I missed this week AEI’s panel on Zero Dark Thirty and the reality of coercive interrogation at the CIA, though I have been meaning to watch the video. I also missed Will Saletan’s excellent article Wednesday on the panel in Slate, which distills with an admirable economy of words and virtually no rhetoric, the basic story of the interrogation program as told at the panel by the three former CIA panelists. For many Lawfare readers, as for me, this basic story is well known. For anyone, however, looking to understand from the Agency’s point of view what it was doing, Saletan’s article is a great place to start. Here’s how it opens:
Did “enhanced interrogation techniques” help us find Osama Bin Laden and destroy al-Qaida? Were they torture? Were they wrong? Yesterday, three former CIA officials grappled with those questions in a forum at the American Enterprise Institute. The discussion was supposed to be about Zero Dark Thirty. But it was really a chance to see in personthe thinking of the people who ran and justified the detainee interrogation program. It’s also a chance to examine our own thinking. Do we really understand what the CIA did and why? Was the payoff worth the moral cost? And what can we learn from it?
Former CIA director Michael Hayden led the panel. He was joined by Jose Rodriguez, who ran the agency’s National Clandestine Service, and John Rizzo, who served as the CIA’s chief legal officer. The stories they told, and the reasons they offered, shook up my assumptions about the interrogation program. They might shake up yours, too. Here’s what they said.