An Interview With Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Part Two)


Col. Lawrence WilkersonCol. Lawrence Wilkerson served in the US military for 31 years and was Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from August 2002 until January 2005, two months after Powell’s resignation, when he left the State Department. He is now the chairman of the New America Foundation’s US-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative.

In the first part of this interview, Col. Wilkerson discussed fears within the State Department that war crimes were taking place in Afghanistan, how he suspected that the British Overseas Territory of Diego Garcia (leased to the US) was used to hold prisoners in the “War on Terror,” and, perhaps most significantly, how he had recently become convinced that the administration’s fear of another terrorist attack (which was, essentially, used to justify the implementation of “extraordinary rendition” and torture) subsided more rapidly than has been previously acknowledged, as the drive for war in Iraq took over.

The second part of the interview begins with further discussion of the significance of Col. Wilkerson’s statement that no more than a couple of dozen of the prisoners at Guantánamo had any serious intelligence value, and also includes reflections on how former Vice President Dick Cheney is “crazy,” how the Democrats have no spine and the mainstream media has no principles, and how the US had no Arabic experts at the time of the 9/11 attacks except a handful in the FBI who were promptly sidelined.

Col. Wilkerson also spoke about how the investigation into the CIA’s destruction of 92 videotapes recording the interrogations of “high-value detainees”, which is being conducted by federal prosecutor John Durham (who was recently appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the abuse of prisoners held by the CIA) could be explosive, described the crucial role played by Cheney’s closest advisors, his legal counsel David Addington and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby (who resigned as Chief of Staff in October 2005 after being indicted in the Valerie Plame scandal, was convicted but had his sentence dismissed by President Bush in July 2007), and concluded by admitting that, until January 2004, he had no idea of the extent to which the State Department had been excluded from the machinations of Cheney’s “war cabinet.”

Andy Worthington: I’ve watched these figures over the years — suggesting that only somewhere between two dozen and 40 of the prisoners had any connection with terrorism — so it was great for me when you raised that issue in March, in your article for The Washington Note, and I wondered what you thought about what’s happening with the Obama administration. They seem to be listening to a certain amount of scaremongering — as when Robert Gates suddenly popped up in April and started talking about legislating for a new preventive detention policy for 50 to 100 of the prisoners. Now to me, even the notion of introducing preventive detention legally, if you like — the Bush administration having done it illegally, as I regard it — is a terrifying prospect, having to think that they should even be contemplating doing that, but it also suggests that they’re reading too much into the significance of the prisoners, and I wondered what your thoughts were on that.

Lawrence Wilkerson: Well, to keep it brief, I think the problem is that this is a national security issue, and there are so many more challenging issues — as one official put it to me the other day — on which the President has already shown some ankle, whether it’s about talking to Iran or whether it’s his rather pronounced silence vis-à-vis North Korea, or whether it’s something as minuscule as lifting some travel restrictions on Cuban Americans for Cuba. They don’t believe they can show another square centimeter of ankle on national security, because the Republicans will eat their lunch, and every time I’m told this I die laughing. I say, your guys are captured by the Sith Lord, Dick Cheney, you’re captured by Rush Limbaugh, whose real radio audience is about 2.2 million, and whose employer, Clear Channel, lost $3.7 billion in the second quarter of this year. I said, when are you gonna wake up? These are kooks. And Cheney is the kook leader. But [Nancy] Pelosi and [Harry] Reid are such feckless leaders they haven’t got any spine. We have no leadership in the legislative branch on either side of the aisle.

Andy Worthington: I agree with you absolutely there …

Lawrence Wilkerson: I become exasperated. There’s just no courage, there’s no moral courage whatsoever in the Democratic Party.

Andy Worthington: Unfortunately, when it comes to getting rid of Guantánamo after all these long years, somebody’s going to have to come up with some courage at some point, because this question of the prisoners’ significance is the crucial issue to me. The hardest thing should be coming up with countries to take some of the men, not still sitting around discussing whether it’s still worth holding them. We should be focusing on the — whatever it is, two dozen, three dozen, four dozen at most — and doing everything in our power to get the rest of those guys out of there, to close the place down.

Lawrence Wilkerson: I agree, and from what my diplomatic colleagues tell me now, it’s difficult to get countries to accept them because we’ve taken such a hard stance with the Congress not approving the money and not wanting anyone even imprisoned in our maximum-security prisons in this country, which is preposterous.

Andy Worthington: Yes, exactly. I mean, how safe do you think your prisons have to be?

