So what exactly did we expect the CIA to do when they captured high-level al-Qaida operatives? Read them their Miranda rights, provide them with free lawyers and place them in a cell with cable TV?
We don't know exactly what the captured al-Qaida operatives told interrogators -- thankfully -- but we do know that there hasn't been another al-Qaida attack in the United States in more than six years. We also know that congressional leaders, at least initially, made no objections to the use of waterboarding when they were informed about it in September 2002. (Speaker Pelosi now claims that she did object later.) We also know that by the time Rodriguez reportedly gave instructions to destroy the CIA tapes, America's reputation had been severely damaged by the release of other tapes entirely unconnected to the CIA's or any U.S. efforts to obtain intelligence from captured prisoners. In April 2004, CBS's newsmagazine "60 Minutes" had aired a handful of inflammatory videos made by out-of-control, low-level American military guards at Abu Ghraib prison.
Those tapes revealed disgusting, evil mistreatment of ordinary prisoners by a handful of American soldiers -- not an attempt to solicit valuable information from high-level al-Qaida detainees. Abu Ghraib resulted in convictions for some dozen soldiers and effectively ended the careers of several officers.
It is difficult to imagine what harm might have come from the release of the CIA interrogation tapes -- but there is no doubt that had they continued to exist, at some point they would have become public. The tapes' release would have jeopardized sources and methods used by the CIA, the most serious category of risk to American intelligence. And their release might have led to assassinations of CIA operatives, greater risk for our captured soldiers, and international hand-wringing by our putative allies.
Rodriguez's lawyer says that his client sought and received legal clearance to destroy the tapes. Even though he is likely to become a scapegoat, what he did was right. He protected not just his men but all of us. I, for one, thank him.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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