Big Boy Pants and the Presidency

Frankly, I think Jose Rodriguez was being naive when he claimed that having Jay Bybee’s signature on a memo authorizing some, but not all, of the torture the torturers had already done by August 1, 2002 constituted full authority for what they had done.

But before moving forward, Jose Rodriguez got his superiors, right up to the president – to sign off on a set of those techniques, including waterboarding.

Jose Rodriguez: We needed to get everybody in government to put their big boy pants on and provide the authorities that we needed.

Lesley Stahl: Their big boy pants on–

Jose Rodriguez: Big boy pants. Let me tell you, I had had a lot of experience in the agency where we had been left to hold the bag. And I was not about to let that happen for the people that work for me.

Lesley Stahl: There wasn’t gonna be any deniability on this one?

Jose Rodriguez: There was not gonna be any deniability. And I tell you something. In August of 2002, I felt I had all the authorities that I needed, all the approvals that I needed. The atmosphere in the country was different. Everybody wanted us to save American lives.

After all, to this day, these counterterrrorism programs are being run on a Memorandum of Notification that not only doesn’t comply with the terms of the National Security Act, but shields the President (Obama even more so than Bush) from any direct accountability, a carefully crafted deniability that the CIA has worked to preserve.

Lesley Stahl was apparently not up to the task of asking Rodriguez about the torture the torturers actually used which exceeded the terms of the authorization. She describes waterboarding as laid out in the Bybee Memo, without acknowledging that the torturers didn’t follow those guidelines. Stahl asserts as fact that the CIA kept Abu Zubaydah up for 3 straight days, when evidence suggests his sleep deprivation lasted longer, perhaps as long as 11 days. Had Stahl laid out the degree to which the torturers were known to have exceeded guidelines (both before and after those guidelines were codified in the Bybee Memo), she might have noted the underlying problem with this exchange.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, you had rules for each thing?

Jose Rodriguez: Yes, we had rules. And not only that, but every time we did any of this, we had to ask permission. The field had to ask permission of headquarters.

Lesley Stahl: Each time.

Jose Rodriguez: Each time.

As she herself pointed out, Rodriguez was not doing the torture. He wasn’t in the field. He was at HQ. In fact, he was one of the guys sitting in Langley giving the oral permissions for individual torture techniques both before and after Bybee signed his memo, the techniques that exceeded the rules laid out in Bybee. You’d think Stahl might have pointed that out.

There’s something similar going on in this passage.

Lesley Stahl: Mock executions. People threatened with power drills.

Jose Rodriguez: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: People told that, that you were gonna go and hurt their children, rape their wives.

Jose Rodriguez: Stupid things that were done by people who had no authority to do that.

Lesley Stahl: And they just took it on themselves.

Jose Rodriguez: Correct. And we found out about it and we self-reported, and actually called in the I.G. and said, “You better take a look at what these people did and do what you need to do.”

A big reason the CIA sought OLC sanction after the fact is that the torturers brought out a coffin-shaped box and prepared to use it with Abu Zubaydah. In response, Ali Soufan left the black site, citing the CIA’s use of borderline torture. When CIA attempted to get everything they had done and planned to do authorized by DOJ, they included mock burial among the techniques in question. As I’ve noted, the failure to get OLC buyoff for mock burial–regardless of what they called the small box confinement they used with Abu Zubaydah–made all the later mock executions legally suspect in a way even waterboarding beyond the scope of Bybee’s approval did.

Though no one seems to have gotten in trouble not just for rape threats of prisoners’ family members, of prisoners themselves, or even imprisonment of prisoners’ children, so I’m not sure why Rodriguez is claiming to be squeamish about that too.

And since Stahl was not in the business of journalism with this interview, it’s unsurprising all she missed in this exchange on the actual torture tapes.

Lesley Stahl: Well, that’s ironic. You wanted to have a video record that he was being well treated, but in the end they became– a video record that he had been subjected to these harsh techniques.

Jose Rodriguez: Yeah, we weren’t hiding anything.

Lesley Stahl: But you then ordered these tapes destroyed.

Jose Rodriguez: Correct. Ninety-two tapes.

Lesley Stahl: Ninety-two tapes. Why did you order that they be destroyed?

Jose Rodriguez: To protect the people who worked for me and who were at those black sites and whose faces were shown on the tape.

Lesley Stahl: Protect them from what?

Jose Rodriguez: Protect them from al Qaeda ever getting their hands on these tapes and using them to go after them and their families.


Jose Rodriguez: Everything that was on those tapes were authorized activities by the U.S. government. So there was nothing to cover up.

