Walter Pincus’ Chummy Torture Apology

This is the kind of lede you’d expect from a dirty hippie blogger, not from a septuagenarian TradMed journalist.

Who other than the acerbic John A. Rizzo, who served a long tenure as the CIA’s acting general counsel, would use his first talk after retiring from government to lay out a series of ironies that illustrate the frustration felt by older agency professionals, given the treatment of their activities during the past decade?

Rather than focusing on the details John Rizzo revealed that slightly advanced the story of the investigation into the John Adams Project, Pincus chooses to uncritically air Rizzo’s complaints about torture. Pincus doesn’t even challenge Rizzo’s claim that there is an irony to the way CIA has been treated.

Which is a pity, because Rizzo made some downright absurd comments. Take Rizzo’s complaint about the shock over the number of times Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were waterboarded.

He pointed out that while Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed were undergoing waterboarding in CIA detention, the United States was conducting lethal operations against terrorists. “There was never, ever, as far as I could discern, any debate, discussion, questioning on moral or legal grounds about the efficacy of the United States targeting and killing terrorists,” he said.

“A lot of attention, a lot of criticism was given about the number of waterboarding sessions they [Abu Zubaida and Mohammed] had,” Rizzo said, “but I don’t believe there would have been nearly as much similar discussion about the number of bullets that would have been pumped into them if they had been killed rather than captured.”

The shock over the revelation that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times in a month doesn’t just stem from the claims John Yoo made–based on representations from Rizzo–that waterboarding was not torture. The shock also stems from the divergence between CIA-sponsored disinformation that waterboarding worked immediately, after just one use, and the reality that CIA used it over and over and over. Which in turn leads to questions of efficacy–and to the inaptness of Rizzo’s comparison. You pump someone full of bullets and each bullet adds just one more piece of certainty that the objective–the neutralization or death of the target–is accomplished. But when you waterboard someone an 83rd time, does it advance the objective–purportedly collecting reliable information–in the least? In the case of Abu Zubaydah, whose 83 waterboardings seem to have yielded in just 10 pieces of useful intelligence, the answer appears to be no. Indeed, in a memo addressed to and based on information from John Rizzo, John Yoo wrote,

Moreover, you have also orally informed us that although some of these techniques may be used with more than once, that repetition will not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions.


You have indicated that these acts will not be used with substantial repetition, so that there is no possibility that severe physical pain could arise from such repetition.

There’s no irony here! John Rizzo (and the lawyers from the Counterterrrorism Center who contributed to this memo) either lied to John Yoo about the number of times waterboarding would be used, or CIA itself failed to meet the terms of this memo. And poor John Rizzo thinks the public is wrong to be shocked at the result.

All of which details might be appropriate to mention in an article about Rizzo’s self-indulgent claims of irony. But they don’t appear in this article.

25 replies
  1. phred says:

    Do you ever get the feeling that reading is no longer a requirement for TradMed journalists? Evidently they can talk, listen, take dictation, and repeat what they have heard, but reading and careful analysis are not among their skill set.

    I am thankful we have you.

  2. BoxTurtle says:

    Outside of FDL, I’m not aware of any shocked public. Few are paying attention to the torture of Scary Brown Moslims and most of those feel we’re being too easy on them.

    Rizzo is evil.

    Boxturtle (What’s more, he knows he’s evil and likes it)

  3. Leen says:

    “And poor John Rizzo thinks the public is wrong to be shocked at the result.”

    And basically the public is not shocked by the “torture” done in their name. Or the death and destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. They have to keep their petals to the metal to get to Wal Mart. No time to be concerned about their government breaking and rewriting torture laws. Got to get to the mall. CIA, our Reps, the Bush administration banked on the complacency and callousness.

    The rest of the world is “shocked”

  4. Leen says:

    “But when you waterboard someone an 83rd time, does it advance the objective–purportedly collecting reliable information–in the least? In the case of Abu Zubaydah, whose 83 waterboardings seem to have yielded in just 10 pieces of useful intelligence, the answer appears to be no.”

    Sounds like Cheney and team just never got the lies that they needed

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    Here’s a thought: what if Rizzo never lied? (only slightly said for ironic effect) They would only use waterboarding for intelligence-gathering purposes one or a few times — the rest was part of a big experiment. As with all these liars, one just has to ask them the right question.

