PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. We continue our series of interviews with Larry Wilkerson. Thanks for joining us again.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks.
JAY: So you’re sitting there in the hours after Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations. You’re, if I’m reading this correctly, fairly certain that most of this intelligence that was presented by Powell is not true.
WILKERSON: Not not true, just circumstantial. Just circumstantial.
JAY: So may turn out to be false.
WILKERSON: Yeah, could go any way. And it’s not–.
JAY: Certainly not verified enough to be grounds for war.
WILKERSON: I think that’s a fair way of putting it, yeah.
JAY: So time goes on. Tens of thousands of people are killed in the war, Iraqis, Americans. So bring us from there to now and sort of what happens to the man in 1966 who went to Vietnam to fight for truth, justice, and the American way.
WILKERSON: The thing that probably turned me off my enthusiasm for truth, justice, and the American way more than any other element of what occurred during the Bush administration, Cheney administration–not Iraq, not the 5 February presentation at the UN. Those were bad enough. Not the 9/11 Commission, where essentially we were hypocrites in front of the 9/11 Commission, saying we’d been all alerted to al-Qaeda beforehand, when in fact we’d been alerted to the things I told you–ABM, NCLB, lowering taxes, and so forth. The thing that really got me was torture, torture and abuse. And I agonized over coming out publicly and speaking out, because that’s not really the way I do business. That’s not the way any good soldier does business. And in October 2005, I finally made a decision that I had to speak out, and it was all based on the fact that we had the Armed Forces of the United States involved in what the administration was calling, euphemistically, enhanced interrogation. We were torturing people for the Armed Forces. Abu Ghraib was just the manifestation, a tiny little manifestation, actually, of what was happening in Afghanistan, in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and probably elsewhere. We were actually treating people the way you saw people treated in those photographs at Abu Ghraib. And so I had to speak out. I had to speak out. This was a perversion of American values and a perversion of American beliefs. I thought that it was so significant that it represented the same thing that happened to Rome when Caesar crossed the Rubicon. It represented the same thing that happened to Germany when Hitler was able to–when Hindenburg died and Hitler was able to consolidate both the powers of the chancellorship–or the presidency and the powers that he had as chancellor. This was bad. This was truly bad. We were doing something that was not only damaging to the republic but damaging to all the people that were participating, and tearing my organization that I’d spent my life in, 31 years in, apart at the seams. John McCain realized this immediately. John McCain may have had some differences with people on other issues, but he had no differences with me over this. He said it’s not about them; it’s about us. We do not torture.
JAY: But McCain, as a result of that conclusion, does not come to where you end up, because if I understand it correctly,–
WILKERSON: He can’t. He’s a senator.
JAY: –I mean, you know, as your career develops, you have to keep saying, well, the means justifies the end, we’re fighting for a greater cause here. I don’t like this means. I don’t like that means. And at some point there’s an epiphany and you say, hold on here, the means and the end actually are the same. The bigger cause here is the underlying problem. When’s that moment for you?
WILKERSON: I think most profoundly it came to me when I realized that the torture issue was not just an aberration. It was a manifestation of where we had come as a country, that we had built ourselves into a state. We’d been state-building since 1945. We’d been building the national security state. We also concomitantly built, as you’ve pointed out on a number of your shows, a financial apparatus around that national security state that could dominate, at any time and place it chose to dominate, the whole American people. And those two things happening together, the corruption of our very governance process and the fact that we were turning into a country that knew only one way of achieving its purpose, and that was to kill people, really troubled me. It troubled me as both an individual who’d participated in that, from both a diplomatic and a military perspective, and it troubled me as a somewhat historian of our republic and a teacher of presidential decision-making since World War II and how that process had taken place. I’m not sure we can recover from this. I am not in any way, fashion, or form sure that my grandchildren are going to live in a democratic federal republic.
JAY: How unique are you? And what I mean by that: it’s within the military professionals. Are you on the margins? Or do you think there are others like you there?
WILKERSON: I think there are quite a few like me. Last month’s issue of Proceedings, Naval Institute Proceedings, one of the most prestigious magazines in the military, got a nice article in there by a guy who says, let’s return to the American way of war. And in that article he essentially says what I’ve just told you, in more eloquent terms, that we’ve strayed very far from George Washington’s concept of the best way to prevent war is to be prepared for it, not to fight it all the time.
JAY: And, just in conclusion, the man whose career yours is most linked–what’s your communication with Colin Powell? And has he come to any of these kinds of conclusions you have?
WILKERSON: In private, I have to expect that he has. Recently, when he was asked about Donald Rumsfeld’s latest book, he essentially said, he’s delusional and deceptive and I can prove both points. That’s really forward-leaning in the foxhole for Colin Powell to be saying things like that. He must have some difficult times, nights, days, whatever. But in the end, he’s a product of this very process, this very state-building that I’ve just described. So to abandon it completely would require a complete reversal of his role for the past 50 years of his life. I don’t think that’s going to happen. There are people in the Armed Forces who can make that sort of transformation because they have the background to make it. He doesn’t have the background to make it, and in fact has the background to keeping clad in that iron suit of armor that is military advisor to the secretary of defense, national security advisor to Ronald Reagan, and so forth. I don’t have that straitjacket on me, so I’m able to move a little more nimbly, if you will, intellectually, than he is. That’s not to denigrate him in any way. He’s a great man, in my eyes. I just hope he’s not one of the last great men of the American Empire.
JAY: And I said finally, but here’s another finally. Did President Obama make a mistake, was he wrong not to–at least, to have a proper due process of investigation, the possibility of crimes committed by Bush and Cheney, both on the front of torture and on the question of the Iraq War itself?
WILKERSON: Yes. Yes. And the way I would have done that would have been to give, as Bill Clinton did for different reasons to Janet Reno on one or two occasions, I would have distanced myself from it as president, because I realize the political ramifications, but I would have given Eric Holder carte blanche: do what you think is right; I will not stop you. And I think Eric Holder would have done it. I think he would have found some guilty people, too.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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