Lawrence Wilkerson: Another part of this that I discovered — it shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did surprise me — was that when 9/11 went down there was no interrogation capability in the United States, other than in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There was none. Everything the military had was geared still to the Cold War, everything the CIA had had been dismantled, and the FBI had maybe — the best figures I’ve been able to get my hands on of people who were fluent in Arabic or Farsi or maybe both, and they also were culturally sensitive, knew something about the region from which the detainee might come, knew something about his tribal affiliations and so forth — there were maybe two dozen. Here we have this attack, and then we captured people, and we had no interrogation capability other than a small contingent in the Bureau.

Andy Worthington: And they were sidelined …

Lawrence Wilkerson: Yes, after they proved their worth, they were sidelined.

Andy Worthington: To me that’s still the biggest shock about the whole story, and it’s the clearest example of why disregarding that experience in the FBI was such a disaster.

Lawrence Wilkerson: But it was something this administration almost made a cult of doing — not just on interrogation, but on almost everything, whether it was Iraq, whether it was the Middle East in general, whether it was North Korea. The attitude was: Don’t talk to me from a position of expertise, talk to me from a position of fixed religious adamancy, you know.

Andy Worthington: Exactly. And again, that was the story that impressed me in Jane Mayer’s book, The Dark Side, when, after understanding that there were so many “Mickey Mouse prisoners,” as General Dunlavey called them, John Bellinger, who, at the time, was the National Security Council’s Legal Advisor, went to try and have a meeting with Alberto Gonzales, when he was still Bush’s Counsel, and found David Addington there, and Addington said, we’re not bothered about what you’ve got to say about innocence and guilt. The President has said they’re all guilty on capture, that’s the end of the story, nobody’s reviewing it. You know, it’s an example of justifying actions on the basis of executive power, and as you said as well, if you’re going to get into the details of why on earth are you doing it, it’s because they thought they could very slowly build this “mosaic” of intelligence that would take forever, of every terrorist movement, every insurgent movement ever, and who knows how many people that would involve? I think the number of people in US custody throughout the Bush years is over 80,000, isn’t it?

Lawrence Wilkerson: The figures I came across for Iraq, Afghanistan, secret prisons, Guantánamo, people who were being held in prisons in other countries on our behalf — the highest figure I ever came to was about 65,000, but it could have well been more than that.

Andy Worthington: And I get the feeling that they would just have gone on forever if they could …

Lawrence Wilkerson: Well, I mean, that was it, it’s a hard slog, it’s war, and therefore, if we say it’s never over then they’re always detained. I remember [Colin] Powell and Taft — Taft was his legal advisor, Will Taft — asking a question, something to the effect of, “What’s final disposition?” and [Donald] Rumsfeld’s response was something like, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Andy Worthington: That’s another thing, really, is that at no point did they ever seem to have any concept of how something might end. They started things and had no idea what their ultimate plan was. What, you really intend to hold people forever without charging them with anything? You really want to kidnap people on an industrial scale and have secret prisons and — you don’t know what you’re going to do at the end of this, do you? Everything was started with no thought for how it might possibly be concluded.

Dick CheneyLawrence Wilkerson: I think the principal figure in this — Vice President Cheney — would say, in response to what you’ve just said, “So what?” I mean, I really do. I wouldn’t have said that a couple of years ago, but now I’ve come to the conclusion that the man truly is — whether he was that way when I knew him before, when he was Secretary of Defense, I don’t know, that’s not at issue with me any more — the man now is just crazy.

Andy Worthington: Yes, well, I’m glad you said that. In March you called him evil. Crazy is — you know, he just seems to be a deranged man, I’m surprised he’s been getting so much air time.

Lawrence Wilkerson: It’s our media. Our media loves to keep it going. They love to throw him out there and, you know, stoke the fires. I asked a couple of people fairly high up in our media world, “Why in the world do you continue to give him and Limbaugh an audience? Why? Why do you even put them on the same plane as the President of the United States? Why do you have these dueling speeches? You guys made them dueling speeches, not the two principals.” Well, you know, they’re running out of business. People are canceling their newspaper subscriptions every day. They want news.

Andy Worthington: And they’re more interested in hearing this than they are in hearing that this madman was the driver of manufacturing false intelligence through torture to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Lawrence Wilkerson: Well, they helped in that.

Andy Worthington: Of course, that’s why they don’t want to talk about it.

Lawrence Wilkerson: With the exception of Knight Ridder, now McClatchy, they just about all helped.

