Wilkerson: Cheney’s Office Cultivated a Pro-Torture Environment


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


35 comments on “Wilkerson: Cheney’s Office Cultivated a Pro-Torture Environment

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  4. David Wilson says:

    Unless Cheney et al ignored the evidence that showed torture to be of little value (especially in a situation as fluid as Iraq) in getting information, what could be the motive for torture? The same motive which Cheney had when he shot his duck-hunter pal. BECAUSE HE CAN.
    Unmitigated, Malevolent Will. Period.


  5. jay says:

    Professional soldiers and former POW’s all agree that torture gets no good information. Those who have no military training and know in their own cowardly hearts they would give up everything seem to be the ones who think torture is a great idea. Says alot about chickenhawks like Cheney, Limbaugh, Rove, O’reilly, Hannity and their fans.


  6. molly says:

    US dollar is below the canadian dollar and they are coming over here to buy cars to sell on their car lots, tv’s and such. I get canadian tv as I am on the US, Canadian border. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are on their regular TV. Colbert was just interviewing Ron Suskind on The One Percent Doctrine. The entire interview was like a freeze frame with background music played. Canada has a new conservative PM who is censoring like our media. Never have seen anything like this before on canadian tv. Sorry to go off topic.


  7. Brian Nabors says:

    I was ashamed of our government in 1973 and I am ashamed of it now in starting with the Iraq war in 2003. A war without a reason. We have the dictator Castro 90 miles from Cuba. He imprisons people takes away there rights. Just like Saddam but he is still in power after almost 50 years.
    So why Iraq? Is it because they have oil????
    What are we to think.
    Then there is the reduced deficit. Down from 480 mill to a mear 300 mill. come on it is still the 4th largest ever, What kind of ploy is that. Perfect for the likes of Rush, see the tax cuts are working.
    The tax cuts and the war caused the deficit.
    Did anyone notice that the US dollar is nearly down to the Canadian dollar, and the Euro that was equal to the US dollar 2 years ago is now Worth over $1.30 Is that because of the huge and growing US deficit?


  8. Carroll says:

    Robert….Safety tip to protect your precious life in case the torture doesn’t work.
    Go immediately to your freezer, crawl in and shut the door behind you.


  9. Carroll says:

    I hope you are right about the accountability when adm’s change.
    My biggest fear is that a new adm would do nothing in terms of making the criminals accountable….and without punishment for the crimes we know have gone on, where is there any thing to deter others from coming behind them and doing the same things again?
    I don’t have any faith in the dems demanding justice….the dems and the repubs are kissing cousins ..no one in DC wants to upset this 2 family mafia system and set a legal example for being held to the same standards if they get caught.


  10. Harvey says:

    For the first time in my 62 years, I’m ASHAMED of america. If the repubics keep control of congress this november? then I’m sure that they are fixing
    our election system? Mexico is a good example????


  11. dyspeptic1 says:

    Den’s comments about the culture of torture are probably the most important take-away here. Only Congress has the power to do anything about the Bushies’ treasons. The rest of us need to put the “culture of torture” point at the top of our lessons learned list. It can happen here. We need to learn to keep the European kind of jaundiced eye on the “trust us” defense. What a brutal shame to bring upon our dedicated and well-intentioned young people in the services. There is nothing they need more than peoples’ trust in their decency, which the Bushies have stolen from them.


  12. dyspeptic1 says:

    Thanks charlie (above), well said! People also need to remember that these guys all took oaths to uphold the law and defend the Constitution. Their grotesque and obsessive violations of both need to be called for what they are. They like to label anyone who questions them as traitors. I think this is an attempt at pre-emption as they know their actions couldn’t fit the definition of that word more specifically and completely. It will take generations to repair the damage they’ve done to our credibility and interests on the international scene. If they set out to intentionally damage US international prospects, they could hardly have done better. What’s worst is that they are too stupid to know it or care, as long as their personal priviledges remain protected.


