Rizzo insists that the CIA “wanted no part of torture” which it had “never countenanced, much less facilitated.” He justifies this by claiming that waterboarding a prisoner more than a hundred times, putting a prisoner with a fear of insects in a box with insects, staging a mock burial, extended sleep deprivation, hypothermia and repeated combinations of these techniques never raised a serious question of torture—because Rizzo had an OLC opinion to the contrary in his pocket. The fact that the authors of that opinion knew nothing on the subject, that they had been promised judicial appointments and promotions for issuing it, that for the 50 years before and the eight years after these decisions, the Justice Department was very clear that these techniques were either torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment not permitted by U.S. law—all that is ignored. Rizzo similarly sidesteps the CIA’s now notorious proxy-detention regimes set up in Morocco, Libya, Somalia and Egypt, where torture still more gruesome was practiced. Rizzo’s penchant for wordplay starts from the first pages of the book. Being called before a grand jury or congressional oversight panel to answer questions about the black site program is “torture.” On the other hand, waterboarding someone more than a hundred times is just an “enhanced interrogation technique,” and it is apparently insulting to the CIA as an institution to call it “torture.”
The most surprising aspect of Rizzo’s book is just how easy it is to be a CIA lawyer. Are CIA agents violating the law of a foreign nation? “We rather expect they do, all the time,” he tells one audience. No need even to worry about it. Violations of foreign treaties and covenants? Rizzo seems to believe that if the CIA should worry about it, the State Department or Justice Department will tell them. If there’s a question, ask them for guidance or an opinion. Why fret about it? Instead, we learn that the CIA lawyer’s lot really focuses heavily on domestic law, especially federal rules concerning the use of appropriated funds, specific congressional limitations on operations, and the art of drafting national security findings. A prisoner being tortured to death in Afghanistan is not really his worry—the DOJ will handle that, or more likely, bury it. But a senior CIA agent destroying tapes that are sought in a pending court case—now that’s a nightmare.
Rizzo supposes that nothing much of consequence to him happens outside the Beltway. The problem with disclosure of the use of torture techniques, the operation of black sites, the sweeping use of drones are all problems within the American political and legal system—public ire, congressional hearings, budget challenges, pressure to discipline employees, confirmation battles. There hardly even seems to be a world beyond the Beltway. But this points to the amazing shortsightedness of this book and the world it portrays.
In Italy, a court in Milan convicts 26 CIA agents and persons working with them for kidnapping, over their “snatch” operation targeting an Egyptian cleric who was already the subject of an Italian criminal justice probe. Their prisoner was whisked away, using a U.S. Air Force Base, to Egypt, where he was tortured through a CIA proxy-detention program. The convictions are sustained on appeal, even as the U.S. attempts to protect the CIA’s station chief in Rome with a claim of diplomatic immunity.
In Poland, criminal probes continue to identify CIA agents who set up a black site at a villa in Stare Kiejkuty, in the lake district three hours north of Warsaw, a CIA outpost that Rizzo once visited. Arrest warrants are issued for the CIA personnel involved, criminal charges are opened against their Polish collaborators.
Across the frontier, in Lithuania, another CIA black site is exposed and investigated by civil-rights activists. In February a court in Vilnius issued a mandate to the prosecutors to open a criminal probe of torture that may have occurred in that black site.
In Strasbourg, Europe’s highest court found an innocent German greengrocer had been abducted and tortured by the CIA in Macedonia in a case of mistaken identity. The court cited and chided the Macedonian authorities for failing to open a criminal probe and pursue the perpetrators—now high-ranking CIA officials, including the head of the agency’s counterterrorism center.
The prosecutors in all these cases, and in other cases pending in Spain, the U.K. and Australia, trade notes tracking the CIA personnel involved, their pseudonyms, their use of credit cards, frequent-flyer accounts and other data in the expectation of some day making arrests. This leaves the agency personnel unable to leave the United States, facing potentially heavy jail terms—and all at the hands of core U.S. allies who enthusiastically supported the war on terror and previously worked closely with the CIA.
All these developments flow from John Rizzo’s legal advice at the CIA, but you will strain to find the most fleeting mention of them in his book. If this book does give us a glimpse into the mind of the CIA lawyer, what it reveals is a capacity for self denial and willingness to ignore inconvenient truths that indeed define John Rizzo as a “company man.”
Scott Horton is a fellow at The Nation Institute and a contributing editor at Harper’s.
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb
Copyright 2014 The National Memo