The retired CIA officer who oversaw the tough terrorist interrogation program using waterboarding and other techniques says his methods saved lives by thwarting plots against the United States.
During an interview Sunday night on “60 Minutes”
— just days before the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of Navy SEALs — Jose Rodriguez also lashed out at President Barack Obama for calling waterboarding torture and criticizing its use, and at congressional Democrats like former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for dodging responsibility over the issues.
"I cannot tell you how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labeled 'torturers' by the president of the United States," Rodriguez, the former chief of CIA clandestine operations, writes in his book, "Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives."
The book is due out Tuesday. The highly charged interview came in the same week Republicans harshly criticized the administration for using bin Laden's death as a campaign tactic. Last week, Vice President Joe Biden said that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would not have made the tough call to kill bin Laden.
But Rodriguez criticizes many Democrats for not backing the tough tactics that he said eventually led to bin Laden.
“Pelosi said that we only briefly mentioned waterboarding and left the impression that it had not been used,” Rodriguez writes, insisting that the California Democrat was fully briefed — by Rodriguez himself — about waterboarding and its use. He says that Pelosi posed no objection to the technique. “I know she got it.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that she, like almost all Americans less than a year after, wanted us to be aggressive to make sure that al-Qaida wasn’t able to replicate their attack.” He writes that “Pelosi was another member of Congress reinventing the truth.”
Many members of Congress have “watched too many episodes of the old TV series Mission Impossible — the part they liked best was the opening, in which the operatives were told that if anything went wrong, their leaders would ‘disavow any knowledge of your actions,’” says Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said the CIA developed the tactics because high-level detainee Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian-born jihadist with close ties to Osama bin Laden, had provided some initial information, but then he "clamped up and he was not talking anymore."
"We needed a new approach, a new technique," Rodriguez said. "Something new, something outside the box. That's how we came up with the enhanced interrogation techniques."
Rodriguez said his team had legal clearance for everything it did — from waterboarding, on down to top-level terrorists like Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
"We made some al-Qaida terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days," he tells “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl. "I am very secure in what we did and am very confident that what we did saved American lives.”
Pressed by Stahl about charges that Zubaydah, who was waterboarded and sleep deprived, gave false information that wasted U.S. resources, Rodriguez replies, "Bull****!, He gave us a roadmap that allowed us to capture a bunch of al-Qaida senior leaders," says the ex-spy.
The interrogation program, which also included stress positions, nudity and "insult slaps," was "about instilling a sense of hopelessness ... despair ... so that he [the detainee] would conclude on his own that he was better off cooperating with us."
He says that even Mohammed, whom he termed "the toughest detainee we had," eventually gave up information.
KSM, as the mastermind of 9/11 was known, would not cooperate at first.
"He eventually told us, 'I will talk once I get to New York and I get my lawyer,' " Rodriguez recalls in the “60 Minutes” interview. But "it was the cumulative effect of waterboarding and sleep deprivation and everything else that was done that eventually got to him."
Rodriguez says he got information that enabled the CIA to disrupt at least 10 large-scale terrorist plots.
But when Stahl reminded him the CIA's own inspector general said that his enhanced interrogation program did not stop any imminent attack, Rodriguez says, "We don't know ... if, for example, al-Qaida would have been able to continue on with their anthrax program or nuclear program ... or sleeper agents ... working with Khalid Sheik Mohammed to take down the Brooklyn Bridge, for example."
Rodriguez also made headlines when he ordered the destruction of videos showing waterboarding. He did it, he writes, because he was tired of waiting for Washington's bureaucracy to make a decision that protected American lives.
The chapter about the interrogation videos adds few new details to a narrative that has been explored for years by journalists, investigators and civil rights groups. But the book represents Rodriguez's first public comment on the matter since the tape destruction was revealed in 2007.
That revelation touched off a political debate and ignited a Justice Department investigation that ultimately produced no charges. Critics accused Rodriguez of covering up torture and preventing the public from ever seeing the brutality of the CIA's interrogations. Supporters hailed him as a hero who acted in the best interest of the country in the face of years of bureaucratic hand-wringing.
The tapes, filmed in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, showed the waterboarding of terrorists Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri.
Especially after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Rodriguez writes, if the CIA's videos were to leak out, officers worldwide would be in danger.
"I wasn't going to sit around another three years waiting for people to get up the courage," to do what CIA lawyers said he had the authority to do himself, Rodriguez writes. He describes sending the order in November 2005 as "just getting rid of some ugly visuals."
Rodriguez writes critically of Obama's counterterrorism policies today. With no way to capture and interrogate terrorists, Rodriguez says, the CIA relies far too much on drones. Unmanned aerial attacks alienate America's foreign partners and make it impossible to question people in the know, he says.
These points could foreshadow Republican attack lines in the presidential race because other former senior CIA officers are advising presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The killing of bin Laden is Obama's signature national security accomplishment, but Rodriguez writes that valuable intelligence from the CIA's "black sites" helped lead the United States to bin Laden.
The book is published by Threshold, a conservative imprint of Simon and Schuster that also published former Vice President Dick Cheney's memoir.
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