John Rizzo Buries the Mock Burial

The DC elite media continues to help John Rizzo promote his misleading memoir, this time with a Politico excerpt of his claim of how the torture techniques got chosen.

Here and elsewhere, Rizzo alludes to the one torture technique John Yoo rejected, though he says “DOJ” rejected it because it was “so gruesome.” (Note the context in which this appears, though, as an afterthought to the sentence describing simulated drowning.)

Waterboarding: The interrogator would strap Zubaydah to an inclined bench, with his feet slightly elevated. A cloth would be placed over his forehead and eyes, and water would be applied to the cloth in a controlled manner—for 20 to 40 seconds from a height of 12 to 24 inches. The intention would be simulate the sensation of drowning. There was also another technique that I’m barred from describing that was so gruesome that the Justice Department later stopped short of approving it. [my emphasis]

As I reported almost 4 years ago, this technique actually should be unclassified, as DOJ released it in unredacted form in a draft of the Office of Professional Responsibility report.

The technique is mock burial.

They planned to use simulated drowning and simulated burial.

And Yoo didn’t reject it outright: he told Rizzo he would “need more time” if he wanted that technique to be approved.

Although Yoo told us that he had concluded that the mock burial technique would violate the torture statute, he nevertheless told the client, according to Fredman and Rizzo, that he would “need more time” if they wanted it approved.

Moreover, Yoo likely rejected it not because he found it gruesome (remember, Yoo has said he would seriously consider authorizing torturers crushing a child’s testicles to make his father talk). He almost certainly rejected it because Ali Soufan called the torturers’ plan to stick Abu Zubaydah (whose gunshot wounds were still not entirely healed) into a coffin, “borderline torture,” and then left the torture site and complained to his superiors. So (again, this is supported but not confirmed by the public record) when Michael Chertoff — then head of the Criminal Division and trying to ensure he wouldn’t have to charge the torturers with torture because the FBI witnessed and then complained about it — reviewed the techniques, this one presented a problem.

That DOJ approved, instead, both small and large box confinement shows they had no squeamishness with putting someone inside a box to simulate death. And we have reports that small or large box confinement got used as mock burial later in the torture program.

Plus, Rizzo does provide one other detail that helps explain one detail of how they planned to simulate burial.

For the small box, the interrogator would have the option to place a harmless insect inside.

That is, the insect they approved for use with Zubaydah was tied to the small — not the large — box. Stick him in a box, make him think he was buried alive, only to find an insect crawling around in there, as if he were 6 feet under.

Perhaps that’s why they never used the insect? Because they could never conduct unfettered live burial like they wanted, because Ali Soufan objected to it.

In any case, Rizzo will no doubt get a lot of mileage claiming that DOJ got squeamish about a single torture technique. But the truth is DOJ got cornered by the legal dilemma presented by a complaint about a coffin.

3 replies
  1. Saul Tannenbaum says:

    It is one of the modest regrets of my life that I spent a few moments with John Rizzo before I was immersed enough in these issues to understand who he was. That said, I do think his pink socks and what appeared to be boating loafers (he was headed to a Harvard Law School conference) would still have distracted me and nothing would have changed my assessment that he was a weird dude.

  2. Anonsters says:

    @Saul Tannenbaum:

    He dressed like a pimp from the ’20s when he came to talk to my Intel. Law class, shiny gold cufflinks, gold suspenders, slicked-back hair and all. Slimiest man I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting.

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    That article has the CIA imprimatur of gosh-shucks naivete that stamps all their insider work, at least that which is produced for public consumption. I hope you look at his timelines, because they seem to not fit what is now known. Of course, the entire story cannot be trusted. The only part I appreciated was the double meaning of the title of Rizzo’s book, “Company Man.”

    As for how he dresses, as a psychologist, I don’t think you can assess someone’s political agenda, much less their soul, by how they dress. The sliminess of his manner may be a different thing, but this can be so subjective. There are plenty of weird dressers in the anti-torture camp, as well.

    What matters is what someone does, and Rizzo has placed himself in the center of decades of misdeeds, including torture. I’d like to see someone ask Rizzo what his role was in approving the training of torturers in Latin America. I think there’s a good chance he was involved in Operation Condor, from his own description of what he did at “the Company.”

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