to the May 2005 OLC memos (as well as, probably, the time leading up to the March 2003 OLC memo, but that was a DOD memo, not a CIA one).

Those are, not surprisingly, the two years, at least, that appear in this story. We are told–with no sourcing–that Rizzo never dealt with legal questions about torture before the capture of Abu Zubaydah.

Rizzo had never dealt with legal questions about interrogation until officials from the agency’s Counterterrorism Center approached him in 2002 with a list of techniques they wanted to employ to get a suspected Al Qaeda captive, Abu Zubaydah, to talk. Among them was waterboarding, in which a prisoner is strapped to a plank and doused to make him feel he is drowning.

This would suggest the War Council–David Addington, Jim Haynes, John Yoo, and Rizzo–weren’t already talking about torture in December 2001, when Mitchell and Jessen first started developing their torture program. It would also suggest that Rizzo never weighed in on the treatment of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi and others rendered to torture. It would repeat the same myth the Cheney apologists like to tell–that these ideas bubbled up from CTC, rather than were imposed from the top.

It’s an interesting story. If true, then I wonder why it’s taking CIA so long to review that OPR report?

And then there are the 2005 dates. As Spencer describes, at some point in 2005 Rizzo personally observed the Salt Pit.

Rizzo kept close watch on the interrogation program. Once, during a 2005 trip by senior CIA executives to Kabul, Afghanistan, Rizzo disappeared from the crowd after dinner with Afghan intelligence officials.

It wasn’t until the next day, one participant remembered, that Rizzo revealed he had arranged a midnight trip to the Salt Pit, a secret CIA prison on the outskirts of the city, to see detention operations up close.

A CIA detainee had died at the site in 2002. But Rizzo came away newly assured that the operation was well-run, former officials said.

The story would have you believe that Rizzo thought, in 2005, that the torture we were conducting at the Salt Pit was all hunky dory. But the same article would have you believe that John Rizzo (and not Robert Grenier, who was fired in 2006 for his opposition to torture) led the push to end the torture program.

As the controversy escalated, Rizzo worked to contain the damage. Goss said that he ordered the interrogation program halted in late 2005, based largely on Rizzo’s advice.

So here’s the same nice story already told–that Porter Goss fought the White House to end torture–with the added wrinkle that Rizzo was the one pushing it.

Call me crazy, but that doesn’t make any sense to me (though it’s possible that John Rizzo offered CIA the radical advice that when Congress makes a law saying you shouldn’t do something, you shouldn’t).

Moreover, I wonder whether the news about Rizzo’s trip to the Salt Pit came out now to pre-empt some information we may learn from the OPR report? Just curious. Did John Rizzo bop down for his visit to the Salt Pit during the drafting of the 2005 memos, when Cheney and Addington were pressuring Bradbury and Gonzales to approve the memos before Jim Comey could look too close at the facts behind them? Did John Rizzo see Abu Faraj al-Libbi in the Salt Pit sometime in May 2005, for example?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I do get the sense that Porter Goss wanted to get the following message out just as Rizzo leaves the agency.

"In many ways John was sort of martyred to political correctness for doing the hard mission for the agency," said former CIA Director Porter J. Goss, who described Rizzo as a "rock solid" advisor and pushed his nomination to be general counsel.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

21 replies
    • emptywheel says:

      My fault. The link wasn’t in there until after I put up the post. Working in less than ideal conditions,but I couldn’t really ignore Spencer’s bait.

  1. alabama says:

    So there’s really going to be an OPR Report! No doubt it will pour all sorts of Greek fire on the evils of “political correctness”. And I keep forgetting that the CIA’s “mission” of generating false information at the behest of the Chief Executive is a “hard” one. Why so “hard”? Hell, you don’t even have to learn a foreign language to generate that stuff.

  2. NMvoiceofreason says:

    John Rizzo should be disbarred and tried for the torture until death and felony murder of Abed Hamed Mowhoush, Abdul Jameel, Fashad Mohammed, Manadel al-Jamadi, Nagem Sadoon Hatab, Abdul Wali, Habibullah, Dilawar, Sajid Kadhim Bori al-Bawi, Obeed Hethere Radad, Mohammed Sayari, Zaidoun Hassoun, and “04-309″. Then he should be executed.

