A Debate on Torture: Legal Architect of CIA Secret Prisons, Rendition vs. Human Rights Attorney

by Project Censored

This article contains a transcript of a debate between former CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo and human rights attorney Scott Horton, which occurred as a result of the criticism towards the Obama Administration for closing the investigation on the actions of CIA officials post 9/11. The debate is about the brutal methods the CIA used to capture and question potential threats to the U.S.; the evolvement of the CIA’s purpose (changing from defense of the country to becoming a killing drone); the issue of blame/prosecution for the actions of the CIA; and the question of whether or not the American people have a right to know about the CIA’s actions.

While the debate moves back and forth between these different topics, it centers on whether or not the American people should be allowed to view all the actions of the CIA and the decisions the government has made concerning terrorists post 9/11. The main moral issue here is whether or not the government should be allowed to perform certain actions (i.e. kidnapping, torture, murder, etc.) against potential threats to the country in the name of the American people and for the (supposed) protection of the American people, without first telling them what they are doing. Further, another matter raised is whether or not it’s okay if other countries perform the same methods of interrogation on Americans as the U.S. has done on certain foreigners, and if they do, should the U.S. be allowed to make a case against it when they are doing the same thing.

Student Researcher- Yusra Qureshi

Faculty Evaluator- Elliot D. Cohen, PhD.


Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, “A Debate on Torture: Legal Architect of CIA Secret Prisons, Rendition vs. Human Rights Attorney ,” Truthout, March 31, 2014 http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22789-a-debate-on-torture-legal-architect-of-cia-secret-prisons-rendition-vs-human-rights-attorney



The United States is respected for its fair and humane treatment of its citizens. However, after the September 11th terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in 2001, the U.S. has acted in ways that are anything but humane. According to the article, “A Debate on Torture: Legal Architect of CIA Secrets Prisons, Renditions vs. Human Rights Attorney”, the CIA has changed from being an intelligence force to becoming a “drone of killing.” This is an ethical issue because the CIA has taken to torturing and/or killing “persons of interest” or people who are potential threats to America; this is unethical because torture for any reason is wrong. This new purpose of the American government is wholly unethical because the officials responsible are not being prosecuted, the American people are not being told what is being done in their name, and other countries are not allowed to behave in the same way as America without receiving repercussions for their actions.

After the 9/11 terrorist attack, the American government and people were extremely shaken, because they weren’t expecting such a severe attack to such a monumental place in their country. In the aftermath of the attack, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was tasked with finding people who wanted to strike out against America, and also with finding people who knew pertinent information about terrorist attacks. The means of how to find these people and how to get information out of them was not restricted or regulated under the Bush administration. President George W. Bush openly stated that torture (i.e. water boarding) was a legitimate method used to extract information from suspected terrorist or their affiliates. The ethical issue here is that torture committed by an individual in a house or a basement or anywhere in this country is punishable by the law; however, what is the course of action when the legal authority is doing the torturing? Does torture suddenly becoming tolerable, acceptable, normal, when government officials are performing it? From an ethical perspective, no, it does not, because torture is not humane and devalues a person, no matter who is doing the torturing, no matter how sound the reason may be. It is also wrong that none of the higher ranked officials ever get prosecuted for orchestrating a torture session; the Obama administration has closed the investigation of the CIA for its post 9/11 actions. However, lower ranked U.S. government officials have been caught, prosecuted, and convicted for torturing persons of interest, when they were just following orders from their superiors, so why were their superiors not also convicted? The actions of the CIA post 9/11 were unethical; but the inactions of today regarding failure to prosecute these officials/torturers are also entirely unethical.

Also, when the American government decided to create interrogation and detention programs, they did not ask the American people if they were okay with their taxes being spent on such programs. The government also neglected to ask the American people if they found it acceptable that their government was torturing people in the name of their protection. It is highly unethical to torture human beings in the name of other human beings, without first asking for permission and without waiting for approval. Many Americans, if they were aware, would be against the torture of other human beings, but without the knowledge of what is going on how is their voice going to be heard? Also, if there are government officials turned authors, such as John Rizzo, who have the inside perspective, then they should be allowed to speak freely so that the public can be aware of what their government is doing. No American should be blamed for an action they did not know about and did not condone, and no person should have something so ethically questionable as torture of another human being done in their name without their consent.

Another reason why the actions of the CIA post 9/11 were unethical is because the U.S. itself thinks torture is unethical when other countries do the same thing to U.S. citizens, so the U.S. itself cannot be the exception to the rule against torture. If, for example, a branch of government from another country were to capture and torture a U.S. citizen on the grounds that they might have information concerning an underground terrorist group, the entirety of the U.S. would protest. But, if it is unethical for one country or government to behave a certain way, then it is unethical for every country and government to behave that way, including the U.S. government.

In conclusion, the CIA renditions in the post 9/11 era are extremely unethical, and no one plans on rectifying the injustices perpetrated in the name of the American citizens. The actions were unethical because the officials issuing the order for torture have not been convicted or prosecuted, American citizens did not condone the actions being done in their name, and other countries are not allowed to behave that way without repercussion; so neither should the U.S.