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Former Powell aide links Cheney's office to abuse directives

AFP

November 4, 2005

WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney's office was responsible for directives that led to U.S. soldiers' abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a former top State Department official said Thursday.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, told National Public Radio he had traced a trail of memos and directives authorizing questionable detention practices up through Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office directly to Cheney's staff.

"The secretary of defense under cover of the vice president's office," Wilkerson said, "regardless of the president having put out this memo" - "they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to what we've seen."

He said the directives contradicted a 2002 order by President George W. Bush for the U.S. military to abide by the Geneva conventions against torture.

"There was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of defense, down to the commanders in the field," authorizing practices that led to the abuse of detainees, Wilkerson said.

The directives were "in carefully couched terms," Wilkerson conceded, but said they had the effect of loosening the reins on U.S. troops, leading to many cases of prisoner abuse, including at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, that were contrary to the Geneva Conventions.

"If you are a military man, you know that you just don't do these sorts of things," Wilkerson said, because troops will take advantage, or feel so pressured to obtain information that "they have to do what they have to do to get it."

He said that Powell had assigned him to investigate the matter after reports emerged in the media about U.S. troops abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both men had formerly served in the U.S. military.

Wilkerson also called David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, "a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions."

On Monday, Cheney promoted Addington to his chief of staff to replace I. Lewis Libby, who has been indicted over the unmasking of a CIA agent.

Wilkerson also told National Public Radio that Cheney's office ran an "alternate national security staff" that spied on and undermined the president's formal National Security Council.

He said National Security Council staff stopped sending e-mails when they found out Cheney's staff members were reading their messages.

He said he believed that Cheney's staff prevented Bush from seeing a National Security Council memo arguing strongly that the United States needed many more troops for the March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Wilkerson also said that the former CIA chief George Tenet did not inform Cheney's office of key weaknesses in the government's argument that Saddam Hussein had or was seeking weapons of mass destruction.

That argument was central to the Bush administration's justifications for the Iraq war.

Wilkerson has also said recently that Cheney and Rumsfeld operated a "cabal" that hijacked U.S. foreign and military policy.


:: Article nr. 17485 sent on 05-nov-2005 18:03 ECT

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Link: iht.com/articles/2005/11/03/news/cheney.php#



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