Former Bush Official Zelikow Decries Bush Interrogation Techniques

Apr 23, 2009 6:11pm

For this week’s ABC News Shuffle Podcast we interviewed former Bush State Department official Philip Zelikow.

You can listen to the Podcast on iTunes or by clicking HERE.

Zelikow, former counselor at the State Department under Secretary Condoleezza Rice, recently wrote a piece for Foreign Policy in which he discussed the memo he wrote in May 2005 after hearing of the memos coming from the Justice Department coming up with legal justifications for harsh interrogation techniques for detainees, the so-called Office of Legal Counsel "torture memos."

"I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable," Zelikow writes. "My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo."

Zelikow asserts that the "underlying absurdity of the (Bush) administration’s position can be summarized this way. Once you get to a substantive compliance analysis for "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" you get the position that the substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous U.S. constitutional law. … In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, water-boarded, and all the rest — if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution."

Zelikow told us that from his work as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, "I know what these guys (in al Qaeda) did — at least some of them — and I’ve no sympathy for them. But this is not about who they are. This is an issue about who we are, and what we are willing to do cruelly, deliberately over time to other human beings raises certain moral issues for us that I think are important for people to consider. You know, we’ve been in very tough wars before in the United States, but we’d never adopted an interrogation program like this, even for high value captives like the Nazis, the Japanese or other very important captives."

He wondered: "Did folks really think Americans would never learn what we were doing in this program? That they’d think that it was going to stay a secret forever? … My conclusion then is it was inevitable that the American people were going to learn about this stuff. And when you dig a really deep hole, you ought to think a little bit about whether you have a ladder to climb out of it."

I asked Zelikow if he thought the detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples or part of a larger problem.

"I think it was a symptom of the larger issue." Zelikow said. "I think the Senate Armed Services Committee report that’s just been issued offers in a very careful dry way, a pretty conclusive documentation of that. What happens is when you lower legal standards for one thing, it gets really hard to raise the legal standards for others. So then what happens is that increasingly you create an institutional environment in which the lines are not clear drawn.

"So the military wasn’t invited to do all the things that CIA could do, but lines were poorly drawn," he said. "And when you put lots and lots of soldiers and people in highly stressful situations without clear lines drawn, any manager of a police department or an army battalion or of an intelligence agency knows that bad things are going to happen. You train people against very clear lines of what’s allowable and not allowable. When the lines are blurry, and young men and women are put in conditions of high stress, it’s foreseeable that bad things will happen."

Zelikow is not wholly supportive of the steps President Obama has taken regarding detainee issues.

"I would preserve more discretion for intelligence interrogation than is allowed by the Army Field Manual," he said, "but far short of the CIA program that’s been disclosed… I think there are particular areas where some additional flexibility might be needed. But often what predictably happens is often when you overreach the pendulum swings back maybe a little too far the other way."

Again, you can listen to the Podcast on iTunes or by clicking HERE. The ABC News Shuffle Podcast is produced by Huma Khan.

– jpt

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