Lawrence B. "Larry" Wilkerson (born 15 June 1945) is a retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson has criticized many aspects of the Iraq War, including his own preparation of Powell's presentation to the UN.
- 1 Education and military service
- 2 Post-government statements
- 3 Politics and personal life
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Education and military service
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."
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 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. 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.
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. 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.
Wilkerson was responsible for a review of information from the Central Intelligence Agency that was 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 on 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."
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.
Treatment of detainees in Iraq
Wilkerson made comments in November 2005 to the effect 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" 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" 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. 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"
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
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." 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.
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."
An Iranian overture, 2003
Wilkerson said in an interview on BBC 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. 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. When this offer was made, numerous middle-east experts were warning of the coming shift in power in Iran toward the right-wing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who would assume power shortly thereafter.
We thought it was a very propitious moment... But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the vice president's office, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil' ... reasserted itself.— Lawrence Wilkerson, BBC Newsnight, January 17, 2007
Lack of congressional oversight
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.
Commentary on the documentary Why We Fight
In April 2007, Wilkerson was featured in VPRO's Tegenlicht Dutch documentary The Israel Lobby. He said that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was highly influential in the Bush Administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. He also cited, as to the extent of their influence, an occasion in which he was threatened with censure when he criticized Israel in a lecture he was giving.
Guantanamo continues to hold innocent men
The Associated Press reports that on March 16, 2009, Wilkerson wrote on The Washington Note that he knew from briefings as a Bush administration official that it was soon recognized that some of the captives were innocent. According to the Associated Press summary, 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 that Guantanamo continues to hold innocent men. 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.
Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Guantanamo spokesman, declined to comment on Wilkerson's specific observations. According to an Associated Press paraphrase of Gordon's statement, he said that, "dealing with foreign fighters from a wide variety of countries in a wartime setting was a complex process."
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."
Politics and personal life
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.
Wilkerson was the 2009 recipient of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. Wilkerson is a visiting professor at the College of William & Mary, teaching courses on U.S. national security. He was a Professorial Lecturer in the Honors Program at the George Washington University, teaching a course named "National Security Decision Making." He and his wife Barbara have two children. His son is an Air Force navigator, while his daughter was in the Army but has since returned to civilian life.
- "Breaking Ranks", Washington Post, 19 January 2006
- 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
- "Transcript of Wilkerson interview". BBC. 25 November 2005. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
- The White House (7 February 2002). "Memorandum: "Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees"" (PDF). The White House. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
- "Col. Lawrence Wilkerson on the Bush Administration's National Security Decision Making Process". New America Foundation. October 19, 2005. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
- "Interview on the PBS show NOW with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson about pre-war intelligence". Public Affairs Television. February 3, 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
- "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.
- "Washington 'snubbed Iran offer'". BBC News. 18 January 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
- "Report: Cheney Rejected Iran Concessions". London: Guardian Unlimited. 18 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-20.[dead link]
- "Internet Movie Database (IMDb) entry for Why We Fight". Internet Movie Database Inc. January 2005. Retrieved 2007-08-06.
- Andrew O. Selsky (2009-03-18). "Ex-Bush admin official: Many at Gitmo are innocent". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-03-18. mirror
- Lawrence Wilkerson (2009-03-16). "Guest Post by Lawrence Wilkerson: Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay". The Washington Note. Retrieved 2009-03-18. mirror
- "Most Guantanamo detainees are innocent: ex-Bush official". CBC News. 2009-03-18. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
- "Lawrence Wilkerson interview transcript". CNN. 2015-03-20. Retrieved 2015-03-21.
- "Generals endorse Jim Webb for Senate". Richmond Times-Dispatch. 26 September 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
- Rowley, Coleen (19 October 2009). "Colonel Larry Wilkerson to Receive 2009 Sam Adams Truthtelling Award". Huffington Post.
- "Foundation Voices". Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
- Department of State Biography: Lawrence B. Wilkerson, November 28, 2003.
- Profile at SourceWatch
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- "Colonel Finally Saw Whites of Their Eyes", Dana Milbank, The Washington Post, 20 October 2005
- "War is Not About Truth, Justice and the American Way", interview with The Real News
- Transcript of Wilkerson's speech at the New America Foundation, Washington Note Archives, October 19, 2005.
- Lawrence Wilkerson. "The White House Cabal", Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2005.
- Transcript of Wilkerson interview, BBC Today program, 29 November 2005
- Interview with Lawrence Wilkerson: "A Leaderless, Directionless Superpower", Der Spiegel, December 6, 2005
- "Breaking Ranks", The Washington Post, 19 January 2006
- Transcript of Wilkerson Interview, PBS NOW (series), "Iraq Pre-War Intelligence," February 3, 2006. "... I'd prefer to see the squabble of democracy to the efficiency of dictators."
- "They Have Stolen My Party and I Want it Back", blog piece, The Washington Note, 22 March 2006
- Official website of the "Why We Fight" documentary from 2005. The DVD released on June 27, 2005, includes a commentary by Col. Wilkerson.
- Interview where Colonel Wilkerson gives examples of Cheney and Rumsfeld's influence., National Public Radio, November 3, 2005.
- Top U.S. officials working for Israel, Antiwar.com, 4 July 2010.
- "Wiki Leaks and Internet Democracy", [The Real News Network], 2011
- Sworn Testimony over prisoners held in Guantanamo