Jose Rodriguez

Torture Connection: 
"We are the dark side."
  • Born 1948 in Puerto Rico.
  • BA and JD from University of Florida.
  • Joined the CIA in 1976.  Worked as a field officer in the clandestine service, specializing in Latin America.
  • Served as chief of station in Panama, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.
  • In 1997, sent home from his post in the Dominican Republic after pressuring the government there to drop charges against a friend of his who’d been arrested for drug trafficking. Disciplinary action included a letter accusing him of “remarkable lack of judgment.”
  • Named director of the CIA’s covert-services Latin American Division.
  • After 9/11, appointed Chief of Staff, CIA Counterterrorism Center.
  • Published a memoir, Hard Measures, in 2012, in which he claimed that harsh interrogation saved the public from multiple terrorist attacks and led to the capture of Osama bin Laden. CIA interrogators were heroes, doing “the right thing for the right reason.”
  • Joined Edge Consulting, a private intelligence assessment and strategy consulting organization purchased in 2010 by IBM.
  • Mentioned in November 2016 as a possible Trump nominee for Director of the CIA.

Jose Rodriguez turns the CIA into a torture agency

To the extent that history will identify any single Bush-administration official as personally responsible for the government’s post-9/11 torture regime, Jose Rodriguez may be recalled as the mastermind.

From the Langley, VA, offices of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Rodriguez dreamed up the whole show: he hired and trained torturers, created a legalistic framework to normalize torture, built secret facilities to house prisoers being tortured, pressured lawyers and bureaucrats to protect the torturers, and attempted to “sell” a mythology of heroic torturers performing necessary and patriotic work on the dark side–even while he destroyed evidence in an effort to hide the reality of torture from prying politicians and the American public.

Jose Rodriguez decides on torture as the answer to terror

After 9/11, CIA agents working with Rodriguez’s Counterterrorism Center rounded up individuals from around the world who were suspected of ties to Al Qaeda or other possibly extremist organizations. The prisoners were often drugged and transported secretly to distant interrogation facilities–secret overseas “black sites”–where at first Rodriguez’s agents cooperated with experienced FBI interrogators in hopes of learning about terrorist networks and thwarting future terroristic plots.

Within weeks or months, the CIA agents came to believe that many interrogations were failing to produce useful intelligence because the prisoners were especially uncooperative. In 2002, Rodriguez hired former air force psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell to modify elements of traditional military interrogation-resistance training for use as “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

Although Rodriguez admitted that the psychologists believed these enhanced methods entailed a month or more of pain and suffering before a prisoner would be “broken” and compliant, he sold the project to his bureaucratic bosses as a quick answer to the ticking-time-bomb scenario, the action-movie fantasies in which heroic good guys thwart imminent threats by quickly making bad guys spill the beans. He apparently bought into the ticking-time-bomb mystique himself, insisting that his agents were “doing the right thing for the right reasons” and that by torturing their prisoners, they prevented numerous acts of anti-American terror as bad as or worse than 9/11.

Jose Rodriguez defends the public’s right to know absolutely nothing about American torture

He has never provided details of what plots were foiled or what intelligence was obtained via torture, though he has conceded that tortured prisoners often told lies to their interrogators, sending agents on expensive and time-consuming wild goose chases, and has also admitted that at least some of the prisoners subjected to his methods were entirely innocent, detained by mistake.

Needless to say, Rodriguez refused to call his program torture. He also declined to use that terminology for what happened at Abu Ghraib and other American installations around the world, which he attributed to foolish young people without the training or supervision to properly direct their enthusiasm for cruelty. This overzealous behavior by individuals who inhaled the scent of torture all around them was indefensible, he felt, largely because caused problems for him in attempting to defend his own project, which looked awfully similar in the public eye.

Rodriguez struggled to keep his work out of the public eye, to the point of destroying video records of what his interrogators were doing. The videos were originally intended to prove that his new interrogation methods were being applied carefully, within the scope of the legal authority he had secured. After the revelations from Abu Ghraib, however, he feared that the tapes might be “misinterpreted” by disgusted politicians and/or citizens. He pursued a bureaucratic remedy, requesting an order to destroy the tapes, but soon went ahead on his own, sending them to an industrial-strength shredder.

Jose Rodriguez defends torture in print and in court

In 2007, former CIA agent John Kiriakou went public with allegations against Rodriguez for torturing and for destroying evidence of torture; most of Kiriakou’s information was secondhand and lacked detail, but he spent 18 months in prison for revealing classified information. Rodriguez’s destruction of video evidence was investigated by the CIA’s Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Justice, but he was never formally charged with any crimes.

In 2016, Rodriguez was back in the news: in October, he was ordered to submit to a deposition in a federal trial involving two of the psychologists he had hired to develop torture techniques, and in November, his name emerged as a top candidate for CIA director in the administration of President-elect Trump.

Rodriguez was not nominated for the directorship. He is still scheduled to be deposed in late 2016 or early 2017. In response to news about his possible nomination, he said that Trump’s incoming administration would need to come up with new harsh interrogation methods; the program Rodriguez had devised and implemented during his years at the CIA could no longer be effective because it was now too “well known to the enemy.”