Video: Ex-CIA lawyer declares "my conscience is clear" over waterboarding

If Robert Gates thought his memoir would be the most explosive book published at the start of the new year, he could find himself disappointed. John Rizzo, who spent decades at the CIA and was involved in some of the most controversial issues of that era, has begun PR work for his memoir Company Man. Rizzo’s most controversial decision was to write a memo that got the Bush administration to approve waterboarding as a technique to break resistance to interrogation, a decision for which Rizzo expresses no regret — in the book or in this interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell:


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“Extraordinary measures had to be taken,” John Rizzo said about the now-illegal technique, which he asserts was not inhumane.

“No, if it had been torture, we wouldn’t have done it,” he told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

Rizzo recounts the genesis of the waterboarding program along with numerous other stories from his three decades at the spy agency in his memoir, “Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA.”

Waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning, was front and center in a debate over the “enhanced” interrogation methods used on al Qaeda terrorist suspects following the attacks of September 11.

Rizzo won Justice Department approval for the practice but said the program originated from the CIA with him and a few others.

Frankly, I was a little surprised by the light tone taken in this clip by Mitchell. It may well be that the argument has gone on so long that it’s now mostly an opportunity to just revisit the competing sides on interrogation techniques as a caught-in-amber moment, but it only closed out five years ago. Plus, this is the man who pushed the idea that it was not torture and therefore legitimate — a claim Rizzo explicitly makes in this interview again, even sans the ticking-time-bomb qualifiers that many take in reluctantly supporting Rizzo’s position.  The International Spy Museum and James Bond references are pretty glossy and lightweight considering the subject matter available in this book, no?


The Gates memoir might do better within the Beltway, but I’ll bet the Rizzo memoir sells better outside of it. Who doesn’t want a peek inside the CIA? Especially since Rizzo doesn’t hesitate to dish on Hollywood:

Much of his book, Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA, tells the previously-guarded tales of clandestine operations including their frequent partnerships with Hollywood stars.

In the book, read by MailOnline, the connection between the CIA and the movie business was recently publicized by the film Argo, but Mr Rizzo’s book shows that their partnerships were more than just some creative storyboards and false movie advertisements. …

Mr Rizzo recalled an interesting conversation with the CIA employee who was the handler for this particular actor: ‘The actor refuses to take any money, but he told us that instead all he wants is for us to score him the best fifty-thousand-dollar stash of cocaine we can find. He seems to think we can get the real primo stuff. So that’s why I’m here. Is it okay for us to do it?’ he recalled the unidentified agent asking.

Mr Rizzo shot down the request and said that the actor ended up helping the agency free of charge.

And the Clintons:

He repeatedly slammed President Clinton and said that after he was elected ‘it was increasingly apparent that President Clinton couldn’t care less about the Agency or the rest of the intelligence community’. …

His most damning critique came when he told how the Democratic President sent then-First Lady Hillary Clinton to attend the funeral for a fallen operative in his place.

Mr Rizzo called the move ‘the most hurtful presidential snub I witnessed in my entire career’.

‘Bill Clinton, our new president, couldn’t find the time to make the ten -minute trip from the White House to the CIA to pay his respects. He sent his wife instead. It was an unforgivable slight from a man who had famously told the American people during his just-completed campaign, “I feel your pain,”’ Mr Rizzo wrote.


We’ll see who sells more … and whether anyone takes the opportunity to approach it seriously.

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