Thursday, March 6, 2014

Book review - Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA

Apparently this is the season for memoirs from former Washington insiders. We have Robert Gates' tell-all in which he trashes the President and we have John Rizzo's attempted justification for human rights violations.

In Company Man we learn, and live, the tale of a man who was more than satisfied to be a government lawyer who (more than likely) needed a map to find the courthouse. He was more than happy to spend his career offering up justifications for all sorts of bad deeds on the part of the CIA.

For, you see, Mr. Rizzo was the attorney in the CIA responsible for putting pen to paper and creating a legal cover for the policy of torture put into place by George W. Bush following the attacks on 9/11. He read a few memos from the folks who put the program together and then crafted nicely metered sentences of legal gobbledygook to explain who depriving a prisoner of food, or stripping them of their clothes, or not allowing them to sleep, or forcing them to stand with their arms chained over their heads, or slamming them up against a wall or simulating drowning wasn't torture.

He was sitting behind a desk. He didn't have to see the men who were being subjected to torture. He didn't have to tell their friends and loved ones what was going on in a secret prison. He didn't have to explain to anyone why inmates were being held for years without being charged. It was his job to come up with a legal fig leaf as to why these men - who were being held by the US government or at its behest - were deprived of their due process rights. For remember, the Bill of Rights doesn't refer to "citizens," it refers to people.

In one of the lovely little ironies of the book, while discussing the birth of the "enhanced interrogation program," Mr. Rizzo analogizes how Abu Zubaydah reminded him of Adolph Eichmann, the subject of Hannah Arendt's book The Banality of Evil. Mr. Rizzo described Mr. Zubaydah as someone who looked more the part of a bureaucrat than a terrorist. Not much different than a CIA lawyer who penned memos justifying torture, murder and various other criminal acts. I wonder if he wrote that passage with a straight face.

And then we come to Mr. Rizzo's involvement in the Aldritch Ames affair. For those of y'all who don't remember, Mr. Ames was a CIA analyst who sold documents and the names of agents and moles to the Soviets. That made Mr. Ames the worst kind of traitor. But what did Mr. Ames do that was any different than the folks the CIA turned into double-agents and moles in other parts of the world? Mr. Ames sold his soul for a few bucks and those men and women whom the CIA turned did the same thing. Look in the mirror, Mr. Rizzo.

The book is a fascinating look at the inner workings of the CIA - at least those inner workings that agency censors determined we could see. It goes without saying that the book is a propaganda tool for the CIA and that anything that would cast the agency in a bad light (or cause normal folks to question the legitimacy of its actions) never made its way onto the printed page.

Of course Mr. Rizzo got his comeuppance when his name was put forward by President Bush to be the General Counsel for the CIA. He was gutted and filleted by Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Community for his role in the CIA's torture program. While he does his best to evoke sympathy for his plight - it's hard not to laugh at his expense as he flopped and floundered during his confirmation hearing. He didn't even have enough sense to realize that he would have remained the de facto GC had he withdrawn his name from consideration (as he had been acting in that capacity off and on for years). But his pride took over and the rest is history.

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