  13. CV says:

    As for anyone that would choose torture, GET OUT. You don’t belong in America. Don’t join the Army, don’t run for office, just get out. This is the land of the brave, if your so scared that you would condone torture you are a worthless being (AKA: Vermin) and don’t deserve the blessings of (our waning) Freedoms.
    And for the rest of US, it’s high time for some of that bravery, folks.
    See you in the streets.


  14. CV says:

    Good one Steve!
    Too bad Wilkerson didn’t use the pile of evidence he’s got to stop these Thugs BEFORE they invaded Iraq.
    Better nate than lever, I guess.


  15. Den Valdron says:

    One point of course that should be reinforced is that a ‘culture of torture’ does not keep us safe. So far as I know, there is not a single instance of torture producing useable or actionable intelligence or saving American lives. It is merely pathological sadism. Those who advocate or defend torture are not engaged in serious policy discussions, but merely exhibiting their sexual deviance.
    Or to put it another way: Torture has nothing to do with keeping America safe, but its got a lot to do with masturbation by ineffectual cowards.
    Not that I’m pointing fingers at anyone specific, mind you.


  16. charlie reina says:

    I would like to comment on an important side issue here: Col. Wilkerson’s subtle admonition to the news media to do their job. Granted, this administration has made it unusually difficult for reporters to pursue facts, but “It’s hard work,” is just as laughable coming from them (us) as it was from the president in the 2004 debates. Take the NSA/FISA wiretapping story. After all the hoopla, the key question remains unanswered: Why would the administration circumvent a provision of the Act (requiring warrants, even up to 45 days ex post facto) that would not even slow down the wiretapping process? Might it be because they don’t want even a federal judge to know WHO they’re tapping (domestic political enemies, maybe?) or HOW MANY people (thousands, millions, in some sort of blanket operation?) they’re spying on? The reason might be perfectly justifiable, but the question has to be doggedly pursued. Even the Cheney hunting story illustrates this. Why would the local sheriff give Cheney an all-night pass on the post-accident interview in a case that involved a near-fatal shooting and possibly the influence of alcohol? Would the sheriff have given anyone else that benefit? As I recall, the best Scott McClellan could do was to say, “We worked all night to get the story out.” What the hell does THAT mean?? In that first press conference, David Gregory did approach asking that question, but McClellan cut him off — and none of the other reporters turned up the heat. Maybe part of the problem is that reporters are too busy competing with each other to do their job.


  17. karenk says:

    Interesting reading on the torture stuff:
    “US detention related to the events of 11 September 2001 and its aftermath – the role of the International Committe of the Red Cross”
    “The Torture Papers”
    But there’s some hope yet if we stick to our Constitution…
    “Advantage, Rule of Law”
    I hope these links work, I’m not the best cyberuser…


  18. Aeon says:

    Read John Dean’s new book “Conservatives Without Conscience” – It is a WARNING about how very, very close we are to true FASCISM.
    WE THE PEOPLE must get more involved – locally, state and federally – to STOP THIS MADNESS!
    “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
    – John Kenneth Galbraith.
    “We are spending $8 billion a month in Iraq. That equates to $2 billion a week, or $267 million a day, or $11 million an hour.”
    – John Murtha


  19. tom says:

    A prior commentor stated that they would chose a “culture of torture” over a culture that put us at risk.
    Others in this space have capably pointed out that risk is not respecter of partisan lines.
    What I want to point out, however, is a basic misunderstanding of America that is revealed by those who (albeit mistakenly) choose torture to be safe — When we chose to support torture, we are abandoning the very principles that the U.S. is founded upon. By doing so, we are betraying the tens of thousands a loyal U.S. citizens who have died in war to protect those principles. The neo-con torturers and their cohort are so afraid of dying that they willingly chose to abandon those very principles. A true patriot is one who is willing to die to protect what he or she believes in and holds most precious. It is crystal clear that Cheney and all the others who support the use of torture to keep us safe place the highest value upon their own skin. Our dead and wounded soldiers have been betrayed by an administration that totally ignores the very thing they fought and died for. Because of Cheney, GWB, and the rest we can no longer sing the national anthem with any honesty — because of them it becomes harder every day to believe that this is “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”


