CIA Architect of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to Speak at Symposium

John Rizzo is the CIA's former acting general counsel. His new memoir is Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA.</em

The CIA General Counsel who sought permission for “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding after 9/11 and the architect of the secret prison system for terrorists will speak at the 2015 Hancock Symposium at Westminster College in Fulton, MO on Tuesday, September 15 at 10:30 a.m.

John Rizzo, who has been described as “the most influential career lawyer in CIA history,” will give this free public presentation on the topic of “Rendition, Torture, and Intelligence.”

On that fateful September 11, Rizzo watched the attacks on television and scribbled on his legal pad: “Capture, detain and interrogate.” A week later he played a major role in the top secret directive that President Bush signed which began the black sites, secret prisons for terrorists in other countries, and would lead to “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, long term sleep deprivation and confinement in small boxes among other approaches.

When the operations logistical commander for Al Qaeda was captured but would not talk, CIA experts brought Rizzo the “enhanced interrogation program.”

“I was the first lawyer inside the government to hear about this proposed interrogation program,” says Rizzo.  “My primary job was to attempt to ascertain, to clarify, with certainty, whether or not any or all of these techniques crossed that legal line into torture.”

He went to the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice to seek an authoritative, definitive legal opinion on whether any or all of the techniques crossed the legal line.  The program was approved by the Office of Legal Counsel August 1, 2002, and once Vice President Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had been briefed, the techniques started being used August 3.

Rizzo points out the new techniques yielded positive results.

“I would just emphasize that why would we continue a program for seven years involving hundreds of people, involving a very risky and increasingly controversial, politically toxic activity if it was doing no good, if it uncovered no plot, that yielded no benefits?” says Rizzo.

He notes that even today nationwide polls indicate large majorities of Americans still believe waterboarding is an acceptable technique for terrorists and that torture is a useful tool that works in yielding valuable intelligence.

“The American people, at least in my assessment, have arrived at a judgment that they want to be protected, and that they are willing to not only tolerate, but endorse aggressive and controversial methods undertaken by the intelligence community to protect them,” says Rizzo.  “I think that is really the lesson of all this.”

First hired by the CIA in 1976, he was the staff lawyer for the CIA’s clandestine branch, the Directorate of Operations, by 1979.  He served as the CIA liaison with Congress during the Iran-Contra investigation of the 80s. In 2001 he became the CIA’s Acting General Counsel (2001-20002 & 2004-2009) with one stint as Deputy General Counsel (2002-2004).

Currently, he is Senior Counsel at the Steptoe Law Firm in Washington, D.C.

Rizzo will also do a One on One session at the Symposium the same day at 1:30 p.m. in  Room 138 of the Coulter Science Center.

The topic of this year’s upcoming Symposium is “Security vs. Liberty: Balancing the Scales of Freedom.”  Presenters and discussion will center on how America maintains a balance between championing liberty and preserving security. Ever since 9/11, the demand for security has compelled America to take a serious look at how increased security affects individual freedoms.

Westminster recently announced the establishment of a security studies major beginning this fall.

The Hancock Symposium is a yearly event at Westminster College.   Classes are suspended for two days so the entire Westminster community can attend lectures, panel discussions and presentations by noted experts on one particular subject of global interest.  The public and media are also invited to attend.

For more information on the Hancock Symposium, go to


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1 Response

  1. Timothy Aldred says:

    “My primary job was to attempt to ascertain, to clarify, with certainty, whether or not any or all of these techniques crossed that legal line into torture.”

    The consensus is that big papi up here failed at his job pretty hard, right?