Andy Worthington: Yes, it’s true, but I’m still shocked at how that’s underreported in the Cheney story, because he’s just been allowed too much time to carry on trying to sell his own version of it: that torture saved us from some attack that we’re not allowed to find out about, that nobody can seem to find any evidence for, but maybe the more it goes on — I mean, he really does seem like a crazy man. He had the chance to relax and he doesn’t know how to do it.

Lawrence Wilkerson: Yep. He even got his family out there.

Andy Worthington: Well, how else would you deal with him, I suppose, if you were related to him?

Lawrence Wilkerson: I do think there’s some fear in it too. I think there’s some folks realizing that there may be, at a minimum, some problems with traveling, and at a maximum, there may even be — I just don’t think there’s a political will in this country to do anything truly dramatic to bring some accountability to this, but I do think that these people, much the way that military people do still, count their reputation and their legacy and how the history books are going to look at them as something significant, and as they grow older it grows in importance, so that, you know, they don’t want to be tarnished, and I think Cheney’s seriously concerned about where he’s going to go in the history books.

Andy Worthington: Well, I understand that. I think it ought to be more serious than that, but I’ve felt all along that, although prosecutions ought to happen because, you know, torture statutes have been broken, but apparently nobody is going to be held ultimately responsible, that’s really not an acceptable position. The position taken by Obama, it seems, is to say, well, OK, we’re going to clean up our act but we’re not going to hold these people to account, but whichever way you look at it, it certainly doesn’t leave Cheney in the clear …

Lawrence Wilkerson: No. My wife thinks that ultimately there’s going to be something. I’m a little more cynical than she, but she’s convinced that this investigation that’s been going on [by John Durham] — very low-key, the guy’s very persistent, he’s very determined, he reminds me of [Patrick] Fitzgerald on the Valerie Plame case, and his starting point is the destruction of the videotapes, and I’m told he’s got a plan, and he’s following that plan, and I’m told that plan is bigger than I think.

Andy Worthington: Well, I’m quite encouraged by that, because I’ve not heard too much about that investigation. I’ve heard more about the long-awaited Justice Department investigation into the lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel who wrote the torture memos, and from what I’ve heard about that investigation, it seemed to involve establishing concrete, irrefutable connections between Dick Cheney’s office and the Office of Legal Counsel, because the torture memos have come out, and somehow still it’s as if the lawyers did it themselves …

Lawrence Wilkerson: Yep.

Andy Worthington: And what’s needed is: no, the lawyers were told what to do, they agreed that they would not think independently, and they would make the advice what was required, and if a chain leads infallibly up to that particular office, then how can they wriggle out of it? I understand that Dick Cheney was, I think, driven mad after 9/11 by his fear and his paranoia, and a lot of his unsavory impulses took over what may have been left of his humanity, and he became consumed by it, and I don’t think anybody doubts that in some ways they were motivated by the fear of another attack, but when you break the law, which is what they did, is it enough to be able to leave office and your crimes go with you? Is that enough?

Lawrence Wilkerson: Well, you know, I’ve read some of the language in the International Convention Against Torture, and in the document that President Clinton had to submit finally to the Senate, and I’ve read the Senate’s qualification of that document too, but, you know, this is in order to become a signatory to the treaty, to promise to the treaty holder that you will do as necessary, to make your domestic law conform to the law encased in the treaty, and it’s pretty clear that there is no national emergency “out,” there’s no exit.

Andy Worthington: No, there isn’t. It’s Article 2.2 of the Convention, which says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Lawrence Wilkerson: And that’s not something we qualified, that’s not something where we said, “Oh, that’s a little part of it we don’t agree with, but we’ll still be a signatory.”

Andy Worthington: And that, of course, explains why it was crucial in the OLC memos to redefine torture so that torture wasn’t happening.

Lawrence Wilkerson: Right.

Andy Worthington: I mean, why would you do that unless you know that it was illegal?

David AddingtonLawrence Wilkerson: Yes, and to me that’s why so many people kept saying, “We don’t torture.” They had to get that on the record that this is what they believed, because that was the legal opinion that they had. Now the man who, to me, brings all of this together more than Cheney himself, because he has one foot in the legal camp — and I must admit it’s a fairly brilliant foot — and he has one foot in the operator camp, that’s David Addington. That is to say, Addington was very influential, maybe to the point of maximally influential with that idiot Gonzales, and everything that flowed from Gonzales, both when he was Bush’s Counsel and when he was Attorney General, and was also influential through his connection with Libby, and Libby’s ability to coordinate the interagency group that essentially worked for the Vice President — not for the President but for the Vice President. Addington was both the Zawahiri and the bin Laden.

