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In Which Bluewombat Engages in Colloquy With Former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo

By: bluewombat Friday January 17, 2014 12:40 am

John Rizzo, former CIA counsel

John Rizzo, long-time counsel at the CIA (he was CIA general counsel during the George W. Bush administration) spoke at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena this evening in connection with his recently published memoir, the appropriately titled “Company Man.”

He arrived late, having gotten stuck in traffic which was apparently related to today’s Glendora fire. He spoke briefly, then opened the floor to questions. I asked the first one.

During his remarks, he referred to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” I started out by saying that while he might call them enhanced interrogation techniques, normal people regarded them as torture.

I then said, “In his book Torture Team, British human rights lawyer Philippe Sands identified six of your legal colleagues in the George W. Bush administration as bearing direct responsibility for approving torture — David Addington of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office; John Yoo and Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice; Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Doug Feith, the No. 3 official in the Department of Defense; and Jim Haynes, general counsel for the Department of Defense.”

At this point I was interrupted by a member of the audience, a 40-ish looking clean-cut guy, who, it later turned out, had undergone the military’s SERE training from which Bush-era torture techniques were reverse-engineered. He challenged me to ask a question; I told him to wait eight seconds.

“Inasmuch as torture violates the Convention Against Torture, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the federal Torture Statute, the federal War Crimes Act and the Eighth Amendment ot the U.S. Constitution, would you support prosecution of these officials for war crimes,” I asked, “and if not, why not?”

In response, he unsurprisingly said no, he would not favor prosecution, and that he thought that techniques such as water boarding were brutal, but didn’t rise to the level of torture. He also gave a brief aria on the dismal “It’s a post-9/11 world” theme with a dollop of the ticking time bomb theory thrown in for good measure.

A young man in the back asked what I thought was a great question — Did Rizzo ever come across something so horrible, so morally offensive in his work as CIA general counsel that he considered resigning? Rizzo thought about it briefly and said no.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many of the questions (although not all of them) were critical, as it looked like a pretty white-bread suburban audience.

I did get a second bite of the apple, asking the last question of the Q&A as well as the first. (And I will grudgingly give Rizzo credit for calling on me again, as he knew he was going to get a hostile question.) If he felt that nothing U.S. interrogators did during the George W. Bush administration constituted torture, I asked, what in his opinion would an interrogator have to do for his or her actions to rise to the level of torture?

He gave two specific answers: pulling out fingernails and severing a limb. It’s my understanding that as many as 100 men died under interrogation by US interrogators (notably CIA), military and contractors during the George W. Bush administration. That wasn’t torture. But pulling out fingernails is. Unbelievable.

Rizzo comes across as pleasant, mild-mannered and self-effacing. He must have a very good barber, as he has this elegant, curvy sort of beard. But, as another member of the audience said to me after the presentation, he’s emblematic of the banality of evil. Well, that’s my report. Onward and upwards.


Wednesday: Two Guantanamo Protests in Los Angeles

By: bluewombat Sunday January 8, 2012 11:12 pm
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), of which I’m a member, is organizing two protests against Guantanamo on Wednesday, which is the tenth anniversary of our torture camp there.
The protest at the downtown Federal Building will be in the morning; the one at the Westwood Federal Building will be in the afternoon. More details are here:
I hope you can join us!
Jon (aka The Wombat)

Californians: Register for Justice Party (Rocky Anderson) by January 2!

By: bluewombat Saturday December 24, 2011 11:03 pm

I don’t know how he got himself  into this bind, but Rocky Anderson needs 103,000 Californians to register for the Justice Party by January 2 in order to appear on the 2012 Presidential ballot. For those serious about voting for a progressive alternative to Obama, Rocky is the man! More information here:

Home page for Anderson’s Justice Party here:

Theme song from Sylvester Stallone movie “Rocky” here:

Onward and upward (I hope)!

