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Bad Blood and an Empty Chair

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By Al Kamen
Friday, June 20, 2008

The stage was set Wednesday afternoon at the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties to hear former deputy undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith testify about the use of harsh interrogation techniques on detainees.

Committee aides had been working for many weeks to secure Feith's appearance. But hours before the hearing, Feith's lawyer, John Moustakas, said Feith would not appear.

The subcommittee chairman, Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y), said Feith "withdrew . . . because he was not willing to appear alongside one of our other witnesses." Nadler said Feith would be appearing soon and chastised him for going "back on his promise."

People often testify alongside witnesses with whom they disagree, Nadler said as he opened the hearing, and "such concerns are no reason to decline to appear when you've said you will."

But Feith's lawyer, in his letter, said he'd been assured his client would testify "in an atmosphere free from the vitriol and ad hominem attacks that have regrettably dominated the debate." And this other witness was none other than Lawrence Wilkerson, who had been chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and had allegedly made "reckless, bigoted and defamatory remarks" about Feith.

Moustakas said that in 2006 Wilkerson accused Feith of being a "'card-carrying member of the Likud party' whose allegiance is to Israel rather than the United States." (Actually, according to writer George Packer's book "The Assassins' Gate," it was Powell who made that allegation to President Bush in the Oval Office in January 2005.)

What's more, Moustakas wrote, "Wilkerson said of Mr. Feith in 2005: 'Seldom have I met a dumber man.' " (Actually, Wilkerson was simply agreeing with Gen. Tommy Franks, who famously called Feith "the [expletive] stupidest guy on the face of the earth.")

"Mr. Feith believes he not only has never met [Wilkerson], but has never even been in the same room with him," Moustakas sniffed in the letter, and no "proper, substantive discussion" would be had if Feith testified "with the likes of Lawrence Wilkerson."

Wilkerson said yesterday that he believes he met and shook hands with Feith when both were in the White House situation room on a Saturday morning in January 2003 for a meeting chaired by then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and attended by Ryan Crocker, then deputy assistant secretary of state.

"Doug was there and holding forth on ties" between al-Qaeda and Iraq, Wilkerson recalled. "The purpose was how we were going to 'market' the war." Wilkerson said he also met Feith at the Pentagon on several occasions.

Wilkerson said it would have been better if Feith had attended the Wednesday hearing. "I thought it lacked some balance because he wasn't there," he said, claiming he had no intention of directly attacking Feith while answering congressional inquiries at a hearing.

Anyway, we'll wait for the next one. (Note to Nadler: Just don't invite Powell or Franks either.)


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