Democracy Now!

Explosive Interview:

Colin Powell's Former Chief of Staff Col. Wilkerson on Prewar Intel, Murder and Torture

How a White House "Cabal" Hijacked U.S. Foreign Policy

Broadcast - 11/22/05

In the interview, Wilkerson discusses what he calls a "White House cabal", led by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld; pre-war intelligence and Powell's February 2003 speech before the United Nations; the "memory lapse" by Gen. Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and much more.


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AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Dick Cheney launched a fresh attack Monday on critics of the Iraq war. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., Cheney again denied the Bush administration manipulated prewar intelligence to build support for the invasion.

    VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The flaws in the intelligence are plain enough in hindsight, but any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false. Senator John McCain put it best: It is a lie to say that the President lied to the American people. American soldiers and marines serving in Iraq go out every day into some of the most dangerous and unpredictable conditions. Meanwhile, back in the United States, a few politicians are suggesting these brave Americans were sent into battle for a deliberate falsehood. This is revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety. It has no place anywhere in American politics, much less in the United States Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: Cheney's public appearance Monday was his second in less than a week and the latest in a series over the past ten days by senior officials to rebut growing charges that the administration manipulated prewar intelligence to counter growing pressure in Congress to withdraw troops from Iraq. Today, we're joined by a former senior member of the Bush administration, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He served as Chief of Staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. Last month, he caused a stir when he made a speech at the New America Foundation.

    COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: What I saw was a cabal between the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson joins us today from a studio in Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, why don't you lay it out? Explain what exactly you see happening right now.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Well, I listened to the comments that you were playing from the Vice President with great interest. I read some of them this morning in the paper, but my concern as a former member of the Defense Department, a soldier for 31 years, is with the difficulties that this administration has put in the face of our brave men and women in Iraq today, and to a certain extent in Afghanistan and in other places where they're stationed around the world. And the difficulties I refer to come from the two decisions that I had the most insight into that were made in this more or less alternative decision-making process. And those two decisions were the inept and incompetent planning for post-invasion Iraq, and the some two years after that in which we have been involved in essentially a pickup game, an ad hoc approach, and the decision that came also from that alternative decision-making process to depart from the Geneva Conventions and from international law, in general, dealing with treatment of detainees, which has rebounded to America's discredit around the world, hurt our credibility and made the job of our brave men and women in the field even more difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of torture goes back, even before the pictures that we saw in April of 2004 of the prisoners that were tortured at Abu Ghraib. You were there when the discussions were taking place. What was your position? What exactly did you hear?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Well, it's not so much discussions as the fact that just prior to those photographs going public, the photographs of Abu Ghraib, the Secretary of State walked through my door into my office and said, -- we had adjoining offices -- and he said, “I want you to get all of the paperwork you can, get everything together, establish an audit trail and a chronology and so forth. I want to know how we got to where we are.” And over the course of the next few months, I got my hands on every piece of paper that I could, open source, classified, sensitive and otherwise, and I built for myself a chronology, an audit trail, and gained profound insights into how we got to where we were.

And what I found was that the statutory process, that is, the process in which the principals and the President meet to make national security decisions, worked. And that process produced a compromise, a compromise reflected in the President's memorandum which said although he recognized we were in a new situation, fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, for example, nonetheless, the spirit of Geneva would be adhered to by our armed forces in the field, consistent with military necessity. Now, my critics have said that phrase gave the President an out. I don't agree. It did not say “consistent with national security demands.” It did not say “consistent with the demands of the war on terror.” It said “consistent with military needs.” Now, military needs are very simple and clear to a man like me who spent 31 years in the military. It means that if one of my buddy's life is threatened or my life is threatened, I can take drastic action. I can even shoot a detainee. And I can expect not to be punished under Geneva, or at least if I am court-martialed, I have a defense.

It doesn't mean that I can take a detainee in a cold, dark cell in Bagram, Afghanistan, for example, in December 2002, shackled to the wall, and pour cold water on him at intervals when the outside temperature is 50 degrees anyway, and eventually kill him, which is what happened. And the first thing I came across in my research was two deaths in Bagram, Afghanistan, in December 2002. And now we know after the army has finally, two years, conducted its investigations, we now know that one of those individuals who was murdered at Bagram was very likely innocent.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain these discs that you found. You found them in December 2002?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: No, this is what I discovered was the first occasion -- this was available to me in open source information, too, because The New York Times had done a really fine job of beginning an investigation of this. And what I found was these two deaths, and the suspicion was aroused in me, because at the time the Army coroner had declared the deaths homicides, and the Army had declared the deaths as a result of natural causes. And so, as I began to investigate, and as others began to investigate and began to talk to me and to feed me information, and as I began to look at the documents that were official and otherwise, I began to construct a case that showed that the Army had obfuscated, it had blocked at every level of command, trying to get to the bottom of these two killings.

And let me just add, when I left the State Department and had to turn over my papers, the deaths were up to over 70. And I have sources inside the government now that tell me the deaths may be up to 90. Now, this is people detained by the United States, either the armed forces, the Central Intelligence Agency or others, and these are people who have died in detention. Now, all of these cases, I hope, are not murder. But many of these cases still need to be investigated, and something needs to be done in the way of accountability.

AMY GOODMAN: And these are deaths in Afghanistan?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: These are in all of our facilities.


COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: In Iraq, at Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you know about the secret detention facilities?

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: I can’t give you any insights into that. I did not know anything about that when I was in government. Those things, presidential findings, if they exist, are usually kept very close hold. Only very few people know about them. I have my suspicions. I suspect that if the Vice President is lobbying the Congress of the United States on behalf of torture, that we must have some kind of clandestine operation going on, but I can’t offer you any insights into that.

Let me just make one other point. You're probably aware that recently the Minister of the Interior in Iraq was discovered to have a prison where principally Shia were being abused, being abused rather drastically, as I understand it. Imagine, if you will, General George Casey, our commander in Iraq and our ambassador in Baghdad, Khalilzad, imagine them having to go to Hakeem, the Minister of the Interior, and speaking to him in strong words about this abuse. Imagine Hakeem looking at them and laughing, because he could cite Abu Ghraib, he could cite Guantanamo, he could cite Bagram, and this position that we have assumed has just hurt our credibility and our image all around the world. Pardon me, my cell phone is ringing.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. We're going to go back to this point in just a minute.


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