On Wednesday, Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson wrote a post for Steve Clemons's The Washington Note blog which has been attracting some attention (Mike linked to it yesterday). In particular, Wilkerson wrote the following about Dick Cheney's public criticisms of the Obama administration's poilcy reversals on enhanced interrogation techniques:
My investigations have revealed to me--vividly and clearly--that once the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public in the Spring of 2004, the CIA, its contractors, and everyone else involved in administering "the Cheney methods of interrogation", simply shut down.... [N]o torture or harsh interrogation techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator for the entire second term of Cheney-Bush, 2005-2009. So, if we are to believe the protestations of Dick Cheney, that Obama's having shut down the "Cheney interrogation methods" will endanger the nation, what are we to say to Dick Cheney for having endangered the nation for the last four years of his vice presidency?
There are several problems with this assertion. First is that there is no evidence to substantiate Wilkerson's claim that, after Abu Ghraib, "No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator." How would Wilkerson even know this? He left the government with Powell four years ago. Oh yes, he has his "investigations." And while it's true that Obama issued an executive order banning waterboarding, he left open the option of continuing the renditioning of terrorists to foreign countries, where, presumably, they will undergo worse ordeals than simulated drowning and being put in a small space with a caterpillar.
The other sensational claim Wilkerson makes is that the Bush administration authorized the Egyptian government to waterboard a senior Egyptian al Qaeda leader named Ibn al Shaykh al Libi with the purpose of ginning up false intelligence connecting Iraq and al Qaeda. But as Thomas Joscelyn points out, al Libi actually divulged information about Iraq-al Qaeda links two months before Wilkerson claims he had been waterboarded. This information is available in a four-year old report, rendering Wilkerson's ruminations about the "Sith Lord" Cheney less than scoop-worthy, as well as inaccurate.
But the more important thing people should know about Lawrence Wilkerson is that nothing he says can be taken at face value. The man is a third-rate conspiracy theorist and a borderline bigot. Here, for instance, is what he told Robert Dreyfuss, the former Middle East Editor of Lyndon LaRouche's Executive Intelligence Review and now a Senior Correspondent for the American Prospect and Contributing Editor to The Nation, in 2006, about David Wurmser, Doug Feith and other "neocons" in the Bush Defense Department:
A lot of these guys, including Wurmser, I looked at as card-carrying members of the Likud party, as I did with Feith. You wouldn't open their wallet and find a card, but I often wondered if their primary allegiance was to their own country or to Israel. That was the thing that troubled me, because there was so much that they said and did that looked like it was more reflective of Israel's interest than our own.
Perhaps the gravest charge that one can make about a government official is that he has dual loyalties. It is usually liberals who complain about being tarred as "unpatriotic" by conservatives, but for the past 8 years, the charge that a set of individuals put the interests of a foreign country ahead of their own was almost exclusively found in the precincts of the left (the exception being in the pages of The American Conservative, no edition of which seems to hit newsstands without at least one story alleging various and sundry Jewish - er - "neocon" plots). Wilkerson, as the former Chief of Staff to a Secretary of State, has taken this slander to a new level by offering a gloss of official-ness to it. This wouldn't be the first time, by the way, that Steve Clemons has handed over his blog to creepy people making outlandish assertions. A few months ago, he published a letter from Chas Freeman's grown son addressed to Jon Chait, Marty Peretz and me in which he accused us of being "low-lives," "schmucks" and "more loyal to Israel" simply for questioning whether his father was an appropriate nominee to fill the position of Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. (Why is that Wilkerson, Freeman and people of their ilk seem incapable of having debates without accusing those who disagree with them of being traitors?)
Another of Wilkerson's conspiracy theories is that "neocons" in the Bush administration attempted to push the Taiwanese government of Chen Shui-bien to declare independence from China. Such a move would, of course, precipitate a war with the Communist regime in Beijing, but the possibility of hostilities with a nuclear-armed China was apparently not enough to dissuade the likes of Doug Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton et. al. from their "utopian" fantasies. As with Wilkerson's other tales, this one similarly disappeared into the ether for lack of evidence.
Wilkerson's post-government career has been one, drawn-out campaign of special pleading. Like his former boss, Wilkerson had ample opportunity to oppose the policies he's now so resoundingly condemning when he was in the State Department. But like Nancy Pelosi and waterboarding, he chose not to speak out until it became politically convenient. As State Department Chief of Staff, Wilkerson was intimately involved in preparing Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council making the case for war. He was at Powell's side for four years. Yet only once the war started to become unpopular and he was safely ensconced elsewhere outside of government, did he decide to turn.
What we're seeing here is a particularly nasty iteration of the long-simmering feud between Colin Powell and Dick Cheney, with one particularly hot-headed subordinate picking up the slack for his embittered former boss. Since departing government at the end of the first Bush term, Wilkerson has emerged as the most outspoken member of the Powell faction. One would think that Powell would want someone a little less paranoid and juvenile serving as his primary public advocate; that he would tell Wilkerson to turn the Jew-baiting and hysteria down a notch. That the former Secretary of State seems unbothered by his erstwhile Chief of Staff's behavior speaks volumes about his own character.
Update: Here's what Wilkerson told CNN about his allegations (via John McCormack):
I couldn't walk into a courtroom and prove this to anybody, but I'm pretty sure it's fairly accurate.
What a high evidentiary standard! How unfortunate that a man of such fine ethical caliber no longer works in the State Department