The CIA Was Right to Be Afraid of What We Would Think

December 30, 2007

Tapes by C.I.A. Lived and Died to Save Image



WASHINGTON — If Abu Zubaydah, a senior operative of Al Qaeda, died in American hands, Central Intelligence Agency officers pursuing the terrorist group knew that much of the world would believe they had killed him.

So in the spring of 2002, even as the intelligence officers flew in a surgeon from Johns Hopkins Hospital to treat Abu Zubaydah, who had been shot three times during his capture in Pakistan, they set up video cameras to record his every moment: asleep in his cell, having his bandages changed, being interrogated.

In fact, current and former intelligence officials say, the agency’s every action in the prolonged drama of the interrogation videotapes was prompted in part by worry about how its conduct might be perceived — by Congress, by prosecutors, by the American public and by Muslims worldwide.

That worry drove the decision to begin taping interrogations — and to stop taping just months later, after the treatment of prisoners began to include waterboarding. And it fueled the nearly three-year campaign by the agency’s clandestine service for permission to destroy the tapes, culminating in a November 2005 destruction order from the service’s director, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr.

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The CIA fears American public opinion, which is more than can be said for the administration.

Another regime that kept methodical records of its atrocious behavior during wartime, found themselves in the dock at Nurnberg. It makes an ordinary American citizen want to either weep or shake his fist and declare to the world, “No, this is not worth a moment’s safety.

We are not made of this terror met by terror in order to be safe. There is no safety from torture that can be bought by further torture, preemptive war and the abuse of huge areas of the Muslim world.

America is better than that.

If it is not better than that, it is not the America in which I grew up to honor the flag that represented our freedoms.

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