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Zelikow Memo – State Department Disagreed With CIA Interrogation Techniques

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zelikow memo

Last month, the National Security Archive released the Zelikow Memo, a 2006 memo written by Philip D. Zelikow, counselor to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The memo indicates an internal disagreement within the Bush administration over the constitutionality of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA.

The subject of the memo, dated February 15, 2006, was The McCain Amendment and U.S Obligations Under Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture. The memo argues that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” falls under article 16 of the Convention Against Torture and even quotes the article by stating, “to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment which do not amount to torture.”

It was previously concluded that Article 16 did not apply to interrogation acts that were conducted worldwide. However, Zelikow contended that with the addition of the McCain Amendment all interrogation acts were subject to the new policy.

The McCain Amendment

In his memo, Zelikow states, “as a matter of law, the McCain Amendment extended the applications of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture to conduct by U.S. officials anywhere in the world.”

The memo goes on to legally define the term “cruel” as it is used in the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits the government from administering cruel and unusual punishments.

Basically, the memo contends that the phrase “cruel and unusual” is left to interpretation. He calls it the “least restrictive standard” in the American justice system.

Even though this focuses on imprisonment or confinement, Zelikow states that this also applies to interrogations that “shock the conscience.” This is another phrase, he wrote, that is too ambiguous and too often left to interpretation. However, the memo described several cases in which the Supreme Court ruled on the basis of “shock the conscience.”

Most of these cases involved the questioning of a prisoner while hurt, or threatening the prisoner with bodily harm.

Even though some of these actions qualified as cruel or unusual, they were not actually considered torture. However, when several of these lesser actions were conducted together, falling under the definition of “cruel and unusual” and also “shocked the conscience” then, together, that could be considered as torture.

Essentially, the memo stated that any action conducted anywhere in the world by a U.S. official that could be considered cruel and unusual, along with shocking to the conscience in the U.S., should be prohibited.

zelikow memo

Many Within Bush Administration Agreed With Zelikow

The memo can be read in its entirety at the National Security Archive’s Torture Archive.

According to Zelikow, many within the Bush administration were in agreement with what he had written. However, there was also strong opposition of this memo getting out. So much so, that he stated that a strong effort was made to collect and destroy all copies of the memo.

“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. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department’s archives.”

According to the National Security Archive, the memo was written at a time when Bush had recently signed the McCain Amendment into law, but then shortly afterwards supported the “enhanced interrogation techniques” of the CIA; techniques that Zelikow believes violated that amendment.

The National Security Archive also presents several other memos from Zelikow and other government officials that focus on the U.S.’s responsibilities under Article 16 and the McCain Amendment.

Philip Zelikow has written or co-written several books which include American Military Strategy: Memos to a President, The Kennedy Tapes, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed, and the rewritten Essence of Decision.

Originally published on

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Ryan is the founder of Top Secret Writers. He is an IT analyst, blogger, journalist, and a researcher for the truth behind strange stories.
Lori is TSW's editor. Freelance writer and editor for over 17 years, she loves to read and loves fringe science and conspiracy theory.

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Gabrielle is a journalist who finds strange stories the media misses, and enlightens readers about news they never knew existed.
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Mark Dorr grew up the son of a treasure hunter. His experiences led to working internationally in some surprising situations!
Mark R. Whittington, from Houston, Texas, frequently writes on space, science, political commentary and political culture.

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