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U.S. Has No Moral Authority – Ex-Bush Official


It is highly hypocritical of the US to be demanding … action on the part of Sri Lanka when the US will not take such action itself.


( March 2, 2014, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Rtd. in the following interview with the writer, commenting on the third US resolution on Sri Lanka which is ready to be tabled at the UNHRC next month, has said that, “it is highly hypocritical of the US to be demanding … action on the part of Sri Lanka when the US will not take such action itself.”

While talking about the regime change program of U.S. foreign Policy he says, The US should encourage such change through the force of its own democratic example, not through force of arms or covert actions to encourage coups d’etat as it is doing today in Venezuela. And, by the way, that US example has been tarnished enormously by such actions as torture and abuse.”

Col. Wilkerson volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War. Years later he was appointed Chief-of-Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powel, who was the first African American to serve in that position. Colonel Wilkerson has been outspoken on the Iraq War and the wrongdoings of the Bush administration. In particular, he has denounced the decision-making process of the Bush administration, and Vice President Dick Cheney's and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's parts in it. Currently Colonel Wilkerson is a Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William & Mary, USA, a very selective liberal arts college. Previously, he has taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at George Washington University. Colonel Wilkerson is presently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.

Nilantha Ilangamuwa (NI): “On the 100th Anniversary of World War One, the Western powers are again sleepwalking into destructive conflict”, said Paul Craig Roberts in a recent article. He added, “Hegemonic ambition has Washington interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine, but developments seem to be moving beyond Washington’s control.”

In my interview with him several months ago he highlighted a similar kind of argument when I asked him about his views on torture and other forms of crimes against humanity. He said to me, “In my opinion, there is no prospect for a moral and torture free world until the West is held accountable for its crimes. The war crimes tribunal in Malaysia was a beginning. The convictions of the Bush regime monsters have no legal authority, but the convictions assert morality authority.”
Let us start this discussion with this very reasonable argument. Do you think the United States of America has a moral obligation to investigate what it has done in terms of crimes, before it tries to hold other nations accountable for their own actions?

Lawrence Wilkerson ( LW): Yes, I definitely believe that the US has no real moral authority with other nations when it has perpetrated crimes itself and done nothing to account for those crimes—crimes such as torture, cruel and unusual punishment, management of secret prisons, and extralegal renditions of innocent persons.

NI: One could argue that the foreign policy of Washington centers on the notion, “Do as we say, not as we do”. This has been applied throughout American History. One particularly glaring example is the continuation of slavery after winning independence from the British Empire. Clarence Lusane, a historian at Washington University, in his most recent article, "Missing from Presidents’ Day: The People They Enslaved” says that more than a quarter of U.S. Presidents were involved in slavery and human trafficking. This darker side of history demonstrates the painful exercises that mankind has gone through in the US, just like other places in the world. What do you think about this historical fact as a citizen of the United States?

LW: I know that our Constitution declared Blacks as three-fifths of a human being. Moreover, I know that cheap slave labor was as much a foundation of the economic success we enjoy today as was manufacturing and its associated commerce. Our leadership tolerated—indeed, gained from—this human slavery for our nation’s first 89 years and from de facto slavery of Black citizens for another hundred years. At the same time roughly—until 1890—we ethnically cleansed native Americans on a massive scale. Are there crimes against humanity in our colonial and national past? You bet there are. But we have overcome them in many ways and made “a more perfect union”. People from all over the world still stand in long lines at our embassies and consulates around the world, trying to get into the USA. These people when they become citizens help us make even more progress toward that more perfect union. So, yes, there are crimes in our past, but we have improved majorly. That is why today crimes such as torture and secret prisons are so repugnant—they set back that progress.