Not that Stahl was going to note that much of the tapes Rodriguez had destroyed–perhaps as many as half–were blank, tampered, and mangled. By no means were all these 92 tapes depicting the torture, and we have every reason to assume the tapes did not depict the worst torture (they may have depicted only 3/5 of the waterboarding sessions at all).

Furthermore, the guards, at least (though not Abu Zubaydah’s torturers) wore masks.

But I’m particularly interested in Rodriguez’ last claim: “everything that was on the tapes were authorized activities by the US government.”

Yes, and many of the tapes that taped interrogation sessions were blank by the time Rodriguez destroyed them.

Those are not incompatible claims in the least. Indeed, Rodriguez’ claimed certainty that what was on the tapes when he destroyed them had been authorized may well stem from an awareness that the stuff that had already been destroyed was not authorized.

Over and over again, Rodriguez dodges the degree to which the CIA program exceeded even the oral authorizations given for torture and the evidence that Rodriguez–right at the nexus of accountability for the times CIA exceeded what guidelines they had been given–was protecting himself when he destroyed these tapes.

Which brings us to this wail.

Lesley Stahl: President Obama has said that what we did was torture.

Jose Rodriguez: Well, President Obama is entitled to his opinion. When President Obama condemns the covert action activities of a previous government, he is breaking the covenant that exists between intelligence officers who are at the pointy end of the spear, hanging way out there, and the government that authorized them and directed them to go there.

Let’s review what’s going on here. Rodriguez–whose torturers broke the law with no written cover from the President, went to “everybody in government” and demanded they don their “big boy pants.” He claims they did, to his satisfaction. But somehow, all the ways his torturers either didn’t have authorization or Rodriguez had insufficiently submitted Bush and Cheney to big boy pants has left them exposed for crimes (though not really, because Rodriguez knows Obama isn’t going to prosecute).

And so now that Rodriguez’ big boy pants have failed, he invokes, instead, a “covenant,” which says Presidents have to pretend their predecessors wore precisely the big boy pants CIA’s torturers hoped they had, after the fact.

Don’t get me wrong–to some degree Rodriguez is fucked because while he was boasting of his big boy pants the rest of the national security establishment was building in protections for the guy Rodriguez insinuates was forced to wear them.

Jose Rodriguez looks awfully tough boasting of having made our Cowboy President wear big boy pants, of invoking a “covenant” that binds all future Presidents to overlook our spooks’ past crimes. And maybe Presidents are as responsive to Rodriguez’ taunts as he makes out.

Still, if I were President reading a torturer try to insulate himself for his past crimes, I might not take too kindly to this taunt about big boy pants.

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.

32 replies
  1. watercarrier4diogenes says:

    Ain’t it an amazing coinkydink that CBS owns Rodriguez’s publisher, Simon & Schuster. Could Stahl have been reading from a script provided by S&S PR? The Corporatocracy pulls another one out of its’ ass.

  2. MadDog says:

    Shorter Jose Rodriguez on his book: “I put my big boy pants on and filled ’em with bull$#&!”

  3. thatvisionthing says:

    I got a question. Detainee 001, December 2001, American John Walker Lindh — has anyone ever seen videos of his interrogations? I just noticed again that HIS videotapes were under a federal court order not to be destroyed, long before Rodriguez destroyed the 92:

    Lindh is gagged now as part of his sentence —

    per wikipedia: He would have to consent to a gag order that would prevent him from making any public statements on the matter for the duration of his 20-year sentence, and he would have to drop any claims that he had been mistreated or tortured by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan and aboard two military ships during December 2001 and January 2002. In return, all other charges would be dropped. The gag order was supposedly at the request of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.[1])

    — but what about his videos?

  4. Steven Walcott says:

    this guy rodriguez sounds mentally ill.

    never mind the big boy pants, the guy needs the jacket with the arms that buckle up in the back.

    we have a long history of deranged spooks acting on behalf of our national interests.


  5. thatvisionthing says:

    Can I just say something about the gutless wonders (aka “Big Boy Pants”) that let all the soldiers (“bad apples”) at Abu Ghraib get prosecuted for stuff said gutless wonders had ORDERED them to do? I can’t even start to encompass the massive totality of their command gutlessness.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Rodriguez’s self-serving statements to the contrary, whether his actions and those he, the president and others authorized, were and are torture is not a matter of personal opinion. Were Ms. Stahl a reporter rather than a stenographer in the government press pool, she might have mentioned that. It is a matter of law.

