Former Powell Chief of Staff: Cheney "Fears Being Tried as a War Criminal"

PHOTO: Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, testifies before the Senate Finance Committee during a hearing about the Cuba trade embargo in this Dec. 11, 2007 file photo in Washington, DC.
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Former Vice President Dick Cheney's memoir, "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir," is out Tuesday, and it's full of criticism and attacks on his Bush administration colleagues -- from describing Condoleezza Rice as "tearfully admitting" he was right on the war in Iraq to revealing private conversations with George W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq war.

He reserves much of his ire for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and now Powell and his longtime aide and chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, are attempting to set the record straight. In no uncertain terms. Cheney, Wilkerson told ABC News, "was president for all practical purposes for the first term of the Bush administration" and "fears being tried as a war criminal."

In his memoir, Cheney claims Powell undermined President Bush. "It was as though he thought the proper way to express his views was by criticizing administration policy to people outside the government," Cheney writes, adding that he encouraged Powell's removal from the administration after the 2004 election, writing Powell's resignation "was for the best."

Powell himself called Cheney's criticism "cheap shots" during an interview this past Sunday on CBS News' Face the Nation.

"What really sort of got my attention was this way in which he characterized it: it's going to 'cause heads to explode,'" Powell said. "That's quite a visual. And in fact, it's the kind of headline I would expect to come out of a gossip columnist, or the kind of headline you might see one of the supermarket tabloids write. It's not the kind of headline I would have expected to come from a former vice president of the United States of America."

Before serving as Powell's chief of staff while Powell was Secretary of State, Wilkerson worked in the first Bush administration as a special assistant to Powell, who was then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cheney was serving as Secretary of Defense. He's known Cheney for decades, but says now, "I simply don't recognize Mr. Cheney anymore" and calling him a "very vindictive person."

"I think he's just trying to, one, assert himself so he's not in some subsequent time period tried for war crimes and, second, so that he somehow vindicates himself because he feels like he needs vindication. That in itself tells you something about him," Wilkerson told ABC News, explaining that Cheney may have "angst" because of receiving deferments instead of serving in the Vietnam War like Wilkerson and others in the administration.

"He's developed an angst and almost a protective cover, and now he fears being tried as a war criminal so he uses such terminology as 'exploding heads all over Washington' because that's the way someone who's decided he's not going to be prosecuted acts: boldly, let's get out in front of everybody, let's act like we are not concerned and so forth when in fact they are covering up their own fear that somebody will Pinochet him," Wilkerson said alluding to the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested for war crimes.

Cheney told NBC News that his revealing memoir would have "heads exploding all over Washington."

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