The memos, if you take a glance at them, are both chilling in detail, but the descriptions of the EITs to me were detached, clinical. I had to humanize this whole strange situation that I and the agency found ourselves in. I felt I had to go out there and look at these prisons myself and see the conditions in which these people were being held.
It was very discordant when I finally saw the detainees through the monitors. They looked so harmless. They're these little guys, and they were praying or sleeping. It was hard to look at these people and keep focused on what KSM had done and proudly admitted to doing. Zubaydah was one of the most physically unprepossessing guys you'd ever want to see. He wasn't a wild-eyed Rasputin.
Did you watch any detainees undergoing an EIT?
I sort of went back and forth on that. In the end, I did not witness any live EITs. My responsibility was to be the lawyer, and I wanted to retain some objectivity, some detachment about the procedures themselves. I didn't think it was necessary for me to physically watch while these techniques were being administered.
You were concerned that you'd be prejudiced against using the harshest techniques?
Yeah, I thought I might react too viscerally, and that was not my role.
What are your thoughts on the argument that EITs didn't produce reliable, useful information that couldn't be gained in another manner?
Career CIA experts and analysts were convinced that the EITs were yielding useful, otherwise unavailable intelligence. This program went on for six years in an increasingly corrosive political environment. Everyone involved, including me, knew that this program was going to get us into big-time political trouble at some point.
We weren't sadists, we weren't masochists and we weren't stupid, so why would we have continued such a highly controversial program for so long if it wasn't yielding results? It beggars the imagination.
You point out that after Sept. 11, the CIA was raked over the coals for being too risk-averse and thereby failing to prevent the terrorist attacks. Was the EIT program a reaction to that criticism?
Yeah. Let's say [hypothetically] that after we captured Zubaydah, he had in his head details of a second attack. And let's further say that the EITs didn't get him to give us that information, and there then was a second attack. In the postmortems, do you think anyone would have accused us of being too tough on him in our interrogations? I guarantee you that what the public and congressional reaction would have been was: "Is this all you did? Are you kidding? This was nothing."
You find it ironic that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration shut down the EIT program but stepped up drone attacks.
The drone program started about the same time [as the EITs]. There was news reporting from 2002 on about terrorists getting blown to bits on the ground from the air. And yet it's only been in the last year or two that the same human rights groups who incorporated the interrogation program have made a peep about a drone program that was killing terrorists — and sometimes innocent bystanders.
The other thing about killing terrorists is that you can't get information about the next attack from a guy you've just blown into a thousand pieces.
About the book
"Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA" was released Jan. 7 by Scribner Publishing. 336 pages; $28.
If you go
Author John Rizzo reads at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral St. Free. Call 410-396-5430 or visit prattlibrary.org.