    Waterboarding only produces one thing reliably: the physical and psychological breakdown of the person undergoing it.

    Thanks for covering this, EW.

  6. b2020 says:

    That is a disappointingly critique, Marcy. If they had waterboarded only once, would Rizzo have a better case?

    I am not sure what Rizzo is saying here, frankly. That shooting somebody 183 times is as despicable as torture? Or 83 times? That shooting people is as reprehensible as torture if it happens while they are in our custody, unarmed, and strapped down? Or that shooting suspects that could just as well be apprehended is as reprehensible as torture? Firing 183 rounds from a Predator-mounted 50cal for assassination by “executive order” is as unconstitutional as torture?

    Or does he, gasp, imply that torture – waterboarding – is really the same as battlefield shoot-outs, and if we can shoot somebody on the battlefield 183 times, there is really nothing wrong with waterboarding them instead – it even shows compassion.

    I can see that. I seem to remember some cop-vs-unarmed-black person incidents that evoke the image of a body hit by 83 bullets – or a 183, who could tell the difference.

  7. jdmckay0 says:

    OT: Spencer Ackerman currently doing Fresh Air w/Terry Gross on the Omar Khadr’s pre-trial stuff. Good interview, covering much of what Marcy’s written about here.

    (why doesn’t Marcy get on?)

    • BoxTurtle says:

      Because she once said “blow job” on live TV.

      Boxturtle (And shows no remorse at all, I should add)

      • Leen says:

        She used “blowjob” when it completely applied to the endless attention given to this issue by our MSM and our Reps and the lack of attention and accountability given to very serious lies and crimes

      • jdmckay0 says:

        Marcy gave a blowjob on live TV?

        (just kidding)

        a) FWIW, having read diligently here I feel as though I’ve got an advanced degree from All-About-
        Torture University, thus able to judge Ackerman as covering most of the bases on Fresh Air today.
        b) Re: “Why isn’t Marcy there”: in my mind she’s *the* authority on all this stuff… THE
        authority, well earned and deserved. She should have a front/center microphone in these
        discussions, and I’m pretty sure most of the others would so acknowledge this.

        Maybe if she changed the name from EW to FAT TIRE (and got some little wire rimmed glasses)… ///???

  8. skdadl says:

    Cufflinks! (Sorry — just had to do that.)

    Cocky little ghoul, isn’t he. Unfortunately for him, EW is on his tail, I mean trail. He obviously figured out what the ramifications of the John Adams Project could be even if Pincus hasn’t. And there, in spite of the cockiness, is that whiny self-pity again (“they didn’t get out soon enough to help me, unfortunately”).

    Exactly why, btw, would anyone have been pumping bullets into Abu Zubaydah? The government now admits that he was never al-Qaeda. Yes, at one time he thought of himself as a fighter, but for quite some years before he was captured he was running a guesthouse, where he walked about talking to himself in the dark and kept a journal. Doesn’t Rizzo keep up with these things?

    It is a pity (rather than an irony) that people aren’t generally horrified by the drones and the Hellfire missiles that Rep Dent thinks are ok to drop on the heads of people like, well, me (“non-American”). None of it seems to bother Rizzo though — what a grand romp he had there through the many ways of offing just about anyone who isn’t him. Such a jolly evening.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      I have a diary up at The Seminal which I believe makes comprehensive sense of the BBC reports.

      It won’t win me too many friends, however, as I decided it’s time, with this new report, to make the point that “Obama Tortures, Too”. I wouldn’t write that if it were hyperbole, and the facts of the situation are at last clear enough. The political class, indeed the whole country, must make sense of that fact the best they can.

      A question hangs heavily over the U.S. political scene: how long will denial exist among liberals and progressives over the persistence of an aggressive military policy and the concomitant crimes against humanity that come with it? How long will the supporters of Barack Obama maintain their studied indifference to the crimes against humanity done in their name? The shine is off this new president, and underneath it all we can discern the same old game of lies covering for crimes. Enough is enough.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I think Rizzo is wondering whether he should have just shot the guy and killed him. He’s looking for exoneration and relief from future prosecution and punishment, not actionable intelligence.