  20. black max says:

    >>>The best example of the latter would be the Clinton Administration taking laundered Chinese money in exchange for companies like Loral, Hughes etc. selling the Chinese satellite technology which coincidentally allows them to put nuclear warheads on a dime in the USA. Beforehand, China could only shoot their popguns like North Korea.
    The problem with this comparison — well, one of the problems — is that it’s dead wrong. The connection between the Clinton administration and what you’re calling “laundered Chinese money” has long since been disproven. However, the connection between Halliburton and other US companies, and North Korea’s nuclear technology, is quite clear. Clinton spent more time than he needed to dithering and backing-and-filling with North Korea, but he didn’t know at the time that his efforts to control North Korea’s nuclear technology acquisition were being sabotaged by American — pardon me, corporate conservative — traitors like Dick Cheney.
    And I see no evidence that Bush and Cheney give a hoot about American troops being killed. They sent them into a slaughterhouse, keep them there regardless of the escalating danger, and won’t bother to attend a funeral or even sign a letter of “sympathy” to the families, unless you count a machine-generated signature as a personal expression of grief.


  21. Pissed Off American says:

    I could go on, but the point is, you are already a tyranny. Hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan have already died for it. Thousands of Americans have died for it. The lives of millions are at risk, and your constitution hasn’t been the same since Oliver North wiped his ass with it.

    Posted by Den Valdron
    See there. THATS reality. What is it here that has made us unable to see it? Are we so wrapped up in the prpaganda of “home of the free, land of the brave” that we are in some sort of collective denial, we simply REFUSE to recognize the FACTS as they become available to us???
    Read Den’s comment carefully. His view of us IS NOT unique, the ENTIRE WORLD’S population is beginning to see us that way. And that is EXACTLY the knowledge that allows nations such as Pakistan or Israel to exploit our treasure and our name. Israel’s leaders KNOW we have no honor, and will condone and abet thier terrible campaign of terrorism against the Palestinians. Pakistan’s leaders KNOW the “Global war On Terror” is a sham and a facade, and therefore KNOW that if they perform thier act well they will be rewarded by these liars, murderers, and thieves at the helm of our nation.
    We are not what we proclaim to be, nor have we been for a very long time. And until WE THE PEOPLE realize that, and take action to CLEAN OUT Washington, we will NEVER be what we once were.


  22. Den Valdron says:

    Beginnings of tyranny? Let’s recap shall we:
    – Dissidents are allowed to publicly demonstrate… From inside chain link fences miles away from anything, and photographed by the police for later identification.
    – Peaceful dissident groups are routinely infiltrated or put under surveillance by security or police forces.
    – The government now has a surveillance program which looks into the lives of millions of ordinary Americans without warrants or oversite of any kind. Said surveillance program is unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court case in Hamdan, but it continues nevertheless.
    – Information is classified or declassified based on whether it can be used against political enemies. Legitimate intelligence agents protecting the country are unmasked as reprisals against their family members.
    – There is a network of secret prisons outside of American borders and outside of the law, where people are held without charges or trial, are tortured, and where they are occasionally killed. We know some of these, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, but there are others.
    – The Government has reserved the right to detain American citizens inside the United States as ‘enemy combatants’, and to hold them for years on end without charges, trial or access to a lawyer.
    – The Government has reserved the right to make false statements where and as it determines that such suits national security… which appears to be synonymous with serving our political ends.
    I could go on, but the point is, you are already a tyranny. Hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan have already died for it. Thousands of Americans have died for it. The lives of millions are at risk, and your constitution hasn’t been the same since Oliver North wiped his ass with it.


