It’s unbelievable that this guy gets to sell a book instead of being tried.

by Cosmo Houck

Nothing should shock any more, but Jose Rodriguez is clearly a bad man. For those unfamiliar with who Rodriguez is, he spearheaded the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” under George W. Bush–he was in charge of torturing prisoners. Sunday night CBS’ 60 Minutes aired an interview with Rodriguez, who has a book out. On it Rodriguez revealed himself to be dangerously divorced from reality and the suffering of others.

His sociopathy has been covered elseware. Among the telling moments include him making light of extreme sleep deprivation (it’s like jet lag) and the inducement of muscle fatigue (doesn’t he do worse at the gym?). Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we’re told, was not the sort of man that minded having water poured over his face–which begs the question, why did we?

At one point he relates how Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told the CIA he would cooperate once he was flown to New York and given a lawyer. Rodriguez and Lesley Stahl share an incredulous moment when they ponder the consequences of giving such a terrible criminal–a terrorist!–a platform from which to spew his sickening, horrid ideology. Apparently CBS has no such qualms.

Rodriguez cannot be accused of being especially creative, either. At the core of his defense of kidnapping and torturing foreign nationals–some later determined innocent–is the rote “ticking bomb scenario”. I’m sure you’re familiar with it: somewhere there’s a bomb (or impending disaster of some kind), it’s going to go off, and we want to know where it is. In this situation, isn’t torture permissable?

This hypothetical has always been specious and a poor analog for the real world. Among the unspoken assumptions that it takes for granted are that:

  • the person being tortured has information on the bomb
  • they won’t lie to stop the torture
  • the bomb will actually kill lots of people*

Hypotheticals can be useful in certain circumstances; sometimes abstracting issues can help us to put them into perspective. However, taking pure abstractions and using them to singularly guide policy is fundamentally problematic. Because we can never know if a particular individual has information, or if they’ll tell the truth while we torture them, or if whatever device we suspect exists is truly as deadly as we might fear, the “ticking bomb scenario” serves merely to broaden–and broaden–the justifiable circumstances for torture.

The reality is that experts think torture is ineffective, that much of the information that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided came before the CIA “put on their big boy pants”, and that Rodriguez is a sociopathic liar who destroyed 92 tapes of CIA interrogations to hide the reality of our “enhanced interrogation” program.

It has long been self evident that traditional law enforcement practices can effectively fight terrorism without compromising our core principles; instead men like Jose Rodriguez have made the rest of us complicit in their immorality.

*This is not exhaustive, obviously.

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