Posts Tagged ‘Vice President Cheney’

The Guantanamo Deception: Wilkerson Discloses Hundreds of Innocents Jailed

April 21, 2010

Bill Quigley, Counterpunch, April 20, 21010

Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, provided shocking new testimony from inside the Bush Administration that hundreds of the men jailed at Guantanamo were innocent, the top people in the Bush Administration knew full well they were innocent, and that information was kept from the public.

Wilkerson said President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld “indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons” and many in the administration knew it.  The wrongfully held prisoners were not released because of political maneuverings aimed in part to cover up the mistakes of the administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who served in the U.S. Army for over thirty years, signed a sworn declaration for an Oregon federal court case stating that he found out in August 2002 that the US knew that many of the prisoners at Guantanamo were not enemy combatants.  Wilkerson also discussed this in a revealing and critical article on Guantanamo for the Washington Note.

How did Colonel Wilkerson first learn about the innocents in Guantanamo?  In August 2002, Wilkerson, who had been working closely with Colin Powell for years, was appointed Chief of Staff to the Secretary of State.  In that position, Wilkerson started attending daily classified briefings involving 50 or more senior State Department officials where Guantanamo was often discussed.

It soon became clear to him and other State Department personnel “that many of the prisoners detained at Guantanamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all.”

How was it possible that hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners were innocent?  Wilkerson said it all started at the beginning, mostly because U.S. forces did not capture most of the people who were sent to Guantanamo.  The people who ended up in Guantanamo, said Wilkerson, were mostly turned over to the US by Afghan warlords and others who received bounties of up to $5000 per head for each person they turned in.  The majority of the 742 detainees “had never seen a U.S. soldier in the process of their initial detention.”

Military officers told Wilkerson that “many detainees were turned over for the wrong reasons, particularly for bounties and other incentives.”  The U.S. knew “that the likelihood was high that some of the Guantanamo detainees had been turned in to U.S. forces in order to settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making money.”

As a consequence, said Wilkerson “there was no real method of knowing why the prisoner had been detained in the first place.”

Wilkerson wrote that the American people have no idea of the “utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the initial stages…Simply stated, no meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials, civilian or military, as to who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.”

Why was there utter incompetence in the battlefield vetting?  “This was a factor of having too few troops in the combat zone, the troops and civilians who were there having too few people trained and skilled in such vetting, and the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others to ‘just get the bastards to the interrogators.’”

As a result, Wilkerson’s statement continues, “there was no meaningful way to determine whether they were terrorists, Taliban, or simply innocent civilians picked up on a very confused battlefield or in the territory of another state such as Pakistan.”

In addition, the statement points out “a separate but related problem was that often absolutely no evidence relating to the detainee was turned over, so there was no real method of knowing why the prisoner had been detained in the first place.”

“The initial group of 742 detainees had not been detained under the processes I was used to as a military officer,” Wilkerson said.  “It was becoming more and more clear that many of the men were innocent, or at a minimum their guilt was impossible to determine let alone prove in any court of law, civilian or military.  If there was any evidence, the chain of protecting it had been completely ignored.”

Several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this early on and knew “of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released,” wrote Wilkerson.

So why did the Bush Administration not release the men from prison once it was discovered that they were not guilty?  Why continue to keep innocent men in prison?

“To have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers,” wrote Wilkerson.

“They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay.  Better to claim everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released,” according to Wilkerson.  “I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.”

The refusal to let the detainees go, even those who were likely innocent, was based on several political factors.  If the US released them to another country and that country found them innocent, it would make the US look bad, said Wilkerson.  “Another concern was that the detention efforts at Guantanamo would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were.  Such results were not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at the Department of Defense.”

At the Department of Defense, Secretary Rumsfeld, “just refused to let detainees go” said Wilkerson.

“Another part of the political dilemma originated in the Office of Vice President Richard B. Cheney,” according to Wilkerson, “whose position could be summed up as ‘the end justifies the means’, and who had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent, or that there was a lack of useable evidence for the great majority of them.  If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”

President Bush was involved in all of the decisions about the men in Guantanamo according to reports from Secretary Powell to Wilkerson.  “My own view,” said Wilkerson “is that it was easy for Vice President Cheney to run circles around President Bush bureaucratically because Cheney had the network within the government to do so.  Moreover, by exploiting what Secretary Powell called the President’s ‘cowboy instincts,’ Vice President Cheney could more often than not gain the President’s acquiescence.”