In Which Bluewombat Visits Occupy Los Angeles

By: bluewombat Tuesday October 25, 2011 3:25 am
Occupy LA - Tents Infront of City Hall (Photo: obscurafx, flickr)

Occupy LA - Tents Infront of City Hall (Photo: obscurafx, flickr)

Since the beginning of Occupy Los Angeles, bluewombat has been engaging in drive-bys, not in the “Boyz ‘n’ the Hood” sense of the term, but in the more humanitarian sense of dropping off pizzas, toothbrushes, water bottles and rain ponchos in support and solidarity. At the adult school in downtown Los Angeles where he teaches English as a Second Language, bluewombat is also the informally designated go-to guy for Occupy Los Angeles: his colleagues know that if they want clothing, toiletries or other useful stuff dropped off at Occupy Los Angeles, then Bluewombat Express is the shipper of choice.

Until today, however, bluewombat had not been on the ground at Occupy Los Angeles. Feeling that it was time for that to change, he took an hour before going into work, from about 1 to 2 p.m., to walk around OLA and do a little color commentary for his fellow Firepups.

BW started on the north lawn of City Hall, which, as media-savvy people know, was the Daily Planet building in the Superman TV series of the 1950’s. He first came to the First Aid tent, where he lucked out by running into Jonathan (who has the same first name as bluewombat!). Twenty-one, good-natured and low-keyed, in a knit cap with a few small designs painted on his face and a red cross taped onto his shirt, he offered to serve as bluewombat’s guide to OLA.

Bluewombat approached Jonathan because he was wondering if, with the incredible density of tents, there were any health problems at OLA. BW asked this gingerly, because he didn’t want to sound as if he was repeating right-wing talking points, but nonetheless felt it was a reasonable question. Jonathan said that some people had gotten colds (of course, this is not a phenomenon unique to Occupy Los Angeles), but that on the whole, there hadn’t been a lot of problems. He then spontaneously offered to show bluewombat around.

In Which Bluewombat Gets Arrested on Purpose

By: bluewombat Friday October 7, 2011 10:15 pm

The interior of La Placita Church in LA, starting point of Bluewombat's big adventure. (photo: theroamincatholic)

Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace organized a march and rally at the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles today. The event’s culmination was civil disobedience, in which 14 people would refuse to leave the street in front of the Federal Bulding after the rally and, in all probability, get arrested. I was one of the 14.

This was my first civil disobedience, and I’m embarrassed to admit I was so nervous about it that two days ago, my back muscles in the middle of  the left side started to spasm and I had to get an emergency massage the day before the rally.

We met at La Placita Church at Olvera Street at 8 a.m. Group members, who had met once before, talked about who they were and why they were doing it. There was an ecumenical service at the church, and then we marched.

We went north on Main Street, passing the “Occupy Los Angeles” encampment at City Hall. We turned west  around City Hall on First Street, north on Spring Street, then east on Temple (completing the circle around City Hall), passing the full length of Occupy Los Angeles. It’s very densely studded with tents, and as much as I admire the spark and zeal of the OLA people, it’s been almost 40 years since I slept on the ground on college hiking club trips. And man, those tents were packed close together. I hope everyone is getting along.

We wound up in front of the Federal Building on Los Angeles Street. The rally featured a rainbow panoply of clergymen and women (notably George Regas of All Saints Church in Pasadena, pictured at the event here), a few folk musicians, a variety of movement people and activists and a few actor/activists (Mike Farrell, Mimi Kennedy). The surprise guest speaker was Cornell West. He hadn’t been expected, but was in town along with Tavis Smiley to speak to Occupy Los Angeles, and he made some brief remarks in his typically galvanizing manner.

L.A. Protest on Thursday

By: bluewombat Monday December 13, 2010 11:10 pm

 In solidarity with the protest of Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, and military veterans at the White House on Thursday, I’m going to stand in front of the Federal Building at 300 N. Los Angeles Street in downtown Los Angeles from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. this Thursday with my “What Noble Cause?” sign. Anyone from FDL who would like to join me is welcome to do so.

There’s parking in an underground structure across Los Angeles Street from the Federal Building. It’s a little pricey — I don’t remember exactly how much it is for an hour, but be sure to have a 20 on you.

 Here’s a map showing the location of the Federal Building:

Hope to see you there.