Andy Worthington: What a fabulous analogy that is.

Lawrence Wilkerson: David’s a strange person. When he was working for Cheney, when Cheney was Secretary of Defense, we in the uniformed military used to refer to him as “Weird David.”

Andy Worthington: Yes, well he was just in the right place to push everything where it shouldn’t have gone after 9/11,wasn’t he?

Lawrence Wilkerson: He was perfectly placed. He and Libby both. They were perfectly placed.

Andy Worthington: But it is extraordinary the lack of public accountability and the absolute significance of Addington’s role in all those years. I mean, I can’t think of another period in American history when somebody who was working for the Vice President so often actually seemed to be running the show.

Lawrence Wilkerson: It is extraordinary with regard to the Office of the Vice President. I mean, it’s hard to go back and find anybody ever in that position who gathered to himself as much power as Dick Cheney did.

Andy Worthington: Sure.

Lawrence Wilkerson: I mean, I can find places where Alexander Hamilton as aide-de-camp to George Washington was as influential as George Washington was during a specific instance at a specific time or a specific date, but it wasn’t something that pertained throughout Washington’s command of the continental armies or his Presidency.

Andy Worthington: And I think earlier, when you were saying about Colin Powell telling the President in January 2005 —

Lawrence Wilkerson: January 13, 2005.

Andy Worthington: — that he had no idea of the scale of what was going on, that was an insight for me into how the President really didn’t know who was actually running the show.

Lawrence Wilkerson: The sad thing is that, until early January 2004, I’m not sure we did either. I understood that there was a team, I understood it was highly placed and probably under the Vice President, I understood that it was membered in almost every aspect of the interagency group that dealt with national security, I understood they had a strategy, I understood they were ruthless in carrying out that strategy, and I understood that I was a day late and a dollar short, because they’d beaten me to the marketplace. But it took me a while to figure that out. I even figured out that they were reading my emails, but I wasn’t reading theirs.

Andy Worthington: Well, I’m sure, but I suppose why wouldn’t it when they were so obsessively secretive? And on that note, I guess I’ll let you get on. It’s been a real pleasure meeting you here on the phone and talking to you, and I’m sure those who read this interview will be grateful that you took the time to do so.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation. Cross-posted on Foreign Policy Journal. Both parts of the interview were cross-posted as a single article on The Public Record. The interview was also picked up on by Scott Horton at Harper’s, by The Raw Story, and by Chattahbox, and for a couple of interesting follow-up articles on Firedoglake, see the following on Empty Wheel and The Seminal.

13 Responses

  1. An Interview With Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Part Two) by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] by Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad 9 Sept. 2009 […]

  2. Will Shirley says...

    Assuming we ever get a President willing to face up to the neo-fascists and defend the Constitution, there is more than enough hard evidence and testimony to prosecute them all for war crimes. The sad thing is that Obama seems to be effectively “in on it” due to the fact that he refuses to push for prosecution. He might very well end up on the dock with Bush if he doesn’t do something to show respect for the rule of law. My opinion of the man begins to harden up. I think he’s a house nigger, if you understand the term. Colin Powell was called this when he was going the the UN and lying for “de massah”. It does no one any good for criminals to be left to their own destiny, going on talk shows lying about their past actions, writing “tell-all” books that don’t tell anything. What WILL allow America to come back into the family of civilized nations is rounding up the war criminals and sending them to prison. NO paroles for any of them. We should treat them like the baby murderers they are.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Will,
    Thanks for the comments, as unflinching as ever. I’m waiting to see just now. Technically, the responsibility for prosecutions rests with Eric Holder, so it now remains to be seen if John Durham’s pursuit of “rogue” interrogators leads, as I anticipate, to finger-pointing up the chain of command, as agents refuse to take a fall for exceeding orders that should never have been implemented in the first place. Along with Durham’s investigation of the destruction of the CIA videotapes (and Col. Wilkerson’s appraisal of it), it could be that this is the route that will lead all the way to the top.

