The smoking memo

I’ve commented before (4/27/09, 5/8/09, 11/24/09 and 5/16/11) on the Bush post-9/11 policies about torture and the specious legal rationales for it.

Today, a report in Salon disclosed that a former State Department counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Philip Zelikow, wrote an official memo critical of the proposed “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a charming phrase giving cover to what is really torture. According to the Zelikow report, the CIA’s use of “waterboarding, walling, dousing, stress positions and cramped confinement” was unprecedented in our prior wars and should be deemed unconstitutional (cruel and unusual punishment) and illegal. It “shocks the conscience,” a term the U.S. Supreme Court once coined to describe government behavior that should not be protected, no matter what the provocation.

Apparently, Zelikow’s memo was supposed to be destroyed, but a copy that survived is now part of the historical record. Zelikow told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee (on Administrative Oversight and the Courts) that the now-notorious Justice Department memos (commented here on April 27, 2009, and May 8, 2009) were “unsound, even unreasonable.” Zelikow told a Houston audience in 2007 that torture as an investigative technique is “immoral.”

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The Salon piece disclosing the Zelikow memo was unearthed by Jordan Michael Smith, its foreign policy commentator, and published today.

So even within the precincts of the Bush administration there were sane voices advising against its torture policies. Squelched then, it is now retrieved, and part of the record.

Proof again that you cannot keep secrets in Washington.


This post was updated April 6 to reflect that the memo was discovered by Spencer Ackerman of "Wired" magazine and the National Security Archive, and subsequently reported on by Jordan Michael Smith of Salon.