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Lawrence Wilkerson

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Lawrence Wilkerson (1946-) is Pamela C. Harriman Visiting Professor of Government at the College of William and Mary and Professorial Lecturer in the University Honors Program at the George Washington University. A retired colonel in the U.S. Army, he was closely associated with retired general and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, but their relationship is now strained since Wilkerson spoke in public against the policies of the George W. Bush Administration.[1]

After retirement, he was affiliated with the New America Foundation, heading its U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative.


Enlisting in the Army, he became a combat helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. He obtained a bachelor's degree in English Literature, was commissioned, and rose through the ranks, teaching at the U.S. Naval War College and serving as acting director of the Marine Corps War College. In 1989, while at the Naval War College, he went to work for Powell, as the new four-sar general was leaving the Reagan White House and moving to Army Forces Command. Wilkerson was reluctant, but said Powell responded "He said he didn't like overly ambitious people, and it was clear that I was content doing what I was doing and I wasn't really politicking for a job with him." Wilkerson stayed with Powell as he served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the George H. W. Bush Administration in the Gulf War, returned to private life and started an education foundation, supporting George W. Bush, and becoming U.S. Secretary of State.

Wilkerson later said the elder Bush "exercise[d] one of the greatest adeptnesses at foreign policy I’ve ever seen."[2]

Bush Administration

In 2004, before the election, Wilkerson told Wil Hyton of Gentlemen's Quarterly interviewer that Powell was "... tired. Mentally and physically. And if the president were to ask him to stay on -- if the president is re-elected and the president were to ask him to stay on, he might for a transitional period, but I don't think he'd want to do another four years." [3]Wilkerson said then that Powell was frustrated with the ideology of the Administration, although his language became much stronger with time.

After leaving

Speaking to the New America Foundation in October 2005, [4] Steve Clemons concluded Powell, and his Deputy Secretary and best friend, Richard Armitage, "...feel that it is important to maintain a decorum and etiquette of public loyalty and obeisance to the Commander in Chief, in public and private life. Wilkerson has clearly struggled with this -- but he should be applauded for his decision to reveal his views and perspective."

In the speech, he referred to a conspiracy, principally between Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to exclude the State Department and other national security professionals from the decisionmaking process, as well as "a president not much versed in international relations and not much interested either." [5] He spoke of Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleeza Rice not acting properly as an honest broker, and, referring to Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, whom General "Tommy Franks said was stupidest blankety blank man in the world. He was. Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man."[2]

Writing for the Nieman Foundation Watchdog, he said, in 2006, that Cheney and associates promoted torture; that it was
clear that the Office of the Vice President bears responsibility for creating an environment conducive to the acts of torture and murder committed by U.S. forces in the war on terror.

There is, in my view, insufficient evidence to walk into an American courtroom and win a legal case (though an international courtroom for war crimes might feel differently). But there is enough evidence for a soldier of long service -- someone like me with 31 years in the Army -- to know that what started with John Yoo, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes II at the Pentagon, and several others, all under the watchful and willing eye of the Vice President, went down through the Secretary of Defense to the commanders in the field, and created two separate pressures that resulted in the violation of longstanding practice and law...

... the understandable pressure to produce intelligence as rapidly as possible, and on the other hand, the creation of an environment best described as "the gloves coming off" -- or better, the gloves ARE off. The Bybee memorandum's description of torture as organ failure or beyond gave officials an out when answering questions about "Did we do torture?" When an official said “no”, he or she meant that we did not do organ failure. Of course, with 136 deaths in detention and counting--and with 25 or more now confirmed as homicides--even that admission by that standard is now false.[6]

As the George W. Bush Administration left office in January 2009, Wilkerson appeared on a National Public Radio show, and, in response to a listener comment, suggested Cheney should be impeached, that his actions had been far worse than anything by Bill Clinton. [7]


  1. Richard Leiby (19 January 2006), "Breaking Ranks: Larry Wilkerson Attacked the Iraq War. In the Process, He Lost the Friendship of Colin Powell.", Washington Post
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Transcript: Colonel Wilkerson on US foreign policy", Financial Times, 20 October 2005
  3. ""Condi's a jerk"", Salon, 5 May 2004
  4. Steve Clemons (20 October 2005), "Extensive Coverage of Lawrence Wilkerson's Call For Transparency and Disciplined Process in Foreign Policy Decisions that Involve "Sending Men and Women to Die"", Washington Note
  5. Thomas Omestad (19 October 2005), "Ex-State official blasts 'Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal'", U.S. News and World Report
  6. Larry Wilkerson (11 July 2006), "Dogging the torture story", Nieman Watchdog
  7. Tom Ashbrook (12 January 2009), "President Bush’s Legacy", On Point, National Public Radio