Despite the widespread knowledge inside the Bush administration that the US continued to indefinitely detain the innocent at Guantanamo, for years the US government continued to publicly say the opposite – that people at Guantanamo were terrorists.

After these disclosures from deep within the Bush Administration, the newest issue now before the people of the U.S. is not just whether the Bush Administration was wrong about Guantanamo but whether it was also consistently deceitful in holding hundreds of innocent men in prison to cover up their own mistakes.

Why is Colonel Wilkerson disclosing this now?  He provided a sworn statement to assist the International Human Rights Clinic at Willamette University College of Law in Oregon and the Federal Public Defender who are suing US officials for the wrongful detention and torture of Adel Hassan Hamad.  Hamad was a humanitarian aid worker from Sudan working in Pakistan when he was kidnapped from his apartment, tortured and shipped to Guantanamo where he was held for five years before being released.

At the end of his nine page sworn statement, Wilkerson explains his personal reasons for disclosing this damning information.  “I have made a personal choice to come forward and discuss the abuses that occurred because knowledge that I served an Administration that tortured and abused those it detained at the facilities at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere and indefinitely detained the innocent for political reasons has marked a low point in my professional career and I wish to make the record clear on what occurred.  I am also extremely concerned that the Armed Forces of the United States, where I spent 31 years of my professional life, were deeply involved in these tragic mistakes.”

Wilkerson concluded his article on Guantanamo by issuing a challenge.  “When – and if – the truths about the detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be revealed in the way they should be, or Congress will step up and shoulder some of the blame, or the new Obama administration will have the courage to follow through substantially on its campaign promises with respect to GITMO, torture and the like, remains indeed to be seen.”

The U.S. rightly criticizes Iran and China for wrongfully imprisoning people.  So what are we as a nation going to do now that an insider from the Bush Administration has courageously revealed the truth and the cover up about U.S. politicians wrongfully imprisoning hundreds and not releasing them even when they knew they were innocent?  Our response will tell much about our national commitment to justice for all.

Bill Quigley is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans. He can be contacted at quigley77@gmail.com

Cheney Is Wrong: There Is Precedent for the Torture Investigation

September 2, 2009
Steve Sheppard
By STEVE SHEPPARD, FindLaw.com
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Vice President Cheney has complained that the Attorney General’s new investigation of alleged torture during the Bush Administration is unprecedented. Cheney says that such an investigation is merely political, criminalizing a disagreement between Presidents over policy. He claims that no administration has investigated its predecessors’ crimes, and that it is wrong for the Obama Administration to break tradition.

Yet, as Cheney well knows, the United States has previously investigated criminal acts by officials, even White House officials. Indeed, such investigations – and the resulting prosecutions – are the duty of the White House.

Cheney’s Complaint and Its Echoes

On August 30, Cheney denounced Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to appoint a prosecutor to investigate allegations that Americans broke the law by torturing detainees. The former Vice President complained of “the terrible precedent it sets” to investigate agents because “when a new administration comes in, it becomes political. … I just think it’s an outrageous precedent to set, to have this kind of, I think, intensely partisan, politicized look back at the prior administration. ”

This charge has legs. Former CIA General Counsel Jeffrey Smith similarly claimed, “Prosecutions would set the dangerous precedent that criminal law can be used to settle policy differences at the expense of career officers.” And Georgetown Law School’s Paul F. Rothstein suggested that “investigating the actions of a past presidential administration sets an uneasy legal precedent.”

Of course, Cheney has other arguments, which we’ve heard before: Arresting agents for breaking the law would be bad for morale, and they’d be less willing to break the law in the future. What was done wasn’t torture, and anyway it worked; and we need to use it a lot more often to stay safe. But the precedent claim is new, and it occupied much of Cheney’s attention on Sunday’s Fox News show.

Cheney argues that this investigation poses a new risk to our government. No U.S. president has overseen the investigation and – as Cheney predicts – the prosecution of the agents or officers of a prior administration. He sees this as a new precedent, and a bad one.

Yet Cheney is wrong. There are precedents. Moreover, there is a reason why there are so few: Most administrations investigate themselves, something the Bush Administration refused to do.

