Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served General Colin Powell in various capacities as a close aide for 16 years — most recently as Powell’s Chief of Staff at the Department of States, has written a short, matter of fact assessment of the torture proclivities during the Bush administration and the Vice President’s central role in promoting a “pro-torture” national security/military environment.
Wilkerson writes in “Dogging the Torture Story“:
Ask Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Q. Define torture.
Q. Do we do torture?
Q. There have been dozens of homicides and more than a hundred deaths in U.S. custody. Is killing someone not the ultimate torture?
Q. If those cases were just the work of bad apples, why were the investigations dragged out so long? Why, for instance, did it take the Army two years before filing charges related to the homicides at Bagram Air Force Base in December 2002?
Q. Why are the sentences for the “bad apples” so light? Isn’t it the case that in these military courts martial, their military peers recognize they were following orders?
Documents and memos that have already made their way into the public domain make it clear that the Office of the Vice President bears responsibility for creating an environment conducive to the acts of torture and murder committed by U.S. forces in the war on terror.
There is, in my view, insufficient evidence to walk into an American courtroom and win a legal case (though an international courtroom for war crimes might feel differently). But there is enough evidence for a soldier of long service — someone like me with 31 years in the Army — to know that what started with John Yoo, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes at the Pentagon, and several others, all under the watchful and willing eye of the Vice President, went down through the Secretary of Defense to the commanders in the field, and created two separate pressures that resulted in the violation of longstanding practice and law.
These two pressures were, on the one hand, the understandable pressure to produce intelligence as rapidly as possible, and on the other hand, the creation of an environment best described as “the gloves coming off” — or better, the gloves ARE off. The Bybee memorandum’s description of torture as organ failure or beyond gave officials an out when answering questions about “Did we do torture?”
When an official said “no”, he or she meant that we did not do organ failure. Of course, with 136 deaths in detention and counting–and with 25 or more now confirmed as homicides–even that admission by that standard is now false.
The administration has now been forced by the Supreme Court to recognize the “rights” of detained enemy combatants and to manage these detainees in terms consistent with the Geneva Convention.
However, what Wilkerson describes is unbelievably important.
After 9/11/2001, President Bush and his senior staff allowed a combination of outrage and emotion about the attacks, suspicions about Islam, old scores to settle with Saddam Hussein, and a lot of Texas swagger to justify the suspension of traditional norms and routenized processes that were part of America’s system of checks and balances.
The President and his staff decided that they would adopt a “war paradigm” in which each key part of the nation’s national security bureaucracy would identify rules of process and procedure and not only suspend notifications to the legislative and judicial branches but also assert massive expansion of executive authority in these arenas beyond the norm.
What is interesting is that Cheney, Libby, Addington, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, and others decided to shed the “rules of war” as well and to substitute this so-called “war paradigm” in America’s military and intelligence programs.
This was a systemic change and explains why we see the absence of legal gravity in everything from the manner in which prisoners were handled in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo to the establishment of enormous and extra-legal domestic spying operations as in the warrantless wiretap case to the White House simply lying to or failing to inform the Congress of its activities — as Peter Hoekstra, a Republican House member, has been telling the press.
Cheney promoted a monarchy that spat at constraints and the other branches of government. He promoted a pugnacious, fear-mongering nationalism whose clarion call to other nations was that they would either assimilate with the U.S. or be annihilated. He shed rules of engagement with and capture of enemies that have been part of the most sacredly held military ethic. And many were indeed tortured and died because of Cheney upending not only a legal environment in which accused and detained individuals had rights but a system of norms that had always served as ethical benchmarks for the bulk of our military forces.
Cheney and his team argued that the horror ot 9/11 terrorism and the uniqueness of America’s place in the world allowed America to strip itself out of legal norms and routines that had been fashioned for centuries and which were part of America’s sense of self.
Wilkerson has the goods on Cheney. He has the memos, emails, files, and other briefs that show that the environment Cheney & Co. created produced horrible behaviors that popped up in many different parts of the military mission. This was a systemic problem — not a bunch of coincidental, isolated incidents.
TWN again applauds the honesty and candor of Col. Wilkerson who is making sure that the history of what happened inside the Bush administration is told relatively squarely and that when the political pendulum swings that accountability can be fixed on those that crippled America’s position in the world.
— Steve Clemons