  4. Sue Keller says...

    Two things, first, why is it no one insists on having Cheney’s, Feb ’01 secret meeting with oil executives, declassified and published? This is another major part of the puzzle.
    second, I believe that if the day comes that Bush, Cheney and the rest are ever tried, they should be tried on national television just like they did Sadaam!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Sue,
    Good to hear from you. I hadn’t thought about Cheney’s secret meeting with 63 hand-picked executives from the energy industry for a while, so thanks for mentioning it. It joins a long list of examples of the former Vice President’s disdain for anything resembling accountability …
    More on Cheney’s disturbing pre-9/11 history here:

  6. Dave "knowbuddhau" Parker says...

    Hi Andy,
    Thanks for the link, I’ve just read the Cheney article. I have an unusual hypothesis, an educated guess at the master strategies of both Cheney and his partner in crime, Karl Rove: it’s the mythology. The ol’ regime change by fake election ploy has deep historical roots.

    Did you know that Joseph Campbell lectured for decades, on the power of myth to shape the world in which we enact the theater of life, at State’s Foreign Service Institute, beginning in 1956?

    Would the embrace of Campbell’s comparative mythology by Rightists as the method for regime change explain the rise of the notorious “crazies?” Is that what Col. Wilkerson is referring to in this paragraph:

    Lawrence Wilkerson: But it was something this administration almost made a cult of doing — not just on interrogation, but on almost everything, whether it was Iraq, whether it was the Middle East in general, whether it was North Korea. The attitude was: Don’t talk to me from a position of expertise, talk to me from a position of fixed religious adamancy, you know.

    I think the following Campbell excerpt speaks directly to the method by which whole nations are being jacked to hell and back, stuck with the bill both ways:

    JOSEPH CAMPBELL: And so we are now to recognize in the history of our subject a secondary stage of mythic seizure: not mythic identification, ego absorbed and lost in God, but its opposite, mythic inflation, the god absorbed and lost in ego. The first, I would suggest, characterized the actual holiness of the sacrificed kings of the early hieratic city states, and the second, the mock holiness of the worshiped kings of the subsequent dynastic states. For these supposed that it was in their temporal character that they were god. That is to say, they were mad men.

    Moreover, they were supported in this belief, taught, flattered, and encouraged, by their clergy, parents, wives, advisers, folk, and all, who also thought that they were god. That is to say, the whole society was mad.

    Yet out of that madness sprang the great thing that we call Egyptian civilization. Its counterpart in Mesopotamia produced the dynastic states of that area; and we have adequate evidence, besides, of its force in India, the Far East, and Europe as well. In other words, a large part of the subject-matter of our science must be read as evidence of a psychological crisis of inflation. . . .

    The pharaohs in their cult were no longer simply imitating the holy past, “so that the scripture might be fulfilled.” They and their priests were creating something of and for themselves. We are in the presence here of a line of grandiose, highly self-interested, prodigiously inflated egos.

    On the Narmer palette [above], which was worked on two sides, two crowns appeared, one on each face; and they represented the two Egypts, which again were represented by the interlaced necks of two symbolic beasts. On one side of the palette the pharaonic principle was represented in the bird form of the falcon Horus, on the other as a mighty bull. . . .

    Moreover, the ceremonial name of the Will, the final symbolic warrant of pharaonic rule, is the “Secret of the Two Partners.” What are we to think of that?

    The answer appears beneath the sands of Abydos, in the tombs of the pharaohs of Dynasty II, which are enormous and exhibit every evidence of a lavish display of suttee. . . . [T]he two antagonists, Horus the hero and Seth the villain of the piece, stand side by side, together and co-equal (Figure 12), while the monarch himself is termed “the appearing of the dual power in which the two gods are at peace.” 88

    The name of the Will, then, “the Secret of the Two Partners,” was a reference to the hidden understanding of the two gods, who, though they appear to be implacable enemies, are of one mind behind the scenes. . . .

    Mythologically representing the inevitable dialectic of temporality, where all things appear in pairs, Horus and Seth are forever in conflict; whereas in the sphere of eternity, beyond the veil of time and space, where there is no duality, they are at one; death and life are at one; all is peace. And there it is known, also, that that same transcendent peace abides even in the cruelties of war. So


    that in the Narmer palette, where the pharaoh, with the lifted arm of Horus, slays the chieftain of the harpoon folk, together with six thousand enemies, who are here in the role of Seth, the scene is one of peace. And of this peace, which is the inhabiting reality of all things, all history and sorrow, the living god Pharaoh is the

    Figure 12. The Dual Power: Egypt, c. 2650 B.C.

    pivot. He is an epitome of the field—the universe itself—in which the pairs-of-opposites play. Hence, to follow him in death is to remain in life, there being in fact no death in the royal pasture beyond time, where the two gods are at one and the shepherd crook gives assurance.