NI: In my first interview with you, you talked about your experiences in Vietnam as a US Army officer and you reflected on the present situation in Vietnam. You said, “Today, the Vietnamese people have ultimately brought a resolution to the conflict – and the political solution is still a work in progress. Such result could have been achieved with far less death and destruction, and that is the tragedy of the U.S. intervention in Vietnam”. In the same discussion you revealed that your military leadership lied about the situation to Washington. Today, I would like to have a more detailed answer to those pages of history in Southeast Asia (SEA), with your ground experiences there. Not only Vietnam, but Laos and Cambodia were also victims of interventions. It gave indirect opportunities for Pol Pot to exploit. Then later all the crimes that occurred in Cambodia were put on Pol Pot’s tab, the U.S. washed their hands of the killing fields, and became the guardian of the victims. A similar situation occurred in Laos, about which there is very little historical discussion. Could you share your overall observations about the region as a retired veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces and as a professor at the College of William and Mary?

LW: US actions in Southeast Asia following WWII were aimed at curbing the spread of Communism while encouraging the end of, largely, European colonialism. In Southeast Asia, this two-pronged strategy came into major conflict with reality, i.e., continued French colonialism and the attractiveness of Communist philosophy to certain elements of the population. The U.S. put first the prong of its strategy that dealt with stopping Communism, but it did so without stopping to consider whether the Communism in SEA was state-sponsored—by the USSR and China—in a way that would persevere and therefore be inimical to US interests. Moreover, when French colonialism failed abjectly—and most spectacularly in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu—the US chose to become the “new colonial power” in the region. That move put the US up against genuine nationalist movements led by such men as Ho Chi Minh. The US lost this struggle, as many US experts predicted it would. This was a huge tragedy for the peoples of SEA—and, ultimately, for the US as well. The region seems to be recovering from these mistakes today and the US is trying to help, as it should.

NI: Let us go to another horrible example in history where millions of people died and hundreds of thousands of women were sexually assaulted in the name of “liberation”. It was in Bangladesh where the U.S. helped military Dictator Yahya Khan, who earned the gratitude of both U.S. and China by making possible a secret visit by Henry Kissinger to Beijing in 1971 for talks with Mao and his associates. The crimes that occurred in Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, shed more blood than Bosnia and to some extent it has compared with what happened in Rwanda. What we are seeing is that, instead of helping people to win and keep their personal liberty, the U.S. instead engaged with the ruling parties and helped them to corrupt the criminal justice system. What is your take on this issue?

LW: By stating the question the way you have, I believe you have trivialized what is an extremely complex set of circumstances with blame falling on the leadership of several states, including India, Pakistan, China and the U.S.. But I do not feel sufficiently expert to go into a full analysis of this extremely complex set of circumstances in a succinct answer.

NI: Regime change is an idea to restore democracy where autocracy is in power. In recent history it has taken the form of direct military interventions, colour revolutions, and the famously named Arab Spring. In the beginning, popular media pushed us to understand this as healthy exercises, but in many of those nations whose regimes have changed there are more tense and tumultuous circumstances now than in the past. Perhaps the best example is Libya where the former leader was killed in cold blood. It was a war crime in broad daylight. The situations in many countries are similarly worse than before. The idea of regime change and the restoration of democracy has become a tool of destruction. Why does U.S. foreign policy remain unchanged and what might cause a policy change?

LW: The objective of regime change is just that: regime change. As you say, with the US the objective is usually changing a dictatorship to a more democratic form of government. In my view, the US has no business engaging in such strategies. The US should encourage such changes through the force of its own democratic example, not through force of arms or covert actions to encourage coups d’etat as today it is doing in Venezuela. And, by the way, that US example has been tarnished enormously by such actions as torture and abuse.

NI: When it comes to certain countries the U.S. is smart enough to keep quiet about their human rights abuses. An obvious example is Saudi Arabia, where the ruler is a king, Sharia Law allows for literal witch hunts that end in executions, and where a multitude of other forms of cruelty and discrimination are rampant. Why this hypocrisy?

LW: This hypocrisy is caused by realpolitik—in the case of Saudi Arabia, by the need of the US and its allies for Saudi oil (and it does not matter that no Saudi oil flows directly to the US anymore because it does flow to important US allies). Generally speaking, there is always some commercial or other strategic reason for such US hypocrisy.

