Lawrence Wilkerson

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Lawrence Wilkerson
Lawrence wilkinson 5253335.jpg
Wilkerson in 2016
Personal details
Born (1945-06-15) June 15, 1945 (age 77)
Gaffney, South Carolina, U.S.
Political partyRepublican[1]
OccupationDefense analyst
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1966–1997[2]
RankUS-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Battles/warsVietnam War

Lawrence B. Wilkerson (born June 15, 1945) is a retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Since the end of his military career, Wilkerson has criticized many aspects of the Iraq War, including his own preparation of Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council, as well as other aspects of American policy in the Middle East. He is a lifelong Republican and firmly on the political right.[1]

Education and early military service[edit]

Wilkerson was born in Gaffney, South Carolina. After three years of studying philosophy and English literature at Bucknell University, Wilkerson dropped out in 1966 and volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War. He told The Washington Post: "I felt an obligation because my dad had fought, and I thought that was kind of your duty."[3]

Wilkerson arrived as an Army officer piloting an OH-6A Cayuse observation helicopter and logged about 1100 combat hours over a year. He flew low and slow through South Vietnam, and was involved in one incident in which he says he prevented a war crime by purposely placing his helicopter between a position that was full of civilians, and another helicopter that wanted to launch an attack on the position. He also had many vocal disagreements with his superiors and his own gunner crew over free-fire zones, including an incident in which one of his crew shot a wagon that wound up having a little girl inside it.[4] He went on to Airborne School and Ranger School before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and graduate degrees in international relations and national security. He attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and later returned there to teach. He later served as deputy director of the Marine Corps War College at Quantico.[5]

Assistant to Colin Powell[edit]

Wilkerson spent some years in the United States Navy's Pacific Command in South Korea, Japan and Hawaii, where he was well regarded by his superiors.[citation needed] These recommendations led in early 1989 to a successful interview to become the assistant to Colin Powell, who was then finishing his stint as National Security Advisor in the Reagan administration and moving to a position in the United States Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson. He continued this supporting role as Powell became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff through the Gulf War, following Powell into civilian life and then back into public service when President George W. Bush appointed Powell Secretary of State.[5]

Wilkerson was responsible for the review of information from the Central Intelligence Agency used to prepare Powell for his February 2003 presentation to the United Nations Security Council. His failure to realize that the evidence was faulty has been attributed to the limited time (only one week) that he had to review the data. The subsequent developments led Wilkerson to become disillusioned: "Combine the detainee abuse issue with the ineptitude of post-invasion planning for Iraq, wrap both in this blanket of secretive decision-making...and you get the overall reason for my speaking out."[3]

Later career[edit]

Wilkerson has worked as a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary since January 2006, and taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at George Washington University from January 2006 until December 2011.[6]

Wilkerson is one of the people interviewed in the 2007 documentary film No End in Sight, a film that is very critical of the way the occupation of Iraq was handled in the spring of 2003.[citation needed]

As of 2014, he served on the advisory board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.[7]

In 2020, he was named a non-resident fellow of the Quincy Institute.[8] According to Tablet magazine, in 2018-19, Wilkerson was in close contact with Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council as he developed and sought funding for the Institute.[9]

Political positions and statements[edit]

Since his retirement from the public sector Wilkerson has on several occasions spoken out against what he perceives as the poor planning and execution of the Iraq War as well as the global politics leading up to and following it. In particular he has denounced the decision-making process of the Bush administration and Vice President Dick Cheney's and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's parts in it, and regularly describes the Bush administration has having been run by a neoconservative cabal.[10]

In the mid-2000s, he was a regular speaker at Ron Paul's Liberty Caucus.[11] In a September 2006 conference call, Wilkerson expressed support for Wesley Clark and Anthony Zinni. He also endorsed Jim Webb against incumbent George Allen in the 2006 U.S. Senate election in Virginia.[citation needed]

Treatment of detainees in Iraq[edit]

Wilkerson made comments in a radio interview in November 2005 that the Vice President had decided that the Third Geneva Convention (regarding treatment of POWs) would not apply to "al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda look-alike detainees"[12] and that the February 2002 White House memorandum regarding the "Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees" contained a loophole designed to avoid applying the Geneva convention to the detainees. According to Wilkerson, the phrase "the detainees (should) be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva"[13] was a way to appear to play by the rules while in reality, the "military necessities" would always overrule concerns about the plight of the detainees.[12] Wilkerson said that this was result of Cheney and Rumsfeld working in collaboration to undermine the standard decision-making process of the White House (which included his superior, Colin Powell).

