The night after Colin Powell delivered his infamous argument to the United Nations justifying the invasion of Iraq, Lawrence Wilkerson, his chief of staff, sat down and wrote a letter of resignation. It was, said Wilkerson Friday, " the lowest point in my professional and my personal life."
He stuffed the letter in his desk drawer. And left it there.
"If I have a regret when I go to my grave, it is that I did not resign," said Wilkerson, because of course Powell's speech turned out to be almost entirely false.
Wilkerson told the story during a Friday taping of a town hall debate on torture, filmed at the Newseum for Al Jazeera's "Fault Line" show in Washington, D.C. The show airs on Saturday.
The debate was hosted by Josh Rushing, former military flak and now a top Al Jazeera reporter. It also featured Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), human rights attorney Jumana Musa and outspoken former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, who formerly ran the unit in charge of capturing Osama bin Laden.
Six years after the UN speech, the group also debated Dick Cheney and his legacy -- and whether he should be prosecuted. Wilkerson told the Qatar-based news network than he thought it was impractical to charge former vice president with a crime, regardless of his own preference. He would rather, he said, see the administration's lawyers disbarred before going after "lonely, paranoid, frightened Dick Cheney."
Scheuer had sharp words for Cheney, too. "I think Mr. Cheney is a despicable, reptilian person," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Moran apportioned the blame for torture on the Bush administration generally, but Rushing pressed him to "name names."
"Dick Cheney," said Moran in response. "Bybee [and] the poor lawyer who can't get a job so I'm not going to mention his name." He was referring to Judge Jay Bybee, a chief architect of the legal rationale for the Bush administration's program of torture who is now on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit; and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, still unemployed.
Scheuer, however, rejected Moran's effort to blame Bush and his attorneys. "He's talking about nonsense," said Scheuer, arguing that placing blame solely on the administration obscures the role played by Congress. "Ultimately who's responsible for everything that goes on in the foreign policy realm is Congress. They can cut off money tomorrow."
Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America