  23. PC Kelly says:

    “Take a pick: 1) Cheney’s office encouraging aclimate of torture 2) Democrats encouraging a climate of danger to US national security. The best example of the latter would be the Clinton Administration taking laundered Chinese money in exchange for companies like Loral, Hughes etc. selling the Chinese satellite technology which coincidentally allows them to put nuclear warheads on a dime in the USA. Beforehand, China could only shoot their popguns like North Korea.
    If choices #1 and #2 are the only option, I will have to go with Cheney’s culture of torture, at least they are trying to keep Americans from getting killed, unlike many of his critics. – Robert”
    I can understand why you are afraid of terrorists, but you should keep this in mind. Terrorists have killed thousands of people, governments run by tyrants have killed millions. Which one should you be more afraid of?
    Our nation believes in limited government. The only reason my party doesn’t adhere to that belief is good will. They honestly want to help people. Most of things they do only have minor “big-government” complications. On the other hand the element in your party that is “big-government,” at least in the case of the people mentioned in the article, is not motivated by good will. It is a authoritarian/fascist element, which seeks to grab more and more power. Morals are not the basis of these individual’s policy. They manipulate minutia in order to justify profoundly immoral acts: torture and the killing of innocent people.
    You should know and remember that governments run by these very same kind people have killed millions. Our government can do that too, and the only reason it hasn’t attacked its’ own people, is the Constitution and the principles it embodies. The main principle embodied: do not let the beginnings of tyranny take hold, so that the ends of tyranny will never have a chance to exist. We, however, have let that occur; the beginnings are already here. How long will it be until the ends arrive and the lives of millions of people are at risk?


  24. jsquire says:

    “Take a pick: 1) Cheney’s office encouraging aclimate of torture 2) Democrats encouraging a climate of danger to US national security.”
    This is a false dichotomy. It’s not as if both cannot happen simultaneously, or both couldn’t be avoided. It’s also a stupid argument; if I put a baseball through the window and told my mother “My brother had his hand in the cookie jar!” I wouldn’t have been able to sit down for a week.


  25. Den Valdron says:

    Well, what’s the ‘Americans death toll’ under Bush/Cheney?
    Lessee, what, about 3000 on 9/11? Wasn’t that so cool, the way Bush ignored and mocked the “Osama intends to attack inside the US” August 6 memo. What did he say again “Fine, you’ve covered your ass.” How many warnings about Bin Laden did Bush ignore from Israel, Egypt, Russia, France, Pakistan, Germany, England, the FBI, the CIA. And wasn’t it amazing when his first response was to (a) Ignore the first plane hitting and go read with schoolchildren; (b) Freeze up for ten minutes when he heard the second plane hitting; and (c) Run like a scared rabbit to Louisiana and Nebraska and hide out in a bunker until it was safe to make a photo op.
    2500 in Iraq and Afghanistan? Wow, amazing the results you can get when you fabricate all your evidence and go in without a plan.
    2000 in Katrina/Rita? All I can say is that it wasn’t Bill Clinton’s penis that was playing a guitar when New Orleans went down.
    As for the Chinese technology issue, I don’t think that Republicans want to bring that up. Bush senior transferred far more technology to the Chinese than Clinton ever did, ROTFL.
    LOL. That’s about 7500 Americans dead because Cheney and Bush got their heads up their asses.


  26. Robert Morrow says:

    Take a pick: 1) Cheney’s office encouraging aclimate of torture 2) Democrats encouraging a climate of danger to US national security. The best example of the latter would be the Clinton Administration taking laundered Chinese money in exchange for companies like Loral, Hughes etc. selling the Chinese satellite technology which coincidentally allows them to put nuclear warheads on a dime in the USA. Beforehand, China could only shoot their popguns like North Korea.
    If choices #1 and #2 are the only option, I will have to go with Cheney’s culture of torture, at least they are trying to keep Americans from getting killed, unlike many of his critics. – Robert


  27. Marcia says:

    I hope Mr. Wilkerson is well protected, his courage probably carries with it real danger. This is not an administration that is shackled by scruples of any kind.
    It is regrettable that Colin Powell’s loyalty is interred in military discipline first instead of defence of the Constitution.
    Stalin’s Soviet Union had a long tradition dating from the Monarchy of torture, goulags, and political oppression. The Cheney-Bush regime is founding a new order in our name–using the same tools.


