A newly-disclosed 2005 memo, authored by then-State Department counselor Philip Zelikow, then-Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, and then-Deputy Assistant Secretary for Detainee Affairs Matthew Waxman, gave President Bush “clear and unequivocal advice encouraging a detainee interrogation system that followed humane practices that adhered to US and international law.” The memo was authored as the Bush administration was seeking a “fresh approach” handling terror detainee and just weeks after the OLC issued its second round of torture memos.
In the memo, the three Bush administration officials argue that the President should appoint a “special board” to “review general U.S. government detainee policy and operations” and “evaluate issues of effectiveness and intelligence value.”
While that review was taking place, the authors recommended that U.S. forces treat detainees in the so-called war on terror as if they were “civilian detainees under the law of war.” “This is the system generally being used by our forces in Iraq. Adopting this interim approach allows us to handle the detainees on a well understood basis that gives our forces clear, unambiguous guidelines for conduct,” they wrote, adding:
WE ARE NOT SAYING THAT THESE DETAINEES ARE, NECESSARILY ENTITLED TO THIS STATUS. TO BE CLEAR: WE ARE GIVING THEM A TEMPORARY STATUS THEY DO NOT DESERVE. BUT WE ARE NOT DOING THIS FOR THEM. WE ARE DOING IT FOR US.
Their approach would have harmonized detainee treatment procedures in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Jane Mayer explained in The Dark Side that the differing guidelines for detainee treatment in the three different theaters had, in part, lead to the abuses at Abu Gahrib.
As the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman explained in his account of the Cheney vice presidency, Angler, the memo was a “top-to-bottom assault on the Cheney-Addington legal model. Its authors proposed to seek legislation, acknowledge secret prisons, give the worst of the terrorists Geneva rights, and bring them back within the full jurisdiction of American courts.” But the memo’s arguments were not well received. As Gellman writes, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice showed the memo to an “intrigued” President Bush, it was shown to other high-level administration officials:
England, Rumsfeld’s deputy, brought the paper to his boss…Rumsfeld reacted coldy. He had not authorized this. … Rumsfeld directed that all copies be withdrawn from circulation and shredded. (p. 349)
National Security Adviser Steve Hadley canceled a discussion of the document upon hearing about its contents from Cheney’s office. Zelikow explained his goal in writing the memo last week in testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee saying that he wanted to “effectively prohibit ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading’ treatment of detainees.”