Larry Wilkerson, via Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent, tries to respond to my criticism of his new story alleging that Vice President Cheney authorized waterboarding in order to generate phony intelligence connecting Saddam's regime to al Qaeda. Wilkerson's response does nothing to salvage his empty account, which has already been uncritically repeated by the press. Wilkerson's response is somewhat incoherent and he offers up his own brew of strawmen and rambling non sequiturs. So, I'll copy the entire two paragraphs of Wilkerson's response to me, as relayed by Ackerman:
If their account is the accurate one, explain to me why Tenet and McLaughlin [then the director and deputy director of the CIA] came to Secretary Powell in February 2003-yes, 2003-with the information about al-Libi as if it were fresh as the morning dew. Powell was ready to throw out almost everything Tenet had given him on the contacts of Baghdad with terrorists, particularly al-Qa'ida. Suddenly, on 1 Feb, there was the shocking revelation of a high-level al-Qa'ida operative who had just revealed significant contacts between al-Qa'ida and Baghdad. Powell changed his mind and that information went into his presentation to the [United Nations Security Council] on 5 Feb 2003. We were never told of the DIA dissent. I am basing my conclusions on the fact that DCI Tenet and DDCI McLaughlin presented the information about al-Libi to Secretary Powell in Feb 2003 and not in Feb 2002. The strong impression was that the interrogation had just occurred or, at a minimum, that Tenet had just received the information (otherwise, why wouldn't they have given it to Powell much earlier, say when he first expressed concerns over the terrorist links some days earlier?). I have no idea when the Egyptians waterboarded al-Libi other than what Tenet and McLauglin (sic) implied in their presentation to Powell-which, incidentally, was quite effective on him. Who says the Egyptians tortured al-Libi in Feb 2002? I'm prepared to modify my views if that can be proved. But not by much because that is a minor part of my position.
Let's take Wilkerson's rambling response piece by piece. I note that Wilkerson offers no rebuttal to my main point, which is that his basic timeline does not work. In fact, he does not offer any rebuttal to any of the points I made. Wilkerson argues that Vice President Cheney authorized waterboarding (by a foreign intelligence service, mind you), to get intelligence connecting Saddam's regime to al Qaeda in "April and May 2002" and that the waterboarding did not stop until Ibn Shaykh al-Libi "revealed such contacts." The problem is that Ibn Shaykh al-Libi told his interrogators - in February 2002 - that al Qaeda operatives had been sent to Iraq for training, and the DIA filed a report saying it did not trust his testimony that same month. That is, al Libi's testimony, which Wilkerson says stopped the waterboarding, happened two months prior to when Wilkerson claims the waterboarding was authorized in the first place. Nothing in Wilkerson's response changes those basic facts or even begins to approach a rebuttal to them. Instead, he ends by writing: "Who says the Egyptians tortured al-Libi in Feb 2002? I'm prepared to modify my views if that can be proved. But not by much because that is a minor part of my position." This is not a "minor part" of his story - it goes to the heart of what he is saying because his whole story falls apart when compared to the basic, known facts. His whole timeline is quite clearly wrong. Also, I did not argue that the Egyptians "tortured al-Libi in Feb 2002," nor did I say that anyone else made such an argument. This is a non sequitur. I think it is safe to assume that al Libi was roughed up by the Egyptians - they don't treat terrorists with kid gloves. I do not know whether their treatment of al Libi amounted to torture or not, and neither does Wilkerson. But, in the context of Wilkerson's original argument, who cares? It is abundantly clear that the timing of Wilkerson's story does not work and nothing in his reply changes that. Wilkerson offered to "modify his views if" the facts as I have laid them out "can be proved." They are easily proven - and Wilkerson has not disputed them, so he should modify his views or just retract his piece. In fact, it would be nice if the media outlets that have reported his story issued a retraction.



The rest of Wilkerson's reply can and should be read as part of the bureaucratic infighting that has dominated Washington, and the press's coverage of Washington, these past several years. Indeed, Wilkerson exposes what this is really about - trying to deflect the blame for Secretary of State Powell's February 2003 presentation to the UN onto the CIA, and the "Sith Lord" (Wilkerson's words) Vice President Cheney. Wilkerson, while not providing any evidence to back up his original claims, says that the CIA came to him and Powell with the information on al Libi "as if it were fresh as the morning dew" in February 2003. He says the "strong impression was that the interrogation had just occurred." Well, we are now in a world that relies on Wilkerson's "impression" in February 2003. Good luck trying to back that up. Moreover, Wilkerson actually admits he does not know what he is talking about. Wilkerson writes: "I have no idea when the Egyptians waterboarded al-Libi other than what Tenet and McLauglin (sic) implied in their presentation to Powell-which, incidentally, was quite effective on him." Wait a minute. Did the CIA tell Wilkerson and Powell that al Libi was waterboarded? Taking what Wilkerson has written literally, he says this was "implied" in the CIA's presentation. How does one imply that al Libi was waterboarded? Either al Libi was waterboarded and the CIA told Wilkerson and Powell this, or the CIA did not tell Wilkerson and Powell this, or it didn't happen so there was no need to tell anyone this. Perhaps this is not what Wilkerson meant by the sentence quoted above. As I said, his response is incoherent. There are two other facets concerning this point that are worth noting. First, in his original account for The Washington Note, Wilkerson said that the story he is telling was based on "what I have learned," that is, not his recollections of a meeting that occurred in February 2003. But he now says he has "no idea" when the Egyptians waterboarded al Libi (assuming they did), outside of what was implied in the February 2003 meeting. Does he have new information or sources, or doesn't he? The bottom line is that Wilkerson does not offer any real sources in his reply, or in his original piece. So, why should we believe anything he says? Second, Wilkerson writes, "Powell was ready to throw out almost everything Tenet had given him on the contacts of Baghdad with terrorists, particularly al-Qa'ida," but didn't because of the supposedly last minute testimony from al Libi. This makes no sense. Most of what the CIA had given Powell on the nexus between terrorism, including al Qaeda, and the Iraqi regime came from other sources and had nothing to do with the contacts described by al Libi. For example, there was the intelligence on Abu Musab al Zarqawi's network in Iraq. In Powell's presentation, al Libi's story had no bearing on the intelligence surrounding Zarqawi. So, why would the intelligence from al Libi's interrogation prevent Powell from throwing out that part of his presentation, or any other part that was not sourced to al Libi? I think it is safe to say that Wilkerson is just making things up. This should be a cautionary note for all those journalists in the Beltway and beyond who have sourced their stories to him in the past. If you give any thought whatsoever to Wilkerson's tale, it quickly falls apart.
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