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Another Thunderbolt from Wilkerson

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, November 4, 2005; 12:45 PM

Another shocking accusation by former administration insider Lawrence Wilkerson appears to be going under the media radar today.

On NPR yesterday, the former chief of staff to the secretary of state said that he had uncovered a "visible audit trail" tracing the practice of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers directly back to Vice President Cheney's office.

Here's the audio of Wilkerson's interview with Steve Inskeep. The transcript is not publicly available, but here are the relevant excerpts:

"INSKEEP: While in the government, he says he was assigned to gather documents. He traced just how Americans came to be accused of abusing prisoners. In 2002, a presidential memo had ordered that detainees be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions that forbid torture. Wilkerson says the vice president's office pushed for a more expansive policy.

"Mr. WILKERSON: What happened was that the secretary of Defense, under the cover of the vice president's office, began to create an environment -- and this started from the very beginning when David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, was a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions. Regardless of the president having put out this memo, they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to, in my view, what we've seen.

"INSKEEP: We have to get more detail about that because the military will say, the Pentagon will say they've investigated this repeatedly and that all the investigations have found that the abuses were committed by a relatively small number of people at relatively low levels. What hard evidence takes those abuses up the chain of command and lands them in the vice president's office, which is where you're placing it?

"Mr. WILKERSON: I'm privy to the paperwork, both classified and unclassified, that the secretary of State asked me to assemble on how this all got started, what the audit trail was, and when I began to assemble this paperwork, which I no longer have access to, it was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of Defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms -- I'll give you that -- that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We're not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here's some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war.

"You just -- if you're a military man, you know that you just don't do these sorts of things because once you give just the slightest bit of leeway, there are those in the armed forces who will take advantage of that. There are those in the leadership who will feel so pressured that they have to produce intelligence that it doesn't matter whether it's actionable or not as long as they can get the volume in. They have to do what they have to do to get it, and so you've just given in essence, though you may not know it, carte blanche for a lot of problems to occur."

Addington, incidentally, was promoted this week to the position of vice presidential chief of staff, replacing his indicted former boss, Scooter Libby. (For more on Addington, read my columns from Tuesday and Wednesday .)

The only news service I have found that covered Wilkerson's comments on NPR was Agence France Presse .

But if past is prologue, it will get picked up by more people soon.

In my October 20 column , I expressed surprise that Wilkerson's last thunderbolt hadn't made the front pages.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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