    Anything less and it will happen again.

  3. Mary says:

    I’m thinking he went down for a trophy picture with the unmarked grave of the unacknowledged torture victim. After all, Rizzo, not Dilawar of 20 yo frozen to death, are the martyrs. I guess the New Testament needs a huge hefty rewrite. Apparently when there are crucifixion killings, the REAL MARTYRS are the officials who order them, not those they kill. Whatever.

    There’s not much mystery on why they shut things down. They had helped Bush win a second term, so they were covered for a few years while they destroyed evidence. But even by 2005, it looked likely in the house at least that Dems were going to be taking over in the 2006 elections. Supreme Court rulings had made it clear that the concept of “nonpersons” to whom you could do anything, engage in any kind of depravity, so long as you gave them (rightly or wrongly) the “label” of unlawful enemy combatant, wasn’t going to fly. Pelosi and Harman et al were in their pocket, but with changes in committees there might be some real resistance here and there. Civil lawsuits from Arar and el-Masri were wending their way through the courts and while the “good guys” like Comey were willing to file affadavits – based on their personal due diligence and under their oaths – to cover up for the crimes, at some point a court might not buy off. The Italian mess was a mess. Spain was summoning ambassadors. Grey’s Ghost Plane was in the works and due out in the fall of 06. Syrian relations were falling apart and the Muslim Brotherhood was winning electiosn in Egypt – so some torure destinations were fading. Al-Libi (the other one) was recanting and it was clear that the info torured out of him was false, those damn FBI agents like Cloonan, Coleman and Soufan (not so much Mueller) were holding hard and fast to a fact trail that made the reliance memos unreliable. Intel was disastrous, torture and invasion were creating more and more problems, and idiot boy Bush was going to be walking away from it all in a couple of years and he was by then a known coward that would do what was best for him and his “legacy” without any more care and condern for what he did to the CIA and DOJ than he had for what he did to thousands of US troops and millions of Iraqis.

    Someone finally decided it was time to quit digging and have someone else toss in enough bodies that those in the bottom of the hole could crawl over them to get out.

    • Peterr says:

      The handwashing by the BushCo crew is stunning when you compare it with when Pilate washed his hands of Jesus after the crowd demanded that he be crucified. “No, this wasn’t my decision — it was someone else’s.”

    • thatvisionthing says:

      Neocon Christians start war, do crucifixion killings

      You can’t make this stuff up

  4. Garrett says:

    Observations about the sherbet-colored ties of a CIA official, his mouthwatering wardrobe, sure takes puff piece to a high level.

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    Quick thoughts, as on the run.

    One, deniability. Rizzo declined to comment on anything in the story. This may have been spin directed by him, but one can’t prove it.

    Two, they never shut down torture. The confusion comes from not realizing there were TWO torture programs, the SERE-linked EIT, and the older KUBARK-style torture, which still exists in skeleton form in the Army Field Manual (concentrating on “touchless” torture,like sensory deprivation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and manipulation of phobias).

    There is some evidence the EIT may continue, as SERE psychologists continue to work with Special Op on interrogations. The other torture continues at least at Bagram, and most likely elsewhere. Then, there is also the ongoing rendition program.

    I think Marcy hit the nail on the head, re the timing of the puff piece on Rizzo with events in the OPC “release.”

  6. Mary says:

    Couple of things after making myself read the article.

    First off, good to know that there are still some abominations that Hayden wouldn’t go along with – torture murders and child disappearances are ok, but wearing spats would have been prohibited. Good lord.

    And Rizzo’s biggest regret isn’t the millions who have died, been maimed, lost their homes, been orphaned or become refugees due to CIA use of torture for Iraq disinformation – it’s that he didn’t push harder to out the Iran/Contra facts? yeah, right

    But here is something pretty darn revealing. Rizzo’s concern was that if they hadn’t torured, there might have been another attack and if there were another attack, then something awful would happen. Was his concern a) Americans would be killed or b) the CIA might be dismantled?

    Defending his decisions, Rizzo has told colleagues that although the CIA has faced criticism for its interrogation methods, failing to prevent a follow-on attack might have led to its dismantling.

