Zelikow: Administration Wanted To Torture

The other compelling testimony the Judiciary Committee will hear this morning is from Phillip Zelikow, who was Condi Rice's top aide and counselor for most of her tenure at the White House and State Department. Zelikow plainly believes he knew the Bush administration intended to torture when it ignored the 9/11 Commission's recommendation to acknowledge the legitimacy of Common Article III of the Geneva Convention. "That refusal plainly signaled that the administration was reserving the right to inflicttreatment that might violate the so‐called 'CID' standard."  CID, you will know, stands for conduct that is  "cruel, inhuman, or degrading," which is the standard construction used by most anti-torture treaties and legislation the U.S. is party to.

Zelikow was read into the secret program in 2005. An expert in government, he gives an account of its murky origins, noting that regardless of whether "CIA entrepreneurs" and the Vice President's Office favored such a policy, it would not have been put into place had it not been for an executive agency of the government -- the Central Intelligence Agency -- arguing that it would "uniquely" provide intelligence in a way that no other tactic could.

Zelikow adds to our knowledge of the military's interrogation program -- Copper Green -- run under the auspices of the "Joint Special Operation Command."

By the time I began engaging in these arguments, in the spring and summer of 2005, another important source of data had emerged. This was the American intelligence and interrogation effort against al Qaeda in Iraq. This was an interagency effort, including CIA and FBI experts, organized by the military's Joint Special Operations Command. By 2005, if not earlier, this program was complying with basic international standards in its interrogation of captives. The program was high‐tempo and time‐urgent. The officers running the interrogation program considered it effective and, at least by mid‐2005, the government's leaders were aware of their positive assessment.

Interesting point here: the JSOC program was authorized in 2002, and there were numerous, early  reports of abuses. Somehow, JSOC operators -- the Delta Force boys, the Air Force SOAR teams, the Grey Fox collectors, Navy Seal folks -- got their act together. Since JSOC's operations are so highly classified, we don't know who instituted these reforms. (Perhaps it was Stanley McChrystal, the JSOC commander-in-chief.) 

Zelikow concedes that the CIA interrogation program provided useful intelligence. But that's a misnomer, as he notes, because the program included EITs and standard, non-coercive techniques. Of course it would help. The question, he asks, is whether the torture parts of the program provided a net intelligence value when compared to other techniques and sources. He concludes that it did not. 

The rest of his testimony is a history of sorts about how he and his boss, Secretary of State Rice, pushed the Bush administration to adopt the "CID" standard for all agencies in government. By 2006, facing pressure from Congress and the public -- and here he gives a well-deserved shout out to the Washington Post's Dana Priest, the CIA torture program had ended.
Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Politics

Just In