The Washington Post

CIA denied Sen. Bill Nelson his right to be waterboarded

During the uproar a few years ago over the CIA’s use of waterboarding, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) told the agency he “wanted to find out for himself how it felt,” according to a new book by former CIA official Jose Rodriguez.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Rodriguez offers a spirited defense of the CIA’s use of waterboarding in the book, written with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. The book’s title sets the tone: “Hard Measures — How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives.”

Rodriguez insists that “while the procedure is harsh and unpleasant,” it can’t be called torture.

Nonetheless, “the agency decided that it would not be wise to accommodate the senator’s thirst for knowledge,” Rodriguez writes. And while Nelson, known for liking to do his homework, “appeared to be in great shape,” he was in his mid-60s at the time.

“Even though we would have had medical personnel standing by, we wondered what would happen” if Nelson had a heart attack and died from the unpleasantness. (We understand he received a detailed briefing, but all above-board.)

Yes, one can imagine the headlines: “CIA torture kills senator.” Or, more charitably: “Senator dies of heart attack after a brief dunk in CIA pool.”

But Rodriguez points out it would have been even worse: if Nelson “had tragically died, his successor would have been appointed by . . . Jeb Bush, the president’s brother. The conspiracy theorists would have gone wild.”

No doubt.

(Actually, Republican Charlie Crist may have been governor then, but that really wouldn’t have daunted the conspiracy crowd.)

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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