The Cable

Waterboarding critic named co-chair of Romney’s intelligence transition team

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has often endorsed the idea of using "enhanced interrogation techniques" if he is elected and doesn't believe that waterboarding is "torture," but he chose the GOP's most fervent critique of such methods to be the co-chair for intelligence personnel in his transition team.

Philip Zelikow, the long-time diplomat and former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has been named one of two officials in charge of planning for the intelligence side of a potential Romney administration as part of the Romney campaign's "Project Readiness," multiple sources with direct knowledge of the project confirmed to The Cable. Zelikow, who was also the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, co-chairs the intelligence team with former New Jersey Governor and 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean.

Zelikow is another GOP senior foreign-policy hand from the realist camp in the top ranks of the Romney transition team. The head of the national security team is former Deputy Secretary of State and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, a pick that roiled neoconservatives and hawks inside the Romney campaign when it was announced in August. But there are also hawks on the transition team, including former U.N. official Rich Williamson and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman.

Zelikow ran afoul of many of his colleagues inside the George W. Bush administration in 2005 when he wrote an internal memo expressing opposition to the Office of Legal Counsel's findings that allowed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He wrote about how his dissenting view was received in a 2009 post on Foreign Policy's Shadow Government blog.

"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," Zelikow wrote.

He was right. In April 2012, the State Department released Zelikow's memo pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request. Here's what he wrote at that time:

In looking to objective standards to inform a judgment about evolving standards of decency or interrogation techniques that shock the conscience, three sources stand out:

  • American government practice, by any agency, in holding or questioning enemy combatants -- including enemy combatants who do not have Geneva protection or who were regarded at the time as suspected terrorists, guerrillas, or saboteurs. We are unaware of any precedent in Wold War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any subsequent conflict for authorized, systematic interrogation practices similar to those in question here, even where the prisoners were presumed to be unlawful combatants
  • Recent practice by police and prison authorities in confining or questioning their most dangerous suspects. This practice is especially helpful since these authorities are governed by substantively similar standards to those that would apply under the [Convention Against Torture], given the Senate's reservation. We have not conducted a review of American domestic practice. From the available cases, it appears likely that some of the techniques being used would likely pass muster; several almost certainly would not.
  • Recent practice by other advanced governments that face potentially catastrophic terrorist dangers. [REDACTED]...governments have abandoned several of the techniques in question here.

It therefore appears to us that several of these techniques, singly or in combination, should be considered "cruel inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" within the meaning of Article 16.

The techniques least likely to be sustained are the techniques described as "coercive,'" especially viewed cumulatively, such as the waterboard, walling, dousing, stress positions, and cramped confinement.

Zelikow's position on enhanced interrogation techniques and waterboarding stands in contrast to Romney, who has made it clear on several occasions that he is not opposed to enhanced interrogation techniques and he does not believe waterboarding constitutes torture.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order early in his presidency limiting interrogation techniques to those specifically allowed in the Army Field Manual, which effectively outlawed waterboarding.

The New York Times reported last month that Romney aides had prepared an internal memo for the candidate that advised him "rescind and replace President Obama's executive order" and permit secret "enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives."

Following that report, when asked by a reporter if he classifies waterboarding as torture, Romney said, "I don't."

Last November, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul also said that Romney does not classify waterboarding as torture and would not specify which "enhanced interrogation techniques" he would be open to using if elected.

Last December, Romney said he supported "enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now."

In a 2007 primary debate, Romney refused to classify waterboarding as torture when asked about it directly.

"I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way shape or form. As a presidential candidate I don't think it's wise to describe specifically which techniques we would or would not use," he said.

His primary opponent at the time, former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), shot back at Romney in that debate insisting that waterboarding is in fact torture.

"I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is," McCain said. "Governor, let me tell you if we are going to get the high ground in this world and we're going to be the America that we've cherished and loved for more than 200 years, we're not going to torture people."

Multiple requests for comment were not returned by the Romney campaign. Zelikow did not respond to a query by deadline.

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The Cable

Clinton escapes Sandy in Algeria

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cleverly avoided being in the path of Hurricane Sandy this week by scheduling an overseas trip to Algeria and the Balkans.

Clinton and her team arrived Monday in Algeria, after which they are headed Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, and Croatia. They're scheduled to return to Washington on Nov. 2.

Clinton has meetings today with Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and the potential international intervention in Mali will be high on the agenda. Last month the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution paving the way for an African-led intervention in northern Mali, which is being run by a shaky conglomeration of Islamist groups, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has its roots in Algeria.

There's no plan yet, butthe international community is looking to Algeria to play a role in the possible intervention in Mali, which could come under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The Algerians might be in a great position to help with the situation in Mali, with which they share an 850 mile border, if they decide to; press reports indicate the Algerian government is "warming to the idea," a senior State Department official told reporters on the plane to Algiers.

"A whole range of countries in the region really look to Algeria for leadership on this. Obviously, they're not ceding sovereignty, but they know Algeria has unique capabilities that no one else in the region really has," the official said. "The Algerians, of course, were probably one of the first to work against violent extremism with their revolution and working against the Islamists for a decade, a decade of civil war basically. We had a difficult relationship with Algeria during that dark decade, as they call it, but after 9/11 the Algerians turned around and decided they would work with us on counterterrorism."

"I think the bottom line here is that Algeria has always had a strong inclination toward multilateralism. They are going to be supportive of a major effort in Mali to both restore democracy and restore order in the North. Everyone has their favorite institutions to work with, and there's a lot that has to be sorted out in the geometry of the thing, if you will," a second senior State Department official said.

Clinton will also be doing a bit of economic statecraft while she's there, pushing the Algerian government to award General Electric a contract to build 31 gas turbines.

"GE is bidding on a huge contract, a $2.5 billion contract in the energy sector. They just won a small piece of that, so they're very pleased by that. This is a big advocacy effort on the part of the United States government," the first official said.

In the Balkans, Clinton will travel with High Representative for EU Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton, who will join her in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo, where they will discuss the steps those countries need to take to further their integration into European multilateral institutions.

"We have not been shy about saying and being clear that we're disappointed that the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina have not put the interests of the country first oftentimes and instead have promoted narrow ethnic or party or personal agendas," a senior State Department official said in a separate briefing focused on that part of the trip.

At the final stop, Croatia, both leaders will congratulate that country for joining NATO and being on the precipice of joining the EU next year.

"Croatia crossed that finish line for NATO, and it's on the threshold of doing so for the European Union, which would really be a signal to these other countries that we mean what we say," the official said. "Obviously this is for the European Union, not us, when it comes to just the EU, but it means it's not just leading you on. If you do the things that you're committed to do and the European Union sets as a standard, then you actually do join."

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