CIA’s Rizzo: Our Interrogations Were Humane, Except When They Weren’t

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CIA General Counsel-Designate John A. Rizzo didn’t just equivocate on whether he agreed with the Office of Legal Counsel’s narrow definition of torture from August 2002. In his confirmation hearing today, Rizzo was all over the map about what the CIA actually did with detainees in its custody.

When Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked Rizzo whether he thought in 2002 that the CIA’s interrogation regime was “humane,” Rizzo — who was acting general counsel for much of the time, and took part in deliberations about the legality of that regime — replied that “We believed then, and we believe throughout the process, that the CIA (interrogation) program as it was conceived — that the procedures, and the criteria, when taken in toto, leads to the conclusion, justifies the conclusion, that it was from the outset, and (in its subsequent implementation) was conducted in a humane manner.” Yet the CIA, based in part on legal guidance delivered by the general counsel’s office, authorized its interrogators to force detainees to stand for up to 40 hours; chill their cells to 50 degrees while dousing their naked bodies with cold water; and to simulate drowning them. Whether Rizzo actually believes such practices are humane, he conceded that “there had been some concerns that were expressed” by CIA interrogators who feared prosecution for carrying out the authorized interrogations.

But who was the subject of the “humane” interrogation regime? Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked Rizzo if it was his opinion that the Geneva Convention’s Common Article 3 — which protect combatants from “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” — applied to the fourteen high-value detainees transfered from CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay last year. Those detainees are the U.S.’s highest-level al-Qaeda captives, and they include 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Rizzo first said that “Common Article 3 were certainly applied to the fourteen” — but then added that it wasn’t until the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that Common Article 3 applies to al-Qaeda. That ruling was handed down in July 2006. “I can’t tell you, before the Hamdan decision, that those standards were applied to enemy combatants before then,” he said.

Just three months after the Hamdan ruling, CIA remanded the fourteen to the custody of the Department of Defense. The only acknowledged detainee held by CIA after the Supreme Court applied Common Article 3 to al-Qaeda is Abu Hadi al-Iraqi, an aide to Osama bin Laden, whom the CIA sent to Guantanamo in April.