    (Campbell, 1962). The masks of god: oriental mythology, pp. 77-84. NY, NY: Penguin.

    I agree with the colonel: Cheney is power mad.

    I often read about the influence of the Republican Party at the highest levels of the CIA and intel community, esp. with regard to our “project of direct ideological transfer” described by Naomi Klein. Campbell himself showed nothing but disdain for the Democratic Party. Recall Nixon’s treasonous back-channel negotiations with Vietnam. And of course Reagan’s deal with the Iranians. And Rove’s masterful theft of national elections.

    JOSEPH CAMPBELL: I’ve been um connected, in one way or another, in a kind of, you know, talking way, with the State Department for a few years now, and the uh people down there tell me that one of their great problems is, not to do the things that the ambassador, and president and Cabinet, tell them to do.

    I can tell you, my dear friends [he chuckles], the State Department is a department of very learn-ed gentlemen, they *know* what to do. But they’re only agents. The directions come from these people who you know poured money into the Democratic Party for the election, and so become ambassador to this, ambassador to that, and they’re telling these people what to do, and I’ve heard it from many of them: “Our main problem is to achieve the work as slowly as possible in order to bring about as little damage as possible.”

    These are the authorities, the old people. We haven’t learned how to handle them, but in the old traditional societies, they had learned, and the reason they’d learned was that nothing much changed anyhow, things were in the times of the old people about as they had been in the times when they were young. That’s not true anymore.
    Joseph Campbell Audio Collection Volume 4 Man and Myth Disc 4 The Necessity of Rites

    Dick Cheney had just suffered the Ford defeat when Campbell said that.

    So here’s my unusual hypothesis: I seriously think someone took Campbell’s powerful lessons to heart, and has been using the power of myth to power weapons-grade domestic propaganda, and that’s how we find ourselves in this god-forsaken Waste Land. It’s the curse of usurpers, the lesson of the Grail legends: people who steal the insignia of office make the Truth into public enemy #1, and so can’t discern our true way forward to our true destiny.

    Would that help explain Cheney’s insane secrecy? How long has that poor bastard been living within cover stories within cover stories within cover stories? Does he have any idea at all what the real world is like these days?

    So, this plan was cooked up—it was between the head of USAID’s Chile office and the head of the University of Chicago’s Economics Department—to try to change the debate in Latin America, starting in Chile, because that’s where developmentalism had gained its deepest roots. And the idea was to bring a group of Chilean students to the University of Chicago to study under a group of economists who were considered so extreme that they were on the margins of the discussion in the United States, which, of course, at the time, in the 1950s, was fully in the grips of Keynesianism. But the idea was that there would be—this would be a battle to the—a counterbalance to the emergence of left-wing ideas in Latin America, that they would go home and counterbalance the pink economists.

    And so, the Chicago Boys were born. And it was considered a success, and the Ford Foundation got in on the funding. And hundreds and hundreds of Latin American students, on full scholarships, came to the University of Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s to study here to try to engage in what Juan Gabriel Valdes, Chile’s foreign minister after the dictatorship finally ended, described as a project of deliberate ideological transfer, taking these extreme-right ideas, that were seen as marginal even in the United States, and transplanting them to Latin America. That was his phrase—that is his phrase.

    But today, we see that these ideas are reemerging in Latin America. They were suppressed with force, overthrown with military coups, and then Chile and Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil all became, to varying degrees, laboratories for the ideas that were taught in the classrooms of the University of Chicago.

    As a poet, I’ve been calling this ideological transference method *myth-jacking.*

    Did you know that Rove calls himself by the names of three different mythical monsters?

    He calls *himself* “Grendel,” “Moby Dick,” and “Lord Voldemort.” He is the man ever behind the scenes, manipulating and driving the events on the surface without being seen. His hand is behind the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys and his manipulations were a conscious effort to put federal prosecutors to work for partisan political purposes. . . . [Emphasis original.] Rove’s Monday Whoppers

    In the Secret of the Two Partners, I hear a perfect method for stealing elections. Has this been the strategy of Cheney and Rove? Are they the evil wonder twins: Cheney on the military side, Rove on the civil?

