Zelikow: I Didn’t Ask Rice About 2002 Torture Decisions
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 3:03 pm
One last thing from today’s Zelikow/Soufan hearing. Phil Zelikow was an aide to Condoleezza Rice when she served as secretary of state during George W. Bush’s second term. In his testimony, perhaps unsurprisingly, he portrayed Rice as pushing to restrict the Bush administration’s torture policies. “As Secretary of State, Dr. Rice placed a high priority on changing the national approach to the treatment of detainees,” Zelikow said in his opening statement, but the department ran into a bureaucratic buzzsaw of opposition from the Pentagon, Justice Department and elsewhere.
Perhaps. But according to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s declassified narrative on torture, Rice, as national security adviser in 2002, was the highest-ranking Bush official to approve torture as a “policy” matter. That approval came on July 17, 2002, before the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel gave its legal imprimatur to the torture of Abu Zubaydah. Now, people change their minds all the time, so maybe that’s what happened to Rice, particularly as she became secretary of state and saw what the international outcry from Abu Ghraib meant for U.S. diplomacy. But that’s conjecture. How did the Rice of 2002 evolve into the Rice of 2005 on the issue?
I asked Zelikow after the hearing ended, but he was circumspect. “I did not interrogate Dr. Rice about anything she did in the first Bush administration,” he replied. But he said it would be “useful to find out how the [CIA interrogation] program was understood” by Bush administration policymakers, adding that his experience suggested it was “sold incrementally” to them. The implication — sympathetic as it is to Zelikow’s former boss — is that Rice may not have fully understood what CIA Director George Tenet was asking her to approve.
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