Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin Powell at the State department, is in the news again. He first made headlines several weeks ago by accusing Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld of running a “cabal” that seized control of national security decision-making in the Bush administration prior to the Iraq war. This Tuesday, he’s in the news for blasting Cheney for pushing for an anything-goes policy when it comes to detainees held by US forces. Asked during a BBC interview if he believes Cheney is guilty of war crimes for shoving aside the Geneva accords and pushing for harsh treatment (perhaps torture) of detainees, Wilkerson replied,
Well, that’s an interesting question. It was certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror and I would suspect that it is–for whatever it’s worth–an international crime as well.
That’s some statement from a former Bush administration official. (He probably meant to say that it’s illegal to conduct, not “advocate,” torture, not “terror.”) As might be expected, news outfits, bloggers and websites are having a field day with this. But you should read the entire interview, for Wilkerson makes several points that are less melodramatic but as, if not more, important. For instance, he attacks the White House for its recklessly negligent handling of the post-invasion planning for Iraq. This was a criminal–at least in policy terms–act for which Bush and his crowd have escaped accountability. (See what happens when Congress is controlled by the party of the president?) How Bush botched the post-invasion period should have been a bigger issue in the 2004 elections. It wasn’t. But it’s still not too late to complain and point an accusing finger. Wilkerson told the BBC,
The post-invasion planning for Iraq was handled, in my opinion, in this alternative decision-making process which, in this case, constituted the vice-president and the secretary of defence and certain people in the defence department who did the “post invasion planning”, which was as inept and incompetent as perhaps any planning anyone has ever done.
It consisted of largely sending Jay Garner and his organisation to sit in Kuwait until the military forces had moved into Baghdad, and then going to Baghdad and other places in Iraq with no other purpose than to deliver a little humanitarian assistance, perhaps deal with some oil-field fires, put Ahmed Chalabi or some other similar Iraqi in charge and leave.
This was not only inept and incompetent, it was day-dreaming of the most unfortunate type and ever since that failed we’ve been in a pick-up game – a pick-up game that’s cost us over 2,000 American KIAs [killed in action] and almost a division’s worth of casualties.
It would have been appropriate for a congressional committee or two to examine what went wrong. But Republicans decided this was not as critical as, say, the Whitewater land deal.
In the interview, a BBC correspondent asked Wilkerson,
You’ve got also John Kerry recently accusing President Bush of orchestrating one of the great acts of deception in American history, and saying that flawed intelligence was manipulated to fit a political agenda. Now Colin Powell would be tarred with that same brush wouldn’t he? Did he feel that he had correct information about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction when he outlined the case against Saddam?
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Here’s Wilkerson’s reply:
He certainly did and so did I. I was intimately involved in that process and to this point I have more or less defended the administration.
I have basically been supportive of the administration’s point that it was simply fooled–that the intelligence community, including the UK, Germany, France, Jordan–other countries that confirmed what we had in our intelligence package, yet we were all just fooled.
Lately, I’m growing increasingly concerned because two things have just happened here that really make me wonder.
And the one is the questioning of Sheikh al-Libby where his confessions were obtained through interrogation techniques other than those authorised by Geneva.
It led Colin Powell to say at the UN on 5 February 2003 that there were some pretty substantive contacts between al-Qaeda and Baghdad. And we now know that al-Libby’s forced confession has been recanted and we know–we’re pretty sure that it was invalid.
But more important than that, we know that there was a defence intelligence agency dissent on that testimony even before Colin Powell made his presentation. We never heard about that.
Follow that up with Curveball, and the fact that the Germans now say they told our CIA well before Colin Powell gave his presentation that Curveball–the source to the biological mobile laboratories–was lying and was not a trustworthy source. And then you begin to speculate, you begin to wonder was this intelligence spun; was it politicised; was it cherry-picked; did in fact the American people get fooled–I am beginning to have my concerns.
Beginning? It’s not too late for that either. Now when will Colin Powell speak as frankly as his former deputy?