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Dave,
    What a fascinating comment! Thanks for that, and for reminding me of Joseph Campbell, who I haven’t really considered since my undergraduate days. It’s an excellent hypothesis, and I suspect that the creation of a mythology was indeed part of the project, but I still stand by my more mundane explanation of what motivated most of what I write about:

    Cheney, Addington, Yoo et al. had been committed for years to breaking the balance of powers in the United States, to subvert the will of the Founding Fathers by ensuring that the President could act without any constraints from either politicians or the judiciary.

    9/11 presented them with this opportunity, and it was combined with their new-found, paranoia-spurred obsession with inflicting violence on anyone who, in their opinion, might have any sort of involvement with 9/11, al-Qaeda, or any other international terrorist movement (including, of course, the spurious connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that were required to justify their long-cherished dream of invading Iraq), because they believed, in spite of the evidence provided by the FBI’s working methods, that these men could only be compelled to yield their secrets through brutality or torture.

    And so an unanswerable Executive kidnapped, tortured and/or illegally imprisoned tens of thousands of men, and those responsible convinced themselves that, once the legal opinions were in place, they were entirely justified because, no matter what proof to the contrary was supplied, the prisoners were either all devious terrorists trained to lie by al-Qaeda, or (a la The One Percent Doctrine) had to have their rights sacrificed in pursuit of the one percent who would supply the pieces of the “mosaic” that would enable them to crush the terrorists who opposed them.

    Its slightly less grand, I admit, and I may indeed have overlooked an overarching mythological template, but it contains all the elements of colossal incompetence, cruelty, paranoia, an obsession with dictatorship and senseless military ambition that I’ve come to recognize over the last three and a half years of immersing myself in this whole disreputable story.

  8. Dave "knowbuddhau" Parker says...

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m working to fill out the background, sort of obsessed with figuring out, what are these guys thinking? Where are they coming from? Even I don’t expect to find Karl Rove’s master plan, torn out of a worn copy of Campbell, but I do expect there’s some kind of path, from Campbell’s lectures at State’s Foreign Service Institute to our foreign misadventures through the offices of Cheney and Rove all the way up to the myth-jacking of the health care reform debate. By the length of what I thought would be a quick comment, looks like I’m writing a book on it.

    The myths are the story as the propagandists want it to be told and believed; the news is what actually happens when the latest generation of greedheads fail to learn the lessons of the myths they would weaponize.

    I will be very surprised in Karl Rove has no familiarity with Campbell that can be documented. He’s a master myth-maker, now caught in his own webs.

    But that’s not why I dropped by. I happened upon a clip from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that features the sidelining of the only Arabic translators we had.

    November 18, 2002

    Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate

    Firing gay linguists from the Army is something that Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush can agree on.–don-t-translate

    Earlier, I found one mentioning the arrest of José Padilla, complete with ‘dirty bomb’ reference. Is it the same plot fabricated by Zubaydah under waterboarding?

    I read about it at TPR

    Note the date: June 11, 2002.

    Headlines – Dirty Something
    The U.S. government announces a month-old arrest of an American citizen who was working with Al Qaeda to set off a dirty bomb on U.S. soil.—dirty-something

    Jose Padilla

    Padilla was arrested in Chicago on May 8, 2002, and was detained as a material witness until June 9, 2002, when President George W. Bush designated him an illegal enemy combatant and transferred him to a military prison, arguing that he was thereby not entitled to trial in civilian courts. Padilla was held for three-and-a-half years as an “enemy combatant” after his arrest in 2002 on suspicion of plotting a radioactive “dirty bomb” attack. That charge was dropped and his case was moved to a civilian court after pressure from civil liberties groups.

    On January 3, 2006, he was transferred to a Miami, Florida, jail to face criminal conspiracy charges. On August 16, 2007, José Padilla was found guilty, by a federal jury, of charges against him that he conspired to kill people in an overseas jihad and to fund and support overseas terrorism. He was widely described in media as a suspect of planning to build and explode a “dirty bomb” in the United States, but he was not convicted on this charge.

    If someone wasn’t reading straight outta Campbell, they sure had done their homework. The whole regime, of manufacturing evidence to order by torture, to prop up a usurper, sure recapitulates ancient history, if not flat out imitating it verbatim.

    Another important background element, is the overwhelming mechanization of the Western mind. If the cosmos is a construct of a cosmic tyrant, then it’s his property, and he can kinetic it around however he likes, including forcing or beating his subjects into order. That’s the archetype for the scarecrow with which one can herd Americans like cattle (I have a license to mix metaphors).

