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Col. Larry Wilkerson, who served as the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, discusses the possibility of holding the Bush administration accountable for the Iraq war and torture

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. A conference on the presidency of George W. Bush is scheduled to take place this week on the campus of Hofstra University, located in Long Island, New York. Among those who will be present are high-level members of the second Bush administration, including former advisor Elliott Abrams, former CIA director Michael Hayden, and Press Secretary Scott McClellan. Another important and former member of the administration who will be present is our regular guest Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. He joins us today to discuss the conference. Larry served as the former chief of staff to the United States Secretary Colin Powell. He’s also a distinguished adjunct professor of government and public policy at the college of William & Mary. Larry, thank you so much for joining us. COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: Larry, this conference at Hofstra University is set to take place as a critical look at the George W. Bush era, but unlike other conferences that they have held on presidencies, this president, George W. Bush, will not be attending, nor will some of his leading team, like Cheney or Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell. What do you think of who is on the list of speakers, and, and who is not? WILKERSON: I don’t think one can correct what is historically verifiable and what is probably going to be recorded by historians as such. In that regard, I think the first legacy is going to be what I just described, the greatest strategic catastrophe in the latter part of the, let’s say fifty, sixty years that we’ve gone through. Let’s say post-World War II. And that’s saying something, because Vietnam heretofore sort of held that role. Iraq will surpass Vietnam, I think, in terms of blood and treasure expended to no purpose, really, and in terms of truly crass manipulation of intelligence, manipulation of the American people, and so forth. Even the legislature, as easily manipulated as that body is today. This decision will go down as the principal legacy of the Bush administration. But to hasten into the second Administration, which I must add was better run, more competently handled by the President as well as much of his staff, than the first. Still, the legacy of that one will be the greatest economic crisis in the history of the country short of the Great Depression. I think we’re still in that to a certain extent, and I think we may be going to look at a second iteration of that before the next decade is out. So this could wind up being a legacy that even overwhelms that of the Iraq war. PERIES: And speaking of the Iraq war. The decision to go to war will certainly go down on record as one of the most fundamental, illegal things that the administration has done. What is your take on that, and how do you think the questions should be posed to some of the guests that are going to be at the conference who will be defending the Bush era? WILKERSON: I think it’s even more stark than that, Sharmini. I think the decision to go to war, while in many respects unconstitutional, against the law, and certainly against international law, is nonetheless defendable. That is to say, you could collect the legal arguments, you could collect the, what I would call practical arguments, and even the national security arguments. And you could mount a fairly decent defense of that decision, notwithstanding the catastrophe that was produced by it afterwards. The decision that marks the Administration for me, that meets all the criteria you just described, illegal against international and domestic law, even war criminal in its nature, and certainly diverging from everything America has come to stand for, was the decision at the highest levels of the land to authorize torture. Enhanced interrogation techniques in the euphemistic phraseology of people like Michael Hayden, John Brennan, and a host of others. That’s the decision for which people should go to jail. PERIES: Larry, the Center for Constitutional Rights—or I should say, the International Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin has brought about war criminal charges against some members of the Bush administration—here I’m talking about Dick Cheney, and President Bush himself, and a few others. Do you think they should pursue these charges? WILKERSON: The people whom I would go after—and this goes back and ties in with my previous statement about torture—are the lawyers who bastardized the law in order to achieve the very arbitrary and even aberrant decision to authorize torture, and thes eare known by everyone, I think, now. Alberto Gonzales, David Addington in the Vice President’s office, Jim Haynes in DoD. DoD. Jay Bybee and John Yoo at the Justice Department, and Douglas Feith, Under Secretary for Policy in the Defense Department. Those lawyers need to be disbarred at a minimum, and I would take it even further than that. As far as going after someone in the chain of command, as we say in the military—the President, the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and so forth and so on. I think that’s extremely difficult to do, particularly as long as the United States managed to have the biggest gun on the block. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t happen, and I’m not saying that someday it might happen with consequence, but I’m not sure that it’s politically possible to do that. And sometimes when one goes off on the politically impossible road, one doesn’t achieve what one expects to achieve. And in fact, what one achieves might be more negative than it is positive. In this regard, I, I, I think if a case could be brought in the International Criminal Court simply based on the fact that there are crimes committed, recognizable crimes inside the United States and against the international community, torture being the foremost one, and according to the dictates of the ICC aren’t being handled adequately by the law and the legal process in the country under question, then the ICC has jurisdiction. I think that could be the case, and in that case I think we could get these lawyers first and foremost. PERIES: Larry, thank you so much for joining us today. WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.