WASHINGTON — The White House withdrew its nominee to become the CIA’s top lawyer on Tuesday after Democrats raised concerns that the agency’s interrogation techniques may be illegal.
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John Rizzo, the president’s choice to become the CIA’s general counsel, asked President Bush to withdraw his name, saying it would be in his best interest and that of the agency where he has worked for 32 years.
“The president accepts his decision and greatly appreciates his extensive service at the CIA and his ongoing commitment to the agency’s vital mission,” White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said. “For over three decades he’s worked tirelessly to protect the American people.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee had been expected to consider Rizzo’s nomination at a hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Difficult confirmation process
Rizzo, currently serving as the CIA’s interim general counsel, told a Senate panel in June that he did not object to a 2002 memo authorizing interrogation techniques that stop just short of inflicting pain equal to that accompanying organ failure or even death.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who led the opposition to Rizzo, called him the wrong man for the job.
“I hope that the administration’s next nominee for the position demonstrates greater respect for the rule of law and a firmer commitment to making sure that our nation’s counterterrorism programs have the strong legal foundation that they deserve,” Wyden said.
An intelligence official, who asked not to be named, said Rizzo saw that his nomination would not succeed in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and concluded that a prolonged confirmation fight would not help the CIA.
A CIA spokesman said Tuesday that Director Michael Hayden respected Rizzo’s decision to withdraw.
“He also looks forward to Mr. Rizzo’s continued service at the CIA,” said spokesman George Little. Hayden considers Rizzo an outstanding lawyer who has “helped the men and women of the agency conduct their vital mission in accord with the law,” Little added.
Long history at agency
Rizzo would have been the first general counsel to come up through the agency’s ranks. He has been with the CIA for 32 years and served as acting general counsel from 2001 to 2002 and again since August 2004.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the panel’s senior Republican, called Rizzo’s withdrawal appropriate.
“It was clear that he did not have the support of a majority of the committee and would not have been confirmed,” Rockefeller said.
At the hearing in June, Rizzo said he did not object to the 2002 memo that said for an interrogation technique to be considered torture, it must inflict pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” He said he later deemed the document an “aggressive, expansive” reading of U.S. law.
Human rights groups had urged the Senate to reject Rizzo’s nomination because of his stated views on torture. In a letter to the intelligence panel, a coalition of advocacy groups cited Rizzo’s June testimony, in which he had not objected to the so-called “torture memo” the Justice Department prepared in 2002.
“When Mr. Rizzo failed to object to legal arguments that defended torture, he failed to protect his clients — the president, his CIA colleagues and the American people,” the groups wrote.
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