And so what I'm saying is, under the vice-president's protection, the secretary of defense moved out to do what they wanted to do in the first place even though the president had made a decision that was clearly a compromise.

— Lawrence Wilkerson, BBC Radio 4, November 25, 2005

Iraq war intelligence was "a hoax"; the war was for oil and Israel[edit]

At a congressional hearing recorded on C-SPAN in June 2005, he gave his analysis of the Iraq war's motivation: "'I use the acronym OIL,' he said, 'O for oil, I for Israel and L for the logistical base necessary or deemed necessary by the so-called neocons – and it reeks through all their documents – the logistical base whereby the United States and Israel could dominate that area of the world.'" He said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has our president wrapped around his little finger" and that Bush has been "mesmerized" by Sharon.[14]

During an October 19, 2005 speech at the New America Foundation, Wilkerson criticized the intelligence community which compiled the Iraq War intelligence:

I can't tell you why the French, the Germans, the Brits and us thought that most of the material, if not all of it, that we presented at the U.N. on 5 February 2003 was the truth

— Lawrence Wilkerson, New America Foundation, October 19, 2005[15][non-primary source needed]

Wilkerson did a full-length audio commentary for the documentary Why We Fight. This film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.[16][non-primary source needed]

In a 2006 interview, Wilkerson said that the speech Powell made before the United Nations on February 5, 2003—which laid out a case for war with Iraq—included falsehoods of which Powell had never been made aware. He said, "My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council."[17] Wilkerson said in 2011 that his preparing of the presentation was "probably the biggest mistake of my life", he regrets it, and that he regrets not resigning over it.[18]

He stated in the 2006 interview that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor the CIA analysts that gave Powell information on mobile biological laboratories explained that there were disputes about the reliability of the informants who had supplied the information—information which was used in the speech. Wilkerson also agreed with the interviewer that Cheney's frequent trips to the CIA would have brought "undue influence" on the agency. When asked if Cheney was "the kind of guy who could lean on somebody" he responded, "Absolutely. And be just as quiet and taciturn about it as-- he-- as he leaned on 'em. As he leaned on the Congress recently-- in the-- torture issue." Wilkerson stood by his earlier description of Cheney and Rumsfeld as having formed a cabal to hijack the decision-making process: "I'm worried and I would rather have the discussion and debate in the process we've designed than I would a diktat from a dumb strongman... I'd prefer to see the squabble of democracy to the efficiency of dictators."[19]

An Iranian overture, 2003[edit]

Wilkerson said in an interview on the BBC's Newsnight, January 17, 2007, that an Iranian offer to help stabilise Iraq after the American invasion, was positively received at the State Department, yet turned down by Dick Cheney.[20][21] The reported offer consisted of help in stabilizing Iraq, cutting ties with Hezbollah and greater transparency in its nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions and dismantling the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, an organisation working to overthrow the Iranian government.

The Iraq war and the "Jewish lobby"[edit]

In 2006, he told Robert Dreyfuss of American Prospect that he wondered if the "primary allegiance" of Doug Feith and other "neocons" in the Bush Defense Department "was to their own country or to Israel."[22]

In April 2007, Wilkerson was featured in VPRO's Tegenlicht Dutch documentary The Israel Lobby. He said that "the Jewish lobby in America" and "AIPAC in particular" played an outsize influence in the run-up to Iraq war. Wilkerson noted Jewish officials such as Elliott Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle in particular. [8]

Guantanamo continues to hold innocent men[edit]

In March 2009, Wilkerson wrote on The Washington Note blog that he knew from briefings as a Bush administration official that it was soon recognized that some of the captives were innocent.[23][24] Wilkerson said the Bush administration was willing to continue to detain innocent men who might nevertheless be aware of useful information about the Afghanistan "mosaic":

  • It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance.
  • ...sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.

