Jose Rodriguez’ Idea of “Ugly Visuals”: Blank and Altered Tapes

Jose Rodriguez, not exactly a squeamish guy, is spreading a myth that the reason he destroyed the torture tapes was because the torture depicted on them was so bad that people would kill CIA officers in response to the violence

Especially after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Rodriguez writes, if the CIA’s videos were to leak out, officers worldwide would be in danger.

“I wasn’t going to sit around another three years waiting for people to get up the courage,” to do what CIA lawyers said he had the authority to do himself, Rodriguez writes. He describes sending the order in November 2005 as “just getting rid of some ugly visuals.”

Except there’s a problem with that claim.

The problem with the torture tapes is not what they showed, but what they didn’t show. Such as the two separate waterboarding sessions that were, for some reason, not captured on tape at all.

OIG found 11 interrogation tapes to be blank. Two others were blank except for one or two minutes of recording. Two others were broken and could not be reviewed. OIG compared the videotapes to logs and cables and identified a 21-hour period of time” which included two waterboard sessions” that was not captured on the videotapes.

Or the way many of the tapes showed some sign of tampering that hid their content.

[Redacted] for many of the tapes one 1/2 or 3/4 of the tape “there was nothing.” [Redacted] on some tapes it was apparent that the VCR had been turned off and then turned back on right away. [Redacted] on other tapes the video quality was poor and on others the tape had been reused (taped over) or not recorded at all. [Redacted] The label on some tapes read “interrogation session,” but when viewed there was just snow. [Redaction] did not make note of this in [redaction] report. [Redaction] estimated that “half a dozen” videotapes had been taped over or were “snowy.”

In other words, the tapes probably didn’t show the worst torture sessions. On the contrary, the tapes were enduring proof that the torturers tampered with the tapes to make sure they didn’t show the torture sessions.

Apparently, Jose Rodriguez thinks a bunch of snowy taped over tapes–proof that the torturers covered up evidence of what they did–constitutes “ugly visuals.” And I guess it does, but not in the way he’s claiming in his book.

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.

8 replies
  1. allan says:

    Here’s a wild guess: Rodriguez’ book was green lighted through the CIA pre-publication review process.
    And doesn’t have much in the way of redactions.

  2. Larry Roberts says:

    “… the reason he destroyed the torture tapes was because the torture depicted on them was so bad that people would kill CIA officers in response to the violence…”

    One of the innumerable things I don’t understand is why this statement itself is not enough to get CIA officers killed. Does it relate to the psychological power of the visual? Is Rodriguez concerned that people would misunderstand the video – that is, “It’s not as bad as it looks”?

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    @Larry_Roberts Indeed. Graphic evidence of crimes, particularly photographic evidence, is far more psychologically powerful than the written word.

    Susan Sontag famously wrote about the unique power of photographs: “Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it.” Her whole essay is worth reading. http://www.susansontag.com/SusanSontag/books/onPhotographyExerpt.shtml

    Hiding photographic evidence is not limited to torture. The US infamously took major steps to control the output of media images from its more recent wars, banning photos, even, of coffins returning the supposedly hallowed war dead

  4. rugger9 says:

    @Larry Roberts: #4
    While I agree about the power of photos, the words are enough for those in the region, because they prove that torture did occur, the USA will do nothing about it at all [good luck holding the “moral high ground” over the PRC after that] , and will never do anything about it. So not only does that put our service members at risk because their moral protection [while minimal, admittedly] is gone, we will forever have to get through the distrust we’ll see when we say we’re here to help.

Comments are closed.