TRNN’s collection of Larry Wilkerson interviews
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. There’s a piece of legislation about to be passed here. It’s already been passed by the Senate. It’s working its way through the House. And that’s the National Defense Authorization Act, which hands the Pentagon somewhere upwards of over $600 billion to carry out its activities. Buried in that apparently more than 600 pages of act is an amendment that will allow military and military intelligence to go after people and arrest and detain without trial those it believes are supporters, not just activists, but supporters of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and–get this–associated forces, whatever that means. Now joining us to talk about this amendment and what it might mean to democracy in America is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is a retired colonel, U.S. Army, and was Colin Powell’s former chief of staff. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me.
JAY: There’s a piece of legislation that’s about to be enacted. Partly it authorizes a somewhere more than $600 billion military expenditure, the National Defense Authorization Act, I guess it’s called, for 2012. So, first of all, that act changes nothing in terms of the military’s position and role in the world, really, and it’s still based on the pillars that U.S. should have military dominance in the world. But then there’s another piece, an amendment in that act, which is going to create an enactment that allows the military and military intelligence to arrest people on suspicion of being a supporter–not an active participant, but even just a supporter of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or, quote, associated forces. I’m sure you’re familiar with this amendment. What do you make of it?
WILKERSON: I think it’s another step on the road to tyranny. I think the Patriot Act was a huge, giant step on the road to tyranny. I think things like this are another step in that direction. I find it interesting that the individual on the Hill who this week was holding a hearing about Muslims serving in the military and so forth, Representative King, himself, if this were a retroactive law, would probably be in jail now for his support of the IRA. After all, they were a terrorist group, recognized as such. I just think it’s the wrong direction, completely the wrong direction.
JAY: It seems such a dramatic piece of legislation, ’cause it seems to open a couple doors. Number one, it looks like it applies to U.S. citizens. So all of a sudden due process for U.S. citizens is gone.
WILKERSON: We killed one, Alwaki. We killed a U.S. citizen without due process.
JAY: Apparently, it means it could be applied on U.S. soil. It’s ambiguous about that. But it looks like the military, which is not supposed to be operating on U.S. soil, could. And the third thing which doesn’t get talked about very much is the size of military intelligence, which if I understand it correctly is bigger than the CIA or most of the entire other intelligence agencies, maybe even put together.
WILKERSON: The secretary of defense sits over, directly, probably 75 to 80 percent of the budget, and probably 65 to 70 percent of the actual intelligence gathering, collecting, and analyzing entities in the United States. He’s got them, the NRO (the National Reconnaissance Office), the National Security Agency–and there is a real beast. He’s got the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, which was a bureaucratic attempt to rival the CIA within the military. He’s got all the tactical and other operational strategic intelligence assets of each of the services. So the secretary of defense sits atop almost two-thirds of the intelligence entities in the United States.
JAY: And now he has a piece of legislation which allows him to arrest, indefinitely detain without trial, anyone he suspects of being even a supporter of an associated force of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which–.
WILKERSON: We always had this fear in the United States of the man on horseback, you know, the military general who crosses the Rubicon as Caesar did and doesn’t leave his legion behind. Little did we know that the man on horseback would be in a suit and tie. That’s what’s happened. That’s what happened with Donald Rumsfeld. That’s what we’re doing now. We’re giving that individual the kind of power that the Greeks, for example, gave to the tyrant–that’s how the term came about–when they brought him in to handle the war and then told him to go back, you know, and do his farm or whatever he’d come from. That’s what we’re doing. We’re creating tyranny in this country as surely as if we sat down and went over to Jefferson’s memorial, where he says, I’ve sworn eternal hostility to all forms of tyranny over the mind of man, and tore it down. That’s what we’re doing.
JAY: And I think seven people voted against this in the Senate. And it’s–.
WILKERSON: The same people who jumped up and applauded Netanyahu 26 or 27 times. These are not rocket scientists.
JAY: And, apparently, President Obama might veto it, there’s some suggestion. But the reason he might veto it is only ’cause there’s a provision in it that says that he has to turn these suspected people over to military tribunals, he can’t try them in civil courts; but not because he’s concerned about the fact that, number one, people can be picked up on such a broad basis. And number two, according to the senator Carl Levin, apparently, when the debate in the Senate did break out, which was whether this should apply to U.S. citizens or not, Carl Levin stands up and says, hold on, we weren’t going to have it apply to U.S. citizens, except the White House intervened and said they wanted it applied to U.S. citizens.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI): And I’m wondering whether the senator is familiar with the fact that the language, the language which precluded the application of Section 1031 to American citizens was in the bill that we originally approved in the Armed Services Committee, and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that U.S. citizens in lawful residence would not be subject to this section.
JAY: And that’s why it’s in there. So, I mean, President Obama’s all on top of, in support of this legislation.
WILKERSON: One of the things that in my study of US civil military relations over the last half-century has revealed to me is that we are very fortunate in the officer corps that we have in our Armed Forces, in every branch and every service, we’re fortunate because they know our history, they know the providence of civil military relations in this country better than 300-plus million Americans know it. And that’s our greatest protection. What you’re talking about is taking this military that understands its place, understands what it means to democracy to be subordinate to the civil leadership, and forcing it to believe otherwise.
JAY: Thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.