May 20, 2009

Lawrence Wilkerson responds to Liz Cheney's personal attack on him for about "making a cottage industry out of fantasies...about the Vice President since he left office". That Vice President being her father.

MADDOW: Joining us now is Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Col. Wilkerson, it is great to have you back on the show. Thanks for joining us.

WILKERSON: Good to be here.

MADDOW: I have to ask your reaction, first of all, to Liz Cheney attacking you in the way that she did yesterday morning on ABC.

WILKERSON: Rachel, I don‘t pay a lot of attention to Liz Cheney. Her bona fides are that she‘s the vice president‘s daughter just as her bona fide is when she was PDASS and DASS in the Secretary of State‘s Office for Middle Eastern Affairs, or that she was the daughter of the Vice President, meaning that for Dick Cheney, nepotism was alive and well in his government.

MADDOW: Well, you - as you‘ve gotten this pushback from Liz Cheney and from others, let‘s get specific about your accusation and the way that it‘s being taken apart. You wrote, quote, the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002.”

“Its principle priority,” you said, “for intelligence was not aimed at the preempting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda.”

So you‘re saying the number one priority of those interrogations of the intelligence direction of those investigations was to get an Iraq and al-Qaeda link?

WILKERSON: I‘m saying that by that time, we had done some things that had severely limited al-Qaeda‘s operational reach. Not the least of which was to tear them a new rear end in Afghanistan. But we‘d done some other very sophisticated things, too, that had put al-Qaeda very much on the defensive.

At that point, even though the chatter might have gone up at times, I think those of us who were really in the business of looking at this knew that the possibility of another attack had receded somewhat.

So at that point, as we were building up a march to war with Iraq, it‘s come to my attention in a number of ways, independently corroborating one another, that our priorities at least were equal if not exceeding the priority to thwart another attack to find out intelligence that would link al-Qaeda with Baghdad with the Mukhabarat and give the administration a lot more weight in its marketing of the war with Iraq when that marketing commenced.

MADDOW: You also said - and I‘ll ask you about this other specific language that you use. You said, “So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney‘s office that their detainee was compliant (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP‘s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qaeda-Baghdad contacts yet.”

Then you say, “This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Are you saying it was Cheney ordering under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts.” Are you saying that it was Cheney‘s office ordering the waterboarding in Egypt of al-Libi or are you talking about someone else?

WILKERSON: No, I‘m talking about another individual. And it‘s the pushback against me from even my own interlocutors in the last 24 to 48 hours has been - well, Tenet gave those instructions, not the vice president.

And my reaction has been, any time George Tenet gave instructions like that, he had cover from the vice president. Otherwise, George Tenet would never give instructions like that.

This was a very close group of people who were performing this. The only one I don‘t know whether it included or not was the president of the United States. There‘s still grave doubt in my mind that the president was very intimately involved in the details of this process. I think it was almost exclusively the vice president.

And the vice president kept this information very close for obvious reasons. He didn‘t want it to leak, and it was a very secret operation. And the vice president didn‘t want anyone to know about it other than those with a need to know, meaning those who were actually executing it or carrying out his instructions to execute it, in this case, DCI George Tenet.

So my assumption that it came from the Vice President‘s Office, I think, is based on pretty firm ground.

MADDOW: And when you talk about your investigations into these matters and the independent corroborating information you‘ve been able to put together, were these things that you knew about contemporaneously or are other people telling you this now in retrospect, knowing that you‘re speaking out essentially in an effort to try to get this information out there into the public sphere?

WILKERSON: That‘s certainly part of it. But in 2004, April, when photographs from Abu Ghraib were eminent, Sec. Powell came to my office and walked through the door and he said, “I need you and Will Taft,” his legal visor, “to get to the bottom of this. How did we get to Abu Ghraib? How did we - give me a chronology. Give me the reasons how we got there.”

And I began at that point an investigation, and I kept up with that investigation, classified documents, unclassified documents and so forth, throughout the rest of the year until the election. And until January, we left the State Department.

And then after that, I still had a grave interest in it, even though I did not have the classified documents anymore. Lots of people made those documents available to me as soon as they became unclassified. And I began to put together my own audit trail as it were as to how all of this happened.

And I created a lot of contacts in doing that in the agency, in the military, in the diplomatic service and so forth. And a lot of people have talked to me over that time and I have been very careful to corroborate what I‘m saying with multiple sources, just as I was told to do by George Tenet out at the CIA as we prepared Powell for the 5 February presentation at the U.N.

And I‘ve been very careful about how I put these sources together. And I have not spoken out until I had a very firm idea in my mind of what was happening and when. I am a little confused about al-Libi, I‘ll admit that, because we didn‘t learn about him until we were out to CIA getting ready to go to New York and present Powell‘s presentation.

I‘m told now that he was tortured as early as February 2002 which was a year before that. So I‘ve still got to put that piece together.

MADDOW: Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff of Sec. of State Colin Powell, independent torture investigator on behalf of the nation, thank you for your time tonight, sir. It‘s always good to have you on the show.

WILKERSON: Thank you, Rachel.

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