NI: “I’m not a coward, let them go to the battlefield again if they wish to. But release them all now”, you said about the Guantanamo Bay camp. You were speaking specifically about Gitmo, but many reports indicate that there are many secret prisons in various jurisdictions under the control of the U.S. The government has still not fulfilled its promise to close down the camp, though some reforms have been implemented. Why does the government need the camp? Does it continue to impact foreign policy?

LW: The US Government does not need the camp. What is stopping the camp from being closed is US domestic politics. The Congress will not let the President close the camp because key members of the US congress, of both political parties, gain political power from preventing the closing.

NI. The recent article by Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald on the Intercept, a new initiative launched recently, published details about the NSA’s secret role in the U.S. assassination program. The NSA has played an increasingly central role in drone killings over the past five years, the article revealed. It is undeniable that many civilians were killed due to those operations. It was reported that President Obama once said, “I’m really good at killing people.” Please let me know your take on this quintessential issue?

LW: I deplore the use of drones to assassinate people and, in the process, to kill innocent civilians. Professor Akbar Ahmed in his new book The Thistle and the Drone describes well and in detail why this practice is abhorrent, dangerous, and ruinous of any meaningful strategy to combat terrorism. I recommend the book to everyone. And the NSA’s participation in drone strikes is laughable and therefore tragic. I, after all, had to use NSA intercepts in building Colin Powell’s presentation at the UN Security Council on 5 February 2003, on Iraq’s possession of WMD. All those intercepts were dead wrong. In drone strikes, intelligence that is wrong leads to the death of innocent civilians.

NI: It is time for me ask you about your view on my native country, which I left behind without having your observations. My country Sri Lanka faced the longest civil war which ended in May 2009. The U.S. has helped the country throughout the conflict as the U.S. categorized the other party of the conflict as a terrorist organization. After the end of the conflict, the U.S. requested accountability as there were reports of War Crimes from both parties which the Government of Sri Lanka is reluctant to fulfill. The U.S. has already moved twice to draft and table the resolution on this issue before the UN Human Rights Council since 2011. Apparently their cause triumphed with the majority in favour of the resolutions. And now the US has drafted its third resolution, and it will be tabled in a few days at the UNHRC. I would like to know more details on the US resolutions and UN approvals with the experience that we gained in many countries. Will the U.S. move for sanctions against the country?

LW: I don’t know. What I do know is that it is highly hypocritical of the US to be demanding such action on the part of Sri Lanka when the US will not take such action itself.

NI. As far as people in Sri lanka are concerned, to gain U.S. diplomatic immunity, a country like Sri Lanka, has very core difficulties. On the one hand the country has created an executive presidency which is above the law. On the other hand the Sri Lankan diplomatic missions in other countries are based on political appointees, and they have been paralyzed when it comes to knowledge. Corruption, nepotism and other misuses of power, have been seen throughout the country. People in general need peace, justice and freedom. What would be the advice to the people in this context?

LW: Peace, justice, and freedom are difficult to obtain—anywhere. Justice is not even achieved in a good courtroom—the rule of law is; justice is left to a higher authority. Real peace—and not just the absence of war—is often illusory. Freedom is hard-won and hard-defended. But all of these human conditions—even if imperfectly achieved—are ultimately the responsibility of the people. If the people cannot achieve them, it is because they do not want them badly enough and are content to accept other conditions. Unfortunately, that is becoming the case with many people in the USA.

NI. To finalize this discussion, in closing, is there anything you would like to add?

LW: Sri Lanka has, as you have said, undergone a long, brutal and bitter struggle. I wish its people the very best in the future. But the struggle to maintain a people’s government—against the wealthy, the selfish, and the tyrants—is unending. In Venezuela and in Ukraine, the people are discovering this as I write. Nonetheless, I wish them too the best possible future.

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. Lawrence Wilkerson is at present Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the The College of William & Mary.

Nilantha Ilanguamuwa edits the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily newspaper, and he also an editor of the Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, bi-monthly print magazine. He is the author of the just released non-fictions, "Nagna Balaya" (The Naked Power), in Sinhalese and “The Conflation”, in English.

(Image: Screen grab from CCTV News video)

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