    If Rizzo murdered the men in his custody, he might have had less work to do, but no actionable intelligence. As it is, he seems to have been part of program that produced little actionable intelligence, but lots of broken bodies, broken minds and broken laws.

    Which course would have made plainer his criminal conduct? One thing’s for sure, Mr. Pincus doesn’t want to know.

  10. MadDog says:


    Marc Thiessen, panting at his WaPo buddy Walter Pincus’ paean to John Rizzo, whips it out to join in the orgy:

    Intelligence Community Begins to Combat the Lies of its Critics

    Walter Pincus has an excellent piece in today’s Washington Post on former CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo’s maiden post-retirement speech before the American Bar Association’s committee on law and national security.

    I got to know Rizzo while working on President Bush’s 2006 speech acknowledging the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, and we have remained friends since then. He is one the best and smartest people I ever came across in my time in government…

    • qweryous says:

      Following your link and you can hear Rizzo HERE (mp3 podcast)

      One level up is the general menu HERE Scroll down to past events such as:

      The Constitution and the War Against Terrorists
      Speaker The Honorable Edwin Meese III
      Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation “

    • bobschacht says:

      I got to know Rizzo while working on President Bush’s 2006 speech acknowledging the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, and we have remained friends since then. He is one the best and smartest people I ever came across in my time in government…

      This helps illustrate how “smartness” is different from “wisdom” and even “good sense.” Many sociopaths are very smart, but severely lacking in other important qualities. Ted Bundy comes to mind, as do several prominent members of the Bush administration. Clearly also here, “best” and “smartest” don’t necessarily fit together.

      Bob in AZ

  11. Becca says:

    Torture remains an overt evil.

    When it became official U.S. policy to torture prisoners, no matter what the stated, implied, or actual reasons, no matter whether ‘useful information’ was wrought from the screams of men, women and children begging the torture be stopped — we crossed a very bright line.

    And by ‘we’ I mean all of us, we Americans. Furthermore, those of us who insist there be no prosecutions for these overt and obvious crimes against humanity are complicit. Men in Germany and Japan after WW2 were tried in open court and sentenced to death or life imprisonment for less.

    We’ve made a lot of mistakes over the decades since our founding, hurt a great many people… but when torture itself is authorized from the Oval Office and upheld by Congress and the Courts alike… We have abandoned our ideals and any pretext of being a ‘good and righteous people.’

  12. qweryous says:

    And speaking of Ed Meese; his name is on the top of this editorial in the Washington Times today:

    MEESE: Restoring ‘peace through strength’
    A platform for preserving American freedom and security

    10 points of action including:

    “4. A nation free of Shariah, the brutally repressive and anti-constitutional, totalitarian program that governs in Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Islamic states and that terrorists are fighting to impose worldwide.”

    H/T to ThinkTanked and Balloon Juice additional commentary may be found at both.

  13. Jeff Kaye says:

    Finally brought myself to read the entire Pincus article. What a pile of crap! Every word out of Rizzo’s mouth is a lie, and that’s no exaggeration. (The CIA is not out of the interrogation business. If Pincus were a real journalist, he’d have heard of a little something called the Intelligence Science Board.) Nor can Mr. Pincus hide his puerile crush upon this visitor from the clandestine world, this “colorful”, this prescient lawyer-spook, Mr. Rizzo, this man who would pump a bullet into a terrorist’s head, if not 183 bullets.

    Bravo Mr. Pincus, you win the award for most obsequious journalist of the year!

    • croghan27 says:

      Well said, Jeff Kaye …. if the CIA is not in the interrogation business – then what do they do? That is what spies do the world over. At one, happier, time it was illegal for them to do otherwise.

      As to preferring murder to torture, as Mr. Rizzo seems to, that is another sad comment on the state of the world and specifically of the CIA. Was not part of teh rational for stopping assassinations that they were making more enemies that could be taken out by killing?

      There are any number of outrageous things going on all the time: drone attacks, assassination squads (can you spell Xe?), drunken drivers and people shooting abortion providers. That does not mean they are all connected and if they are, the connecting is a job for sociologists and perhaps political scientists, not self-anointed philosophers of ‘black ops’.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        It was also obvious, particularly post-JFK, that what goes around comes around.

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