    Even given the normal scope of disputes among judges, prosecutors and lawyers, that’s a far cry from the common, “He’s entitled to his opinion – and so am I” rubbish bandied about by politicians, alleged criminals and pseudo reporters such as Ms. Stahl, who desperately lather each other in a miserable form of political circle jerk. What Mark Twain would have done with such shoddy acts of government and reporting would make brilliant reading. Its consequences for law and civil society we have to live with.

  7. What Constitution? says:

    I have to beg to differ with EW’s suggestion that Rodriguez was being “naive” in characterizing the scope of Bybee’s purported “authorization”. Rodriquez was being “self-serving”, yes; “dishonest”, yes; “conniving”, yes; “wrong”, yes. But “naive”? Not hardly. The word “naive” should be reserved for the what, 7% of the populace whose minds are able to actually believe he might be advancing that interpretation in good faith; the rest of the population either believes torture should not be a punishable offense and is prepared wilfully to ignore the law, or else believes Rodriguez should be in prison right now. There are few other plausible options.

  8. Jason Leopold says:

    One thing Rodriguez seems to confirm, which I reported a few years ago, is that the tapes were made for experimental purposes. Rodriguez writes, “Our people at the black sites felt that tapes might help them study AZ’s body language for nonverbal hints about the critical information he was trying to hide.”

    Really, what Mitchell used the tapes for was to study the torture methods and gain insight into AZ’s physical reaction to the torture methods:

    Also, Rodriguez settles scores with Kiriakou in his book and said Kiriakou (who he doesn’t identify by name) was nowhere near the safehouse the night AZ was captured. In the video interview I did with Kiriakou a couple of years ago he said Rodriguez passed him over for a promotion when the AZ mission was done and that “Rodriguez didn’t like me very much.”

    Strange that Kiriakou is the one being prosecuted.

  9. Michael CheneyWatch McCollum says:

    My OCD went off when Rodriguez said, “Correct. Ninety-two tapes.” before prompted for the number. I feel there must be more tapes. As it played out I felt he emphasized this in a way that was deceptive.

    Not that it would change the axis of the earth, but if he’s also lying about that, any chance in the skeleton closet…tapes exist?

  10. MadDog says:

    I don’t know whether EW will remark on tonight’s Jose Rodriguez WaPo editorial. She’s got to be getting fed up with his serial lying, but if EW should once more head into the breach, please don’t pass on kicking another WaPo serial liar and torture cheerleader’s efforts, Marc Thiessen, to the curb as well.

  11. rg says:

    @Jason Leopold: I agree about the use of the tapes as experimental. Further, videotape of training procedures provides a means of feedback for what techniques seem effective and exactly how best to perform them. But what dropped my jaw was watching Rodriguez testifying before some congressional committee about the destruction of the tapes (which were then under a material protection order). He said, as offhandedly as ordering a cup of coffee, that he’d called in a couple of his lawyers and told them that he had some old training tapes that he no longer wanted to use, and was there any reason that these had to be preserved. The man is smooth as glass.

  12. Bay State Librul says:

    OT hungry for trash talking

    Doncha you just love it

    “Bill Belichick had positive things to say about his first-round draft picks during a Monday afternoon radio appearance.

    Visiting with SiriusXM NFL radio, Belichick said Chandler Jones, the team’s first pick at 21st overall, is at his best on the outside of the defense and added Jones could get time at both defensive end and outside linebacker.

    “He’s a perimeter player, a guy that lines up on the end of the line, whether you want to call him a linebacker or defensive end, but he’s an end-of-the-line player,’’ Belichick said. “He’s got great length – height, arm length – very athletic. He came out early, missed part of the season last year with an injury, but the opportunity he’s had to play he’s been very productive against a lot of good players in his conference, so we thought that he’d be able to work against NFL-type tackles.

    “We played both odd and even front last year, I think we’ll continue to be multiple that way, but he’s more of an end-of-the-line player.’’

    Belichick was highly complimentary of Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who was taken at No. 25.

  13. emptywheel says:

    @Bay State Librul: He’s not the only one who really likes their draft picks. Of course, I’m particularly intrigued by the Nate Ebner pick, and not just bc I’ve always thought football teams should search out people who’ve played rugby too. But the kid came recommended by Mike Vrabel, and Vrabel’s a great example of how BillBel really uses flexible players.

    I hope he makes the team, at least.

  14. GKJames says:

    I wonder how long it will take before someone seriously addresses the cowardice — and, to Steven Walcott’s point — the psycho-pathologies at the core of our national security enterprise. This sordid tale has little to do with effective protection, or with the (cover story of) endless tales of heroism and sacrifice in the name of the public good. We’re talking about juvenile punks left to run wild while, when the lights go on, permitted to duck behind the skirts of government legalisms, safe (but not guaranteed) in the knowledge that an accounting is unlikely. The ultimately depressing bit is that this dynamic is aided and abetted by the law professor in the White House.