The Teapot Dome Investigation and Prosecutions

Albert Bacon Fall was a powerful Senator when he joined the cabinet of President Warren G. Harding in 1921. Fall became Secretary of the Interior and managed to acquire jurisdiction over the U.S. Navy’s oil reserve, consisting of oil pools in California and in the Teapot Dome formation in Wyoming. Fall gave non-competitive contracts to his friends in major oil companies, allowing them to drill without bidding for the right to do so. Secretary Fall argued that the leases were in the national interest; bids were unneeded owing to the reputation of the firms. Yet he failed to mention the $385,000 given to him by one of his friends at one of those very firms.

Harding died in 1923, and the following year, President Calvin Coolidge acted on a Senate committee recommendation to appoint special counsel to investigate the whole mess. Counsels Altee Pomerene and Owen Roberts were confirmed, after much debate in the Senate over their independence and qualifications. They brought two civil suits and six criminal actions, including three separate criminal cases against Secretary Fall. In the 1925 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in United States v. Albert Fall, Fall’s bribery conviction was upheld. He served nine months in prison.

Perhaps we should excuse Vice President Cheney for not remembering Teapot Dome. Yet it is harder to believe his memory failed him regarding prosecutions of members of an administration he himself investigated, for carrying out Presidential policies that amounted to criminal activities.

The Iran-Contra Investigation and Prosecutions

Elliot Abrams was Assistant Secretary of State from 1985 to 1989. He was the primary official in the State Department overseeing the work of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who supplied arms to Nicaraguan rebels in violation of the law. Abrams worked with Alan Friers at CIA, and sought funds for the Nicaraguan operation from the Sultan of Brunei – an effort about which Abrams misled Congress in 1986.

Both Abrams and Friers were investigated by Lawrence Walsh, as well as by congressional committees, one of which included an outraged Dick Cheney. Following Walsh’s indictments, both Abrams and Friers pled guilty to felonies in 1991. Abrams, however, was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

Though Walsh’s investigation of the Iran-Contra affair began in 1986 at the order of FBI Director William H. Webster, the investigation continued after President Reagan left office in January 1989. The specific determinations to focus the investigation upon and to indict Abrams and Friers were made during the next administration.

When One Administration Won’t Clean House, the Next Must

There are other precedents too, admittedly imperfect ones. For instance, while the timeline is different, and President Nixon’s own Attorney General started the Watergate investigation, there are parallels between aspects of the Watergate cases and Attorney General Holder’s new investigation. It’s important to recall that White House aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman and former Attorney General John Mitchell were pursued after Nixon left the White House, with each being convicted in 1975.

True, these are not many cases. One might wonder why so few administrations have initiated investigations of the wrongs of their predecessors.

The answer is that when other scandals arose, the administrations involved – and the Congress that was then in session – did not wait for the next administration. They investigated allegations and prosecuted their malefactors themselves. From Abraham Lincoln’s dismissal of Simon Cameron, to Ulysses Grant and the Crédit Mobilier scandal of 1872 or the Whiskey Ring of 1875, to the Veterans Bureau scandal of 1923, to the IRS scandal of the 1950s, allegations of wrongdoing were taken seriously by both the Congress and the President serving in the administration that was in office when the allegations were made. In these and many other cases, there was no need for the later administration to investigate, because, as with Watergate, the investigation was either already concluded or in full swing when the next administration took office.

True, not all claims of illegal official conduct are investigated. Yet the serious crimes that become known to the public often are. Only if one administration refuses to start an investigation, must its successor do so. So it is not the Obama administration’s action, but the second Bush administration’s omission, that should be the focus of criticism here.

The President is the Chief Executive, responsible for enforcing all the laws. That the laws were broken on the orders of a predecessor can be no excuse for not investigating their violation, and may be no excuse for not prosecuting if violations are found. The crime of torture, under 18 U.S.C. § 2340, is punishable by twenty years in prison or by execution of the torturer. Notably, the crime of torture can only be committed by a person acting under color of law. So Congress enacted a crime that can be committed only by the very same category of people that the Vice President is aggrieved even to see investigated.

This is not a question of policy. Even if there were no precedents at all, it would make no difference. Crimes are crimes, though they are committed by government agents or the Vice President’s allies. Ask Scooter Libby.

Dick Cheney may be forgiven his sketchy use of history, as long as we don’t accept his peculiar views of the past, or let them color our views of the future. Or of the law. After all, the former Vice President has many reasons not to want this particular investigation. Not the least reason, which he has yet to list, is that there may be more investigations to come.


Steve Sheppard is the Judge Enfield Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law and author of I Do Solemnly Swear: The Moral Obligations of Legal Officials, just released by Cambridge University Press, among other works..


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