Professionalism/Jose Rodriguez and the CIA Interrogation Tapes

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Jose Rodriguez , born in Puerto Rico 1948. He was the director of the National Clandestine Service of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Jose Rodriguez and the CIA Interrogation Tapes

Background[edit | edit source]

Six days after 9/11, George W. Bush signed a presidential directive that authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to kill, capture, and detain suspected Al Qaeda members anywhere in the world.[1] Under this authority, the CIA captured two suspected Al Qaeda members in 2002, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Zubaydah allegedly had ties to Bin Laden [2] and Nashiri allegedly masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole,[3] leading the CIA to believe the two had information that could prevent future Al Qaeda attacks. To get them to divulge this information, the CIA proposed “enhanced interrogation techniques” and asked the Department of Justice if doing so was legal. In response, assistant attorney general Jay Bybee asserted the techniques did not violate federal torture laws.[4][5] With Bybee’s advice, the CIA deprived of sleep, confined, and waterboarded Zubaydah and Nashiri in a secret Thailand prison.[5] These interrogations were recorded on 92 video tapes that contained hundreds of hours of footage.[6]

Prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison

The tapes were a well-kept secret and known only by some White House officials. Those who knew told the CIA not to destroy the tapes. For example, in 2004, White House lawyers David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, and John Bellinger told CIA general counsel Scott Muller to preserve the tapes. In 2005, White House Counsel Harriet Miers told the CIA to check with the White House before destroying the tapes.[7]

Meanwhile, public awareness grew of secret prisons and the CIA’s interrogation program. In 2004, The Economist magazine ran a picture on the front cover of their May edition, depicting prisoner abuse at the hands of U.S. military personnel and the CIA in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. On November 2, 2005, investigative journalist Dana Priest published a Washington Post article that leaked facts about the CIA’s interrogation program in Eastern Europe.[1] Government officials like George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice, opposed Priest's article and asked the Washington Post to not run the story.[8]

A week after Priest’s article ran, amidst growing public awareness and scrutiny, Jose Rodriguez approved the destruction of the video tapes. Rodriguez was the director of the national clandestine service and had the authority to destroy the tapes.[7] However, he did not notify the White House and violated their standing orders.

Plausible Motivations[edit | edit source]

Rodriguez's decision to disobey the standing White House orders and destroy the tapes sheds light on his plausible moral agenda.

Protecting his officers[edit | edit source]

Rodriguez may have destroyed the tapes in order to protect his subordinates who were simply following orders from the CIA officials. Some of the officers were still stationed overseas, and if their identity had been leaked through the tapes, they would have been at risk. Rodriguez successfully hid the identity of the officers and risked his position within the Agency to spare them from potential conviction.

Writers Guild of America strike
Writers Guild Strike of 2008

During the Writers Guild Strike of 2008, Jon Stewart supported his crew while endangering his comedic reputation. Several shows across the networks from TV Guide awards to Jay Leno went on hiatus without the writer’s scripts supporting the series. [9] Starting on November 5, 2007, the cast and crew of the affected series were without a paycheck indefinitely.[9] Actors like Jon Stewart could sustain themselves without a steady paycheck, but the light engineers, cameramen, and other crew members struggled to support their family. Therefore, on December 20, 2007, Comedy Central announced that Jon Stewart was returning to the air without his writers. [10] "A" Daily Show with Jon Stewart launched on January 7 amidst awkward pauses and jokes. [11] An MSNBC correspondent noted that the show

“lacked the show’s usual life and spark, and the writer’s absence, it seemed, had a deep impact.” [11]

Even though Jon Stewart previously wrote his own comedy routines before he became the Daily Show host, the show’s improvised segments paled in comparison to those with the writers and correspondents, resulting in “regular, albeit unremarkable” episodes. [11] However, by returning to Comedy Central before the strike’s end, Stewart protected his other workers while risking his name.

Protecting the organization[edit | edit source]

Rodriguez's action also may have protected the CIA's reputation. If the tapes had been viewed by the public, the perception of the Agency would have been tarnished.

Walter James Collins
Walter Collins, 1928
False Walter James Collins
Walter Collin's imposter, 1928

Similarly, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) did everything they could to cover up a discrediting mistake in 1928. On March 10, Christine Collins returned home from her job as a telephone operator to discover her son, Walter, was missing. [12] She contacted the police department who posted photos and ads in the paper and searched beyond the state lines. [12] Five months later, Captain JJ Jones contacted Collins notifying her that authorities found her son and they were escorting Walter on the next train to Los Angeles. [13] Captain Jones greeted her when she arrived at the station and ushered her past the media representatives ready to capture the reunion. However, when the boy stepped off the train, she knew it was not her son.[12] Knowing that the LAPD had made an egregious mistake, Jones tried to cover up the mistake in order to protect the police’s reputation. [13] He immediately discredited her thoughts claiming the boy’s changed appearance was due to the traumatic months away from his mother, so Christine took the stranger home. [13] After three weeks, she went back to the Department to return the boy.[12] According to court testimony, Jones said,

“What are you trying to do, make fools of us all? Or are you trying to shirk your duty as a mother and have the state provide for your son? You are the most cruel-hearted woman I’ve ever known.” [12]

Ultimately, the department committed her to the Los Angeles County General Hospital’s psychiatric ward to disrepute Collins and ensure that their mistake was never made public. [12]

Protecting himself[edit | edit source]

Rodriguez may have spared himself scrutiny by destroying the tapes. With the power he held in the CIA, he was able to avoid the backlash of allowing the torture without the details being exposed through the tapes.