Wilkerson stated in 2009 that Guantanamo Bay detention camp continues to hold innocent men.[23] Wilkerson said that he felt compelled to come forward after hearing former Vice President Dick Cheney state that President Barack Obama's plans to close Guantanamo made the public less safe.[25] Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Guantanamo spokesman, declined to comment on Wilkerson's specific observations. Gordon said that "dealing with foreign fighters from a wide variety of countries in a wartime setting was a complex process."[23]

In The New Republic, Jamie Kirchick criticised the plausibility of Wilkerson's allegations, calling him a "third-rate conspiracy theorist and a borderline bigot".[22]

Chemical weapons in Syria[edit]

In 2013, Wilkerson speculated that Israel had used chemical weapons in Syria.[26] Wilkerson suggested the Ghouta chemical attack was an Israeli false flag operation to discredit Bashar Assad's government in Syria.[27][28]

Iran's democracy[edit]

In a March 20, 2015 CNN interview, Wilkerson said,

I would say very, very candidly that Iran is probably the most democratic country in the Persian gulf region right now. My Republican colleagues will boil their eyes at that, but it is the most democratic country. It's a theocracy, no question about it. But it is possessed of the democratic tendencies that far outweigh those of, say, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia or even Egypt.[29]

Antisemitism controversies[edit]

In 2016, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute criticed Wilkerson for having "descended into a fevered swamp of conspiracy and hate." Rubin cited his Israel false flag theories about chemical weapons, alleged he "has flirted on the margins with 9/11 conspiracy theories", is regularly a guest on antisemitic state broadcasters Russia Today and Press TV, and is close to Lyndon LaRouche associate Robert Dreyfuss.[30]

Trump administration foreign policy[edit]

Wilkerson showed concern over the Trump Administration's foreign policy behavior,[31] particularly on Iran and Trump's work against the Iran nuclear deal.[32]

In September 2018, Wilkerson further said that the neoconservative agenda regarding war on Syria and Iran also threatens conflict between the U.S. and Russia and the long-term bogging down of U.S. military forces in major conflict. Wilkerson stated: "My serious concern is about the way U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and others in their positions of power now are orchestrating a scenario whereby Donald Trump, for political reasons or whatever, can use force in a significant way against Assad and ultimately Iran, because Iran's forces are there, and ultimately against Russia, because their forces are there in Syria, and this is most disquieting." The neoconservatives' military plan, argues Wilkerson, is "a recipe for" the U.S. military being in the region for "the next generation" with significant force "mired even deeper in this morass" and with the "day after day" attrition of dollars and lives.[33][34][non-primary source needed][unreliable source?]

Role of military relative to climate change[edit]

Wilkerson stated in a 2022 Massachusetts Peace Action YouTube video, that climate change and nuclear war overshadow all other concerns.[35] In a May 2022 editorial for the Quincy Institute, he considered the role of the U.S. and other militaries in coping with famines that result from climate change and war.[36]

Personal life[edit]

Wilkerson heads the Colin Powell Leadership Club, a group of MacFarland middle school students in Washington, D.C.[citation needed] His wife, Barbara Ann Wilkerson, passed away last year[when?] at the age of 71.[citation needed]


Wilkerson was the 2009 recipient of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence.[37]


