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September 11, 2009

Former Powell Chief of Staff: Cheney Is a ‘Sith Lord’

There was a great interview with Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, at a website called The Public Record yesterday. I’d never heard of the website before, but it seems pretty sound. The whole interview is worth reading and covers lots of interesting ground, but here are just a few of the key excerpts:

Afghan allies had prisoners whacked:

…and I do remember several discussions about these prisoners who grew fairly visible there for a moment and then just seemed to fade from the scene as Dostum apparently had his people put them in containers. One story was that his people then ventilated the containers with AK47s in an attempt to give the prisoners some air, if you want to put a positive spin on it; if you want to put a negative spin on it, in an attempt to kill them. I mean, there are all kinds of stories associated with that, but that was sort of minor considering the chaos that, it seemed to me, existed on the battlefield of Afghanistan with regard to detainee management.

Prisoners were held at Diego Garcia:

And the reason for picking that place ultimately — and I still believe we had a few at Diego Garcia, and perhaps a few in other places too, but Guantánamo was the principal place —

Cheney insisted Rumsfeld not release detainees:

… but to return to Afghanistan, the regular meetings were one of my sources of knowing how chaotic the vetting was, and how chaotic the imprisonment was, and how adamant Rumsfeld was — and I’ve come to find now that Donald would not have been adamant without the Vice President’s cover — about not letting any of these guys go, for any reason whatsoever. I also know that one of the motivations for this was not just his obstreperousness, or his arrogance, which was manifested most of the time, but it was the fact that they wanted all of these people questioned vigorously, and they wanted to put together a pattern, a map, a body of evidence, if you will, from all these people, that they thought was going to tell them more and more about al-Qaeda, and increasingly more and more about the connection between al-Qaeda and Baghdad.

As I previously commented on here, fear of a second attack rapidly decreased after 9/11:

I thought before that it had persisted all the way through 2002, but I’m convinced now, from talking to hundreds of people, literally, that that’s not the case, that their fear of another attack subsided rather rapidly after their attention turned to Iraq, and after Tommy Franks, in late November as I recall, was directed to begin planning for Iraq and to take his focus off Afghanistan.

Details of the “executive assassination wing”:

Another source was military personnel whom I’d known in the past or who people I’d known in the past introduced to me as good sources, who reported to me from, essentially, all over the world, not just Afghanistan and Iraq, but places like Indonesia, places like Djibouti, and so forth, about what was going on with regard to what the Defense Department was calling “kinetic activity”; that is to say, Delta Force and the like, spread all over the world looking for al-Qaeda, and what was happening in the various countries and cities where they were doing this.

Other information came from other places like conventional formations in Afghanistan and Iraq, where I had people I knew in the military who were reporting back to me, usually by email, and also from the other side of the house, if you will, from the diplomats and the people in the embassies and the consulates and so forth in some of these countries, some of whom were much dismayed that they had, as one ambassador put it, 6’ 4” white males with 19-inch biceps walking around in their capital cities, and did anybody really think that they were fooling anyone,  and when was somebody going to tell him why they were in his capital city? You know, these were forces that Rumsfeld and [Douglas] Feith [the undersecretary of defense for policy] spread across the world to go after everything from Abu Sayyaf to Jemaah Islamiyah to al-Qaeda, and our ambassadors knew nothing about it initially, but these people were very visible, and they were discovered, and calls began to come back from cities around the world to the Secretary of State and to others about who were these people and what were they doing.

And they were also detaining people, because I believe that Rumsfeld’s first goal there was — he didn’t trust the CIA, he didn’t trust their interrogation, he didn’t trust what they were doing — so he wanted his own activity, he wanted his own action.


But much of the reporting that was coming back to me was coming back not just from this massive chaos in the battlefield areas, which Abu Ghraib, of course, with regard to Iraq, came to characterize most vividly, but also from these other detentions that were going on around the world, because, as I said, Rumsfeld’s first priority was to capture, not to kill. If they got in extremis, they were authorized to kill, as Seymour Hersh has stumbled onto, but their real goal was to capture them and to provide more intelligence for this “mosaic” that Rumsfeld and crew were building up, so that they could understand more about al-Qaeda, and more about terrorism in general, and go after these people.

Most detainees are innocent:

I received one particular assessment from a person for whom I had no reason whatsoever to believe that he would give me an inaccurate portrayal — and one reason was, that was his character, but another reason was that he had no dog in the fight — and his estimate of the number of people — I think it was 741 or 742 that we suddenly had on a piece of paper somewhere — of any significance was as follows. He said, “I’ll tell you right now that 700 of them haven’t done a damn thing except get in the way of somebody capturing them.”


The other thing — I laughed at this when I first heard it, but now I realize it was probably closer to the truth than anything the administration said — when Bush announced in September 2006, with some degree of trepidation, that he’d transferred these 14 to Guantánamo out of the secret prisons. Now I realize that they made that transfer principally so they could get some hardcore terrorists to Guantánamo.

Will the real Dick Cheney please stand up:

Well, to keep it brief, I think the problem is that this is a national security issue, and there are so many more challenging issues — as one official put it to me the other day — on which the President has already shown some ankle, whether it’s about talking to Iran or whether it’s his rather pronounced silence vis-à-vis North Korea, or whether it’s something as minuscule as lifting some travel restrictions on Cuban Americans for Cuba. They don’t believe they can show another square centimeter of ankle on national security, because the Republicans will eat their lunch, and every time I’m told this I die laughing. I say, your guys are captured by the Sith Lord, Dick Cheney, you’re captured by Rush Limbaugh, whose real radio audience is about 2.2 million, and whose employer, Clear Channel, lost $3.7 billion in the second quarter of this year. I said, when are you gonna wake up? These are kooks. And Cheney is the kook leader. But [Nancy] Pelosi and [Harry] Reid are such feckless leaders they haven’t got any spine. We have no leadership in the legislative branch on either side of the aisle.

Cheney is “crazy”:

I think the principal figure in this — Vice President Cheney — would say, in response to what you’ve just said, “So what?” I mean, I really do. I wouldn’t have said that a couple of years ago, but now I’ve come to the conclusion that the man truly is — whether he was that way when I knew him before, when he was Secretary of Defense, I don’t know, that’s not at issue with me any more — the man now is just crazy.

The Special Prosecutor is beavering away:

My wife thinks that ultimately there’s going to be something. I’m a little more cynical than she, but she’s convinced that this investigation that’s been going on [by John Durham] — very low-key, the guy’s very persistent, he’s very determined, he reminds me of [Patrick] Fitzgerald on the Valerie Plame case, and his starting point is the destruction of the videotapes, and I’m told he’s got a plan, and he’s following that plan, and I’m told that plan is bigger than I think.

The interviewer, a guy named Andy Worthington, also repeated the “It was all Cheney’s fault” theory, which I have expressed scepticism about here and here:

Worthington: And what’s needed is: no, the lawyers were told what to do, they agreed that they would not think independently, and they would make the advice what was required, and if a chain leads infallibly up to that particular office, then how can they wriggle out of it? I understand that Dick Cheney was, I think, driven mad after 9/11 by his fear and his paranoia, and a lot of his unsavory impulses took over what may have been left of his humanity, and he became consumed by it, and I don’t think anybody doubts that in some ways they were motivated by the fear of another attack, but when you break the law, which is what they did, is it enough to be able to leave office and your crimes go with you? Is that enough?

Hat tip: Scott Horton.

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