  28. virginia cynic says:

    Integrity and truth rear their ugly heads and we lament the fact that Wilkerson’s Commander failed not only his country but also his subordinate. I hope he will not fail when the war crimes trials for Bush and Cheney are held and Powell is called to testify.


  29. Finest says:

    While-U-Were-Out-Or-Were-Ducking-This-Big-Time-Or-Thought-We-Wouldn’t-Notice Dept.
    The results are in, and I’m not talkin’ ’bout Mexico El Presidente recounts.
    El Wilson/Plamo IV delusions of grandeur have washed up on the shoals of hubris and are DOA.
    According to the man who has the inside track, Mr. novak reports:
    “3. I feel constrained from identifying my primary source, until such time as he identifies himself. The fact thst Fitzgerald has seen no need to reveal that source indicates that he does not consider any law broken and that there is no need to bring his name into the law enforcement process.
    4. A conclusion can be reached that my sources did not commit a crime in revealing Plame’s role in instituting the mission to Niger of her husband, former Ambassadoe Joseph Wilson [IV ]. That is a letdown for the enemies of president Bush who have tried to magnify this story.”


  30. MNPundit says:

    OT, but Steve I’d like you to comment on Israel’s new invasion of Lebannon…


  31. Den Valdron says:

    Sorry, old news. The allegations and evidence of torture is well documented through Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo, as well as through evidence of ‘renditions’ to countries which practice torture. A Canadian citizen, Mahar Arar, was abducted by America security forces and put on an aircraft to Syria where he was held for over a year and tortured.
    The response in the American media, after an initial flurry of coverage, has been to ignore it. The American public seems accepting. The media is now tolerant. Various parts of the debating class, such as Allen Dershowitz publicly argue in favour of it. The congress has taken no meaningful steps to investigate reports of torture. It’s sole meaningful action has been to pass an ‘anti-torture’ law, and then sit silent while Bush abrogated said law with a signing statement. The Judiciary has failed to deal with the matter at all.
    The short version? Nobody cares, its all good.
    The shorter version: Torture is okay with America.


  32. Pissed Off American says:

    Gee, Cheney was leering and cheering as our soldiers sodomized prisoners at Abu Ghraib??? What a suprise.
    What I want to know is where are the batch of photos that were COURT ORDERED to be released? Why isn’t anyone raising holy hell about the Bush Administration IGNORING that court order? Are these bastards above the law???
    I guess those photos are the same as Phase Two…..invisible.
    BTW, anyone watch that insipid little pissant Stuart Levey flip off America with the arrogant fuck-you he handed congress as they grilled him about the SWIFT crime??? Google the little prick. Another AIPAC whore.
    We are in deep shit. These sonsa bitches have no respect for us, for Congress, for oversight, or for the law. The whole crew of them should be frog marched into the nearest federal pen. Or better yet, packaged up and rendered to Iraq where they can get a taste of the “flowers” that the Iraqi citizens are throwing at our troops.


  33. David Studhalter says:

    Excellent reporting, and indeed, Col. Wilkerson is standing up for what it REALLY means to defend America. We need to start asking the question, what of this conduct, and who among its actors, rise to the level of war crimes and war criminals? These crimes must not go unprosecuted.


  34. Tom says:

    The behavior of the administration should shock the conscience of every American even if everyone held in detention was, as the president called them “the worst of the worst.” But it should never be forgotten that some – or many – of those in detention are known to be innocent. We have no idea how many of those were among the tortured and murdered.


  35. eldrich says:

    This is a great resource and a good set of benchmarks for all of us in judging how well the media are doing their job (placing a priority on reporting the news rather than on maintaining access). It’s also interesting to note that there is very little in the suggested questions that the media couldn’t have been asking much earlier, somewhere between Afghanistan and Iraq.


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