"On December 7, 2007, The New York Times reported that the CIA ‘in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about its secret detention program.’ Documents obtained when the ACLU asked a federal judge to hold the CIA in contempt of court — for destruction of evidence which that judge had ordered be produced — subsequently revealed that the agency had actually ‘destroyed 92 videotapes of terror-suspect interrogations.’ The videotapes recorded interrogations of detainees who were waterboarded and otherwise tortured.”
[The] CIA official who ordered the videotapes’ destruction, Jose Rodriguez, is now enjoying the fruits of his crimes. He just published a new book in which he aggressively defends his decision to destroy those tapes (“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 …I was just getting rid of some ugly visuals that could put the lives of my people at risk”). He also categorically justifies the CIA’s use of torture (“I am certain, beyond any doubt, that these techniques … shielded the people of the United States from harm and led to the capture of killing of Usama bin Ladin”) as well as the agency’s network of black sites (“Why not bring the detainees to trial?,” asksThe Washington Post‘s Dana Priest in a review today of the book; Rodriguez’ answer in the book: “because they would get lawyered up, and our job, first and foremost, is to obtain information”). The title of the book: “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives.”
Rodriguez thus joins a long line of Bush officials — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, et. al — who not only paid no price for the crimes they committed, but are free to run around boasting of those crimes for profit. That’s what happens when the most politically powerful officials are vested with immunity for their illegal acts. Both the criminals and their crimes become normalized. They feel free not only to admit their crimes openly but to justify and glorify them, because they know they will never be held accountable for them. Instead of having to explain himself as a criminal defendant, Rodriguez is instead permitted to wrap his conduct in the banner of heroism as a highly-paid Simon & Schuster author.
This will be one of the most enduring and consequential aspects of the Obama legacy: by working so hard, in so many ways, to shield Bush-era crimes from all forms of accountability, the Democratic President has ensured that they are not viewed as crimes at all, but at worst, run-of-the-mill political controversies. Given all this, why would any government officials tempted to commit these same crimes in the future possibly decide that they should not?