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April 25, 2012

What Rodriguez' Book Says About Leadership
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

The Washington Post's Dana Priest pulled the key insight out of her early reading of former CIA agent Rodriguez's book, arguing that torture post- 9/11 was necessary and productive, destroying tapes of interrogations was "just getting rid of some ugly visuals", and Obama's opposition to torture mistaken. From the Associated Press:

I cannot tell you how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labeled 'torturers' by the president of the United States," Rodriguez writes in his book, "Hard Measures."

The Post's editors, in their wisdom, buried the core problem at the back of the comics pages, at the very end of Priest's piece.  It should be the lead of every item written about Rodriguez, who is the symptom of a deeper human problem that transcends party, country and moment in history.  (Bolding mine.)

"The propaganda damage to the image of America would be immense. But the main concern then, and always, was for the safety of my officers.”

Readers may disagree with much of what Rodriguez writes and with the importance of some of the facts he omits from his book, but the above sentence speaks volumes about why this book is important. In this case, a loyal civil servant — and the decision-makers above him who blessed these programs — were not thinking about the larger, longer-lasting damage to the core values of the United States that disclosure of these secrets might cause. They were thinking about the near term. About efficiency. About the safety of friends and colleagues. In their minds, they were thinking, too, about the safety of the country.

Back when American society valorized all public servants, as we still do those in uniform, we prized their ability to put long-term over short-term, strategy over safety, and country over self. Do we really want to define American leadership as "getting rid of ugly visuals?"

Interestingly, it has been Defense Department and FBI professionals who have written and spoken most movingly about why the alleged short-term benefits of torture (many senior DoD and FBI professionals argue there are none) come at an unacceptable cost.  A couple examples:

  • CIA Director David Petraeus: "whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside...   Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables.  They don't go away."
  • Major General (ret) Paul Eaton: “When I get in arguments with those who endorse enhanced interrogation techniques, they say, I’ll do anything I need to do to achieve a tactical gain, while dismissing the strategic problem associated with dehumanizing – which is what  happens when we use these EITs [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques]; you’re dehumanizing the subject that you’re detaining.  When we look at WWII and the hundreds of thousands of Germans and Italian prisoners  who gave up to American military power to the thousands upon thousands of Iraqis who gave up,  who surrendered during Gulf War I, these are men that we did not have to kill.  They knew that they would be better treated by the American soldier than their own forces would treat prisoners.  So they surrendered.”

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