Ecuadorian Embassy in London - Julian Assange's asylum

Julian Assange is the founder of Wikileaks which exposed thousands of United States classified files related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Ecuadorian government granted Assange asylum to protect him from the United States’ persecution, and he currently resides in their embassy in London. [14] In 2010, the Swedish government attempted to question and convict Assange of sexual assault; however he managed to post bail and flee to London. [14] The Swedes continue to call for the whistleblower’s testimony, but he refuses to go to Sweden because he believes that Sweden is questioning him simply so that they can extradite him to the United States. [14]Therefore, by denying the Swedish law enforcement any access to him outside of the embassy, he is protecting himself from the bigger threat just as Rodriguez did when he destroyed the tapes.

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Jose Rodriguez had sought the consultation of two CIA lawyers, Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger, who was the top lawyer at the Counterterrorism Center. Hermes told Rodriguez that he had the authority to destroy the tapes, and Eatinger told Rodriguez that there was no legal requirement to keep the tapes. [7] Rodriguez acted quickly, sending the memo authorizing the destruction of the tapes.[15] Both lawyers knew of the White House's explicit order to not destroy the tapes, but neither expected Rodriguez to act so quickly. [7] From the quick action Rodriguez took, we believe that he had a specific purpose he wanted to achieve. The CIA claims that this purpose was one of innocence: destroying the tapes in order to protect the interrogator's identity. Below is a quote that describes Rodriguez's attitude by Robert Richner, Rodriguez's deputy.

“I’m not going to let my people get nailed for something they were ordered to do.” .[15]

To examine Jose Rodriguez's actions, a federal prosecutor from the Department of Justice, John Durham, lead a criminal investigation into the tapes' destruction in 2008. In order to bring charges to Jose Rodriguez, Durham had to prove criminal intent, ex. the tapes were destroyed in anticipation of a federal or congressional investigation. However, in November 2010, Durham recommended not to pursue charges against Rodriguez. [16]

Generalizable Lesson[edit | edit source]

Choosing between two evils[edit | edit source]

The Greek for "know thyself", which was inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, is a motto we believe will allow the professional to make correct judgements.

Below is a quote from John Rizzo describing the decision that Jose Rodriguez faced.

“…the heat from destroying is nothing compared with what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain—he said that out of context they would make us look terrible; it would be ‘devastating’ to us.” [17]

Rodriguez had to choose between two scenarios with enormous negative repercussions. This can be generalized to the case where a professional has to choose between two evils. We propose that in order to choose between two evils, a professional must "know thyself". Our proposal is when a professional must make a judgement in the face of evils, they must know their own ethics and moral agenda before proceeding.

We believe the reasons why Durham was unable to find criminal intent was because he saw the true intention that Rodriguez made, when choosing between two evils. The intention was of protecting his people, not of criminal intent, therefore, charges were unable to be brought against him.

Robert Bennett, Rodriguez's attorney described him as

"an American hero, a true patriot who only wanted to protect his people and his country." [18]

If a professional has poor ethics and morals, the professional may make the incorrect decision. However, the professional can improve their judgement assuming they try to improve after each mistake. By proposing to always make a decision according to our own ethical standards in professional decisions, the professional can adjust their ethics with each new scenario. Hopefully then, given enough experience and self-thought, the professional will make correct decisions most of the time.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b Priest, D. (2005, November 2). CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons. The Washington Post.
  2. Burns, J. F. (2002, April 14). A NATION CHALLENGED: THE FUGITIVES; In Pakistan’s Interior, A Troubling Victory In Hunt for Al Qaeda. The New York Times.
  3. CNN. (2002, November 22). Top al Qaeda operative arrested.
  4. Bradbury, S. (2005, May 30). Memorandum for John A. Rizzo | Re: Application of United States Obligations Under Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture to Certain Techniques that May Be Used in the Interrogation of High Value al Qaeda Detainees. Office of the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General.
  5. a b Bybee, J. (2002, August 1). Memorandum for John Rizzo | Interrogation of al Qaeda Operative. Office of the Assistant Attorney General.
  6. Mazzetti, M. (2009, March 3). U.S. Says C.I.A. Destroyed 92 Tapes of Interrogations. The New York Times.
  7. a b c d Apuzzo, M., & Goldman, A. (2010, July 27). Key omission in memo to destroy CIA terror tapes.
  8. Sanford School of Public Policy. (2009). “Adventures in Journalism: From CIA Secret Prisons to Walter Reed” by Dana Priest. see 32:50
  9. a b (2008, February 12). The 100 Day Writers' Strike: A Timeline. The New York Times.
  10. Stelter, B. (2007, December 21). Stewart and Colbert to Return without Writers. The New York Times.
  11. a b c Dehnart, A. (2008, January 16). Stewart, Colbert make due without writers. Today.
  12. a b c d e f Abramowitz, Rachel (2008, October 19). The Other Son. The Los Angeles Times.
  13. a b c Blair, Elizabeth (2008, October 24). Behind 'Changeling,' A Tale Too Strange For Fiction. NPR.
  14. a b c (2015, March 13). Timeline: Sexual allegations against Julian Assange in Sweden. The BBC. Invalid <ref> tag; name "BBC1" defined multiple times with different content
  15. a b Mazzetti, M., & Shane, S. (n.d.). Jose Rodriguez, center of tapes inquiry, was protective of his CIA subordinates. }
  16. Mazzetti, M., & Savage, C. (2010, November 9). No Criminal Charges Sought Over C.I.A. Tapes. The New York Times.
  17. Finn, P., & Tate, J. (2010, April 5). 2005 Destruction of Interrogation Tapes Caused Concern at CIA, e-mails Show.
  18. Evan, P. (2010, November 9) No charges in destruction of CIA interrogation tapes