  1. ^ a b "Republican Party must change, warns ex U.S. Army Colonel - CBC Radio". CBC. 28 September 2020. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  2. ^ "Lawrence Wilkerson". Archived from the original on June 21, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Breaking Ranks", Washington Post, 19 January 2006
  4. ^ Deborah Nelson, “THE WAR BEHIND ME: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth About U.S. War Crimes”, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-00527-7, October 28, 2008
  5. ^ a b "To What Extent Are Trump Administration Policies Making the World a More Dangerous Place? An interview with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson". WMNF. 2018-01-25. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  6. ^ "Government Faculty Directory". College of William & Mary. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
  7. ^ "Foundation Voices". Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
  8. ^ a b "New US think tank accused of antisemitism". The Jerusalem Post | 2020-01-29. Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  9. ^ Armin Rosen (28 April 2021). [quincy-trita-parsi-soros-koch-armin-rosen "Washington's Weirdest Think Tank"]. Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 25 November 2022. {{cite web}}: Check |url= value (help)
  10. ^ Knowlton, Brian (21 October 2005). "Former Powell Aide Says Bush Policy is Run by 'Cabal'". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Caldwell, Christopher (22 July 2007). "The Antiwar, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Drug-Enforcement-Administration, Anti-Medicare Candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul". The New York Times.
  12. ^ a b "Transcript of Wilkerson interview". BBC. 25 November 2005. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
  13. ^ The White House (7 February 2002). "Memorandum: "Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees"" (PDF). The White House. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
  14. ^ "User Clip: Ray McGovern O.I.L." Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  15. ^ "Col. Lawrence Wilkerson on the Bush Administration's National Security Decision Making Process". New America Foundation. October 19, 2005. Archived from the original on November 30, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
  16. ^ "Internet Movie Database (IMDb) entry for Why We Fight". Internet Movie Database Inc. January 2005. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
  17. ^ "Interview on the PBS show NOW with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson about pre-war intelligence". Public Affairs Television. February 3, 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
  18. ^ "Ex-Bush Official Col. Lawrence Wilkerson: 'I am Willing to Testify' If Dick Cheney is Put on Trial". Democracy Now!. August 30, 2011. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  19. ^ "Colonel Larry Wilkerson to Receive 2009 Sam Adams Truthtelling Award". HuffPost. 19 October 2009. Retrieved 24 November 2022.
  20. ^ "Washington 'snubbed Iran offer'". BBC News. 18 January 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  21. ^ "Report: Cheney Rejected Iran Concessions". London: Guardian Unlimited. 18 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-20.[dead link]
  22. ^ a b Kirchick, James (15 May 2009). "The Latest Delusions Of Lawrence Wilkerson". The New Republic. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  23. ^ a b c Andrew O. Selsky (2009-03-18). "Ex-Bush admin official: Many at Gitmo are innocent". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-03-18.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ Lawrence Wilkerson (2009-03-16). "Guest Post by Lawrence Wilkerson: Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay". The Washington Note. Archived from the original on 2009-03-20. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
  25. ^ "Most Guantanamo detainees are innocent: ex-Bush official". CBC News. 2009-03-18. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
  26. ^ Nachimson, Sarah (28 February 2016). "Trump Disavows Ex-KKK Head David Duke for 2nd Time". The Forward. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  27. ^ "Former Bush Administration Official: Israel May be Behind Use of Chemical Arms in Syria". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 2022-05-19.
  28. ^ Moynihan, Michael (14 April 2017). "From ISIS to Ebola, What Has Made Naomi Wolf So Paranoid?". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  29. ^ "Lawrence Wilkerson interview transcript". CNN. 2015-03-20. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  30. ^ Rubin, Michael (18 March 2016). "Colin Powell Should Disavow His Hateful Aide". Newsweek. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  31. ^ Rex Tillerson, China, and Tensions Over North Korea on YouTube MSNBC Published on Mar 18, 2017
  32. ^ "Trump Iran war". The NYTimes. February 5, 2018. Retrieved February 5, 2018.
  33. ^ Dick, Adam (2018-09-14). "Lawrence Wilkerson on the Neocons Plan: War in Syria, Then Iran". Blog. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  34. ^ "Lawrence Wilkerson On The Neocons Plan: War In Syria, Then Iran". The Iranian. 2018-09-16. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  35. ^ Lawrence Wilkerson - Ukraine, NATO, and the US: The History and the Problems on YouTube Massachusetts Peace Action, published Mar 13, 2022
  36. ^ Wilkerson, Lawrence (2022-05-17). "US military must renew its mission to meet climate-charged global crisis". Responsible Statecraft. Retrieved 2022-11-22.
  37. ^ Rowley, Coleen (19 October 2009). "Colonel Larry Wilkerson to Receive 2009 Sam Adams Truthtelling Award". Huffington Post.

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