Senate Report on CIA Torture

John Rizzo

John Rizzo was acting General Counsel of the CIA from 2001 to 2002 and from 2004 to 2009. In July 2002, Rizzo and lawyers from the CIA's Counterterrorism Center Legal Department described 12 interrogation techniques, proposed to be used on Abu Zubaydah, to the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the National Security Council, and the FBI. OLC representatives, including John Yoo, "advised that the criminal prohibition on torture would not prohibit the[se] methods ... because of the absence of any specific intent to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering."

Additionally, an OLC memorandum, dated August 1, 2002, stated that "'necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate' the criminal prohibition against torture," a position that is inconsistent with both international and domestic law. Yoo reported that he drafted these sections in response to CIA questioning about what would happen if an interrogator went “over the line.” When asked to remove these sections by Department of Justice lawyer Patrick Philbin, Yoo responded, “They want it in there,” meaning the CIA. Rizzo, however, reported to the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility that "the CIA did not request the addition of these sections."

In his 2014 memoir, Rizzo claimed President Bush had no knowledge of the CIA’s program in 2002 and 2003, stating: "The one senior U.S. Government national security official during this time - from August 2002 through 2003 - who I did not believe was knowledgable about the E.I.T.s was President Bush himself. He was not present at any of the Principal Committee meetings ... and none of the principals at any of the E.I.T. sessions during this period ever alluded to the President knowing anything about them."

However, Rizzo himself is also misled the administration at several points by making false statements and withholding information regarding the CIA's program. For example, in August 2002, he reported that the CIA's interrogation of Abu Zubaydah’s was “producing meaningful results,” which was not the case. Additionally, in a July 31, 2003 email, Rizzo said that not all National Security Council principals were being briefed on the CIA's program because Secretary of State Colin Powell would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed about what's been going on” in the CIA’s interrogation program. In 2007, he provided the Senate Intelligence Committee "inaccurate information on the legal reasons for establishing detention facilities overseas."

On June 26, 2003, President Bush made a statement in honor of the UN International Day in Support for Victims of Torture in which he pronounced that the "United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example." The next day, Rizzo called John Bellinger, legal advisor to the National Security Council, to "express [the CIA's] surprise and concern at ... the Presidential statement" as well as a statement by Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan "that all prisoners being held by the [United States government were] being treated ‘humanely.’" While Rizzo said "presidential statement did not appear to contain anything 'we can't live with, he also said that it “might well be appropriate for us to seek written reaffirmation by some senior White House official that the Agency's ongoing [enhanced interrogation] practices...are to continue.”

CIA emails also indicate that Rizzo pushed for the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes. After Senator Carl Levin proposed the establishment of an "independent commission to investigate U.S. detention policy and allegations of detainee abuse," Rizzo wrote an email, saying "I think I need to be the skunk at the party again and see if the Director [of the CIA] is willing to let us try to get the right people downtown on board with the notion of our destroying the [interrogation] tapes.