One CIA Lawyer Could've Stopped Waterboarding Before It Started, Here's Why He Didn't

"But over the next day or two, as I turned things over in my mind, I concluded that the issue was anything but easy. We were less than six months removed from 9/11, the national was still in the throes of fear and dread about another catastrophic attack, intelligence reports were cascading in indicating the possible imminence of such an attack, and the CIA had in its custody and control the one guy who would likely know when, where, and by whom the next attack would be carried out. And he was taunting and mocking us about it. The Agency's singular objective, for the sake both of the country and of its own institutional existence, was to do anything and everything in its lawful power to prevent another attack from happening."

Rizzo said he considered the "nightmare scenario" in which another attack strikes the homeland and Zubaydah "gleefully tells his CIA handlers he knew all about it."

"All because at the moment of reckoning, the Agency had shied away from doing what it knew was unavoidable, what was essential, to extract that information from him. And with hundreds or thousands of Americans again lying dead on the streets or in rubble somewhere, I would know, deep down, that I was at least in part responsible.

"In the final analysis, I could not countenance the thought of having to live with that," he writes.

But Rizzo did not outright affirm the legality of all of the proposed techniques. Instead, he writes that he told then-CIA Director George Tenet that he couldn't tell if some of the "very harsh, even brutal" techniques constituted torture and instead "punted" to the Department of Justice, preferring to have them make the call. A few months later, a Top Secret legal opinion from the DOJ came through: except for one technique, which wasn't described in Rizzo's book, all the proposed EITs were found to be legal, including waterboarding.

Rizzo writes that he is aware of three people who were waterboarded by the CIA: Zubaydah, self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, described as a key figure in the 2000 al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole.

"Overall, the Agency kept a cumulative total of about one hundred prisoners in its black sites in the seven years the EITs were in existence, from 2002 to early 2009. KSM was the last one waterboarded [in 2003]. Again, in succeeding years outside groups would claim otherwise. If that were true, I am convinced I would have known about it. And I didn't," Rizzo writes.

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When the enhanced interrogation program became public through media reports in the mid- to late-2000s, a passionate national debate ensued and public pressure mounted to end what many critics, including aforementioned high-level American officials, believed constituted torture.

As one of his first acts in office in 2009, President Obama formally put an end to the program with an executive order called "Ensuring Lawful Interrogations" which directed all detainees to be questioned using only the techniques approved in the Army Field Manual.

"Waterboarding is torture. It's contrary to America's traditions, it's contrary to our ideals, it's not who we are, it's not how we operate," Obama told reporters at a press conference in 2011 ahead of the 2012 presidential election. "If we want to lead around the world part of our leadership is setting a good example. And anybody who has actually read about and understands the practice of waterboarding would say that that is torture and that's not something we do. Period."

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