    I also love how they try to make it sound like someone who has been acting head for years has been silently suffering bc he didn’t get the title.

    The really important part of the story, though, isn’t much about Rizzo. It’s about Obama and the Democratic party. As a minority party originally, and then only with a majority in the House, Democrats fought Rizzo’s appointment based on torture support.

    Now, however, with Galadriel Hussein Obama in possession of the ring, Preston can embrace waterboarding and torture and still get his nomination through. Johnsen, OTOH, notsomuch.

    That’s the real story – that what we have now is a more complete bipartisan support for torture than we ever had before.

    • NMvoiceofreason says:

      Enemies of the Constitution and humanity are still enemies of the Constitution and humanity, regardless of party. Let them be tried for their part and blame assigned appropriately, based upon the evidence. Then let them be punished according to the law.

  7. joanneleon says:

    That’s a cheerful picture of Rizzo, sneaking off to visit a torture prison at midnight. I’ll say no more on that.

    Why is it that we never see Goss doing interviews or pundit appearances but we just get statements at convenient times?

    • Rayne says:

      I had the same kind of thoughts when I saw Rizzo’s photo.

      For a guy who works in a government job, he sure dresses gangsta’.

      Snappy, over-pronounced pinstripe suit with a too-loud for corporate life tie? Not even a subdued Joseph Abboud but something loud like Hugo Boss?


      • joanneleon says:

        Not your father’s CIA.

        I wonder if we’ll ever find out who attended the torture sessions or perhaps monitored them remotely.

        If the DoJ never applies any pressure or starts prosecuting, why would we think we have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting anything close to the truth? They’ve all had years to clean this up and to collect (or create) blackmail on every person who is a potential threat (or just disappear them).

        So we get redacted documents, held back for “review” until the people engaged in a cover up, and other people who have something to hide feel that the documents are massaged enough to be released to the ankle biting public who I’m sure they believe “can’t handle the truth” and have no right to know it.

        Sorry for the cynicism but sometimes the futility is too big to push aside. Do you ever wonder if they’re just playing with us? What do you throw to that very bright, persistent and perplexing wing of the party who doesn’t respond to the usual red meat and damn it, have unAmerican long memories? Ever wonder if you might one day be sending campaign donations and shaking hands with a smiling con man who is knee deep in all of this?

        Well, I’ll just keep counting on very clever people on the inside who happen to be decent and honest, or at the very least have a vendetta, and I’ll bank on the likelihood that people who are sick enough to design and implement these torture worlds and build elaborate webs of deceit are bound to screw up or lose it completely and spill.

        Lastly, and this really bugs me, why *does* Dick Cheney live next door to the CIA? And why do we never hear anything from or about Rumsfeld?

        Oh, hell. Are we absolutely sure the bridge you travel from ignorance and bliss crumbles behind you?

        • Rayne says:

          It may not be my father’s CIA, but it’s still an organization capable of striking out at political figures, up to and including assassination, political and otherwise.

          It’s something I keep in mind when things get frustrating; given the choice, what would I do given the power to effect change and the bull’s eye on my back at the same time? What would it look like to the outside world, and what would I need to effect change in spite of the bull’s eye?

          And then I read the next installment by EW and I plug along behind with the digging for the truth. Doing so eases my frustration somewhat.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As with the claimed “undetermined” cause of death for torture victim/autopsy case no. 04-309, and as was true in the pseudo-legal opinions put out by Bush’s DoJ, the CIA rather blithely assumed it fixed things whenever a lethal or documented outcome required it, but without ever establishing it to a reasonable, rational certainty.

    Everyone seems to have assumed “things were fixed” just because someone said so. Forgive me, but DC and spy ops in particular is a pretty cynical business. No one assumes that without verification if they think for a moment there’s a consequence for it not being so.

    One of the bureaucracy’s jobs is to lay blame on everybody but the ones who did it. The twist on that theme here seems to be to deny there’s any “it” that happened, and if there were, “somebody fixed it”.

  9. Hmmm says:

    Mary @ 9, Professor Foland @ 11 — Thanks for the half hour spent cleaning up the spit-take from my workstation here. Evidently I have a previously unrealized weakness for LOTR/BHO jokes. Let’s just hope that by the end of the story he passes his test, eh?

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