  15. Bay State Librul says:


    Huge human interest angle..

    “In 2008, Ebner’s father, a former rugby player, was killed during a robbery attempt at his auto-salvaging business. The younger Ebner said he drew strength from the personal tragedy, similar to second-round pick Tavon Wilson, whose father was also murdered early in his childhood.”

  16. orionATL says:

    rodriguez’s systematic lie to cover up his crimes is grounded in:

    “all i did, i did for my guys and my country. through all of this, i’ve never had a selfish, uh-oh-my-ass-is-grass-now thought, never once.”

    put differently, rodriguez’s whole book and talk-show circus is just one more cia psy-ops, calculated to mislead the media, deceive the citizenry, and excuse multiple illegal acts.

  17. orionATL says:

    “big-boy pants”

    when you think about it, this is a childish phrase, a phrase referring to children, not adults. that is what cia black-boys are, emotional-moral teen-agers having fun abducting, killing, drug-dealing, and deceiving – in short, having fun being really, really, really bad boys,

    but with no consequences, ever. it’s like being a black peter pan.

  18. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: Just another note on the “waterboarding is good” and “Pelosi lied” campaign.

    If one does a Google News search on the term “Jose Rodriguez”, and sort the results by Date, you’ll find that the wingnut propaganda outlets like Sean Hannity at Fox News For Dummies and numerous top wingnut blogs like Powerline, TownHall, The Weekly Standard, etc. are all singing the same tune and railing against Obama and Democrats.

    I don’t think this was mere coincidence. This is being run by one of Dick Cheney’s old top political operatives – Mary Matalin. She’s the publisher of Rodriguez’ screed at the conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster.

    And it is no coincidence that Rodriguez got immediate access to the WaPo’s editorial page yesterday, nor to an echoing Op-Ed there by the WaPo’s Marc Thiessen.

    This standard Mary Matalin operating procedure. The timing, the venues, the red meat presentation. All apiece of a deliberate campaign.

  19. orionATL says:


    and matalin is not working for free, i would guess; pr is her professional work.

    so, who is paying matalin, i wonder? and how much?

    of course, the cia would not dare funnel money to such an enterprise, would they?

    but torture-lovin’ cheny-lovers might.

    anyway, there has got to be money behind matalin’s pr/propaganda campaign.

  20. What Constitution? says:

    @MadDog — “Money behind Matalin”??? Shocking. So I guess you’re suggesting [not] that this would all be Corporate First Amendment stuff, financed by, say, military contractors? Or what? But if they can get $100,000 in cash to a used car salesman in New Mexico to finance a nearly-sorta-actual assassination attempt in DC, certainly such folks could meet Matalin’s price out of petty cash, right?

  21. MadDog says:

    @orionATL: @Jason Leopold: @What Constitution?: This was a Mary Matalin political operation run under the cover of a book launch.

    Whether the book ever made money was not the primary purpose. The book was merely the medium to manage the message.

    And the message was the standard Godfather Cheney political ideology: “Torture is America’s friend! Democrats are traitors!”

    Does anyone believe that Jose Rodriguez wrote this on his own?

    Does anyone believe that Jose Rodriguez’ material wasn’t politically massaged?

    Does anyone believe that Jose Rodriguez wasn’t deeply coached by Mary Matalin & Co. to spew Godfather Cheney’s torture talking points?

  22. Strangely Enough says:

    @orionATL: CIA doesn’t seem to have ever had any qualms about buying the press. Operation Mockingbird and all that…

  23. MadDog says:


    “…Does anyone believe that Jose Rodriguez wrote this on his own?…”

    I hadn’t checked out the book online yet, but when I did, I found that the co-author of Jose Rodriguez’ book is one Bill Harlow:

    “…From 1997 to 2004 he was chief spokesman for the CIA. In that position he dealt with national and international news media on some of the most sensitive issues and operations of the United States government. He coordinated all public communications for the Director of Central Intelligence and was responsible for employee communications for the Agency’s worldwide workforce…

    …He was Assistant White House Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs and National Security during both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations…

    …He was co-author of George Tenet’s 2007 New York Times #1 best seller “At the Center of the Storm…”

    Can you say political propaganda? I thought you could.

  24. Tom Allen says:

    @watercarrier4diogenes: What, you think some multinational conglomorate like Viacom could get a shill like Lesley Stahl to do a puff job for them? Ha! How dare you challenge a multi-millionaire journamalist?

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