Jose Rodriguez thinks the new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is “well worth seeing.” But the retired CIA veteran has reservations about its gut-churning portrayal of the CIA’s treatment of detainees. Which is rich, coming from the man who destroyed the video footage documenting many of those brutal agency interrogations.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post on Friday, the former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and its clandestine service takes issue with Zero Dark Thirty‘s torture scenes. Those scenes are admittedly hard to watch. They show terrified, disoriented and bloodied detainees kept awake for days on end by having their arms painfully suspended from the ceilings of secret jails; stuffed into tiny wooden boxes when they don’t cooperate with their inquisitors; and waterboarded on soiled mattresses while interrogators bark questions. They also largely match up with the minimal public disclosure of how the post-9/11 program actually operated.
But they offend Rodriguez, who describes himself as “intimately involved in setting up and administering” a program he has steadfastly denied amounted to torture. Most CIA detainees weren’t subject to what he euphemistically calls “enhanced interrogation.” Those who were experienced “harsh measures for only a few days or weeks at the start of their detention.” And director Kathryn Bigelow left out all the bureaucratic red tape CIA interrogators encountered: “To give a detainee a single open-fingered slap across the face, CIA officers had to receive written authorization from Washington.”
Except there’s a problem with Rodriguez’s account that he sidesteps in calling the film inaccurate. While at the CIA, Rodriguez himself destroyed nearly 100 video recordings of brutal interrogations, including those of two al-Qaida figures who most definitely were subjected to “harsh measures,” Abu Zubaydah and 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. If Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are in the dark about torture — like the rest of the country — Rodriguez is a big part of the reason why.