CIA Counsel Dodges on Definition of Torture

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CIA general counsel designate John A Rizzo wasn’t willing to say much during an open session before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today, but he did make one major admission: he had not objected to the Department of Justice’s controversial August 1, 2002 memorandum defining torture as equivalent to “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”… except when he did, albeit two years later.

Not that he thought his 2002 decision was wrong: “I did not, certainly, object,” Rizzo told Senator J. Rockefeller. “My reaction was it was an aggressively expansive reading but I cannot say I had any specific objections to any specific parts of it.” However, Rizzo added that he “did agree” with the Justice Department’s 2004 revision of the definition of torture – which overrode the very 2002 memorandum to which Rizzo didn’t “specifically object.”

Several senators were distressed and confused by Rizzo’s subsequent embrace of DoJ’s 2004 revision on the definition of torture. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) implied that Rizzo had told Levin in private that he had in fact defended the 2002 memo’s extreme definition of torture. “Did you not tell me that you thought that was a reasonable statement?” Sen. Levin asked. “If I did Senator, I meant to put it in a different context,” Rizzo replied.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Rizzo if he now thought he should have objected in 2002 to what Rizzo himself called the DoJ’s “overbroad” definition of torture. “I honestly can’t say I should have objected at the time,” Rizzo said. Sen. Wyden said he found Rizzo’s statement “unfortunate.”

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