    I posted a lot of excerpts from my favorite expat British philospher: Alan Watts, concerning this topic: the Western model of the cosmos is political. But we’re learning that reductionism has failed for biological systems. So we need an organic political philosophy, or we’ll keep recapping the same horror stories generated under runaway mechanism.

    If we want to keep pretending that we are mechanisms, then we have to accept being machined into order by “kinetic activity,” as the colonel put it in part one. Machines can’t be citizens of a democratic republic.

    I think only beings, natural born persons, can be citizens, since only human beings have this marvelous ability right here: to shape our world from within, to be aware of our own role in our own becoming. I don’t have to tell you how much different are royal subjects.

    Here’s a Watts quote I found especially germane:

    But it isn’t only a matter of moral strength. It’s a matter of being asked to believe what most people feel is nonsense: that the world is run on the lines of a state. How, for example, can you be a citizen of the United States, having taken an oath that a republican form of government is the best form of government, and believe that the universe is a monarchy?

    Now what has happened is, uh intelligent people have always realized that this political model for the cosmos just won’t do.

    How did we get jacked to war? It’s the mythology!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Dave,
    I certainly hope you’ll consider writing a book about this, as I think an attempt to explain American mythologizing — particularly one that begins by examining how mythologies were shaped in the Cold War and the McCarthy witch hunts — would be very interesting indeed.
    I’d also like to thank you for triggering some analysis of the background to Abu Zubaydah mentioning Jose Padilla, which, according to FBI agent Ali Soufan, was revealed to him without the use of waterboarding:
    I’ll be back later, with an article, hopefully …

  10. Dave "knowbuddhau" Parker says...

    Hi Andy,
    I get it now, thanks for setting me straight. There were two bogus reports (financial institutions, shopping malls):

    “One concerned possible attacks on banks or financial institutions in the Northeastern United States. That warning appears to fit with repeated statements by Al Qaeda leaders about the need to attack the U.S. economy, a mission that Osama bin Laden himself touted in a recently discovered home video. Another tip from Zubaydah warned that Al Qaeda operatives could be planning attacks on U.S. supermarkets and shopping malls,” Newsweek reported.”

    Plus the corroborated ‘dirty bomb’ plot mentioned by Agent Soufan:

    Some of the information that is cited in the memos — the revelation that Mr. Mohammed had been the mastermind of 9/11, for example, and the uncovering of Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber — was gained from another terrorism suspect, Abu Zubaydah, by “informed interrogation,” conducted by an F.B.I. colleague and me. The arrest of Walid bin Attash, one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted messengers, which was also cited in the 2005 C.I.A. memo, was thanks to a quick-witted foreign law enforcement officer, and had nothing to do with harsh interrogation of anyone. The examples go on and on.

    Bush/Cheney Torture: a very bad idea, done very badly, with real experts sidelined by religious zealots.

    Listening to recordings, both Watts and Campbell startle me when they say things, as they often do, like “Nobody really believes in god anymore” or ‘the old time religion is of no use to us anymore.” I can’t help but wonder how much of the motivation of the notorious neocon crazies is reaction to overstatements such as those. In a lot of ways, it’s obvious, with hindsight, that reports of the death of god were highly exaggerated (although I do agree with Watts: the mechanistic god is dead; it’s amazing that he presaged the announcement made by Stephen Jay Gould in 2001, that reductionism has failed for biological systems. .)

    It’s often said that the Left fails to talk about religion. Maybe we can talk about mythology, instead. One of the most hopeful things I remember Campbell saying is, it’s just a trick of the mind that evicts us from paradise and separates us from the Promised Land; a trick of the mind is all we need to return.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    You’ve captured it in a nutshell:

    Bush/Cheney Torture: a very bad idea, done very badly, with real experts sidelined by religious zealots.

    And in your closing comments I also think you’re onto something: how we need a new Left (as we clearly do), which can dare to imagine a new world …

  12. WikiLeaks: Numerous Reasons to Dismiss US Claims that “Ghost Prisoner” Aafia Siddiqui Was Not Held in Bagram + Bring Aafia Home « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] 2009, when I interviewed Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff, Wilkerson told me, in no uncertain terms, that the State […]

  13. Lawrence Wilkerson Demolishes Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld’s Lies About Guantánamo « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Col. Wilkerson’s attacks on the Bush administration’s incompetence reflected what I and other researchers had discovered, and as a result, I felt emboldened to approach him, to ask if he would agree to an interview. I was delighted when he accepted, and the resulting two-part interview was published by the Future of Freedom Foundation last August and September. […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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