Friday, April 11, 2008

The Tragedy of Colin Powell

ABC news revealed that top Bush Administration officials not only signed on to torturing “high value suspects” but were micro-managing the details of the “enhanced interrogation.” The usual Bush subjects were all in on the decision Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft, and George Tenant. One other name was on the list; Colin Powell. As Secretary of State he was part of the “National Security Council's Principals Committee” where the decision to violate over 200 years of national practice was made. Some time in the spring of 2002 Colin Powell went over to the dark side.

Many people think that Powell’s performance at the United Nations is where he lost his soul. We now know that her acquiesced to evil long before that awful day. Of all the people in George W Bush’s administration, Powell was the one who knew about the evil and stupidity of torture. As a military man he knew that torture gave rotten intelligence and put American service members in harms way. He also knew that torture was corrosive to good order and discipline and violated core military values. Despite this he signed on to the “findings” of the committee.

Apologists for Colin Powell have stressed have stressed two things in his defense; that he was a good soldier following orders and he believed that he could change the direction of the administration from the inside. They made the plausible argument that Powell thought he could still do good by remaining in the administration. They claim that Powell just did not understand how hard line Cheney and Rumsfeld were and what a rear-guard an loosing battle he was fighting. The news release puts that argument to rest.

Powell as a member of the committee was given a cornucopia of facts about what “enhanced interrogation” was. Such details as hitting, slapping, hot and cold abuse, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding were not only covered but the actual amount in minutes were discussed. Maybe Powell objected to the treatment, maybe he did not. It is only said that he was worried about the impact on our reputation abroad. What he did not do was resign when this program was first floated.

We talk about how Powell could have, should of resigned when Bush and Cheney launched their ill conceived war in Iraq. If only the good general had threatened to resign, the whole Iraq mess might have been avoided. We fault him for his speech in the UN. We call it a blot on his sterling record. How much more of a deep stain is the revelation that Colin Powell might just be a war criminal?

We know of Powell’s history, his rise from the hard-scrabble poverty in New York City to become the very first black Joint Chief of Staff. For many his was the All-American story. So many Americans both black and white took pride in his accomplishments. He even had a Military doctrine named after him. That doctrine was the result of all the things he learned in his military career, mostly it came from the hard lessons of his tours in Vietnam. Before his contact with the Bush Administration Powell was role model, an exemplar of American Dream. Through hard work and dedication he had come from humble roots to the very pinnacle of power. His can do attitude and ambition became his undoing. Powell just was not prepared to cope with the evil that is Bush/Cheney.

Powell knew the score; he understood the Geneva conventions and the need to put some limits on the horrors of war. He had witnessed what happens to an Army when it looses all track of decency and honor. Where did he loose those core commitments? How did he rationalize away the stark depravity of what Cheney was favoring? He better than most people should have understood that Osama Bin Laden’s organization was not an existential threat to then nation like the old Soviet Union was.

He better than most people should have understood how tactics like torture were counter-productive. He had actually fought in COIN operations, he knew how important winning (and loosing) hearts and minds was. He spent decades in the military. He did not hide out in the National Guard nor did he get deferments from Vietnam. He was there on the ground in Southeast Asia. Why did he not put his foot down? Even after graphic details of the abuse the CIA was dishing out was given to Colin Powell he did not speak out in public. By not speaking out he acquiesced to torture. By acquiescing to torture he violated the Geneva accords- laws that the US mostly recently approved in 1992. In short Colin Powell should be in jeopardy of legal prosecution for War Crimes.

Powell stayed a loyal soldier to Bush. Even after Abu Ghraib he stayed on. Even after he knew that the secret program was no longer secret. At what point does loyalty become a fault? Where does loyalty to the man or office end and loyalty the founding ideals of the nation begin? We now know that the UN speech was mere coda to Powell’s failure of conscience. Sometime after 9/11 Powell crossed the line; he stayed loyal to George W Bush and the Republican Party but betrayed the nation. What an awful state of affairs. Powell sold his soul for a few cheep trinkets offered up by Cheney. He massively compromised the core principles of a soldier to stay in a fixed game, a game that he kept loosing. He was like gambler who kept tossing in chips in a crooked poker game. The house of Cheney took him for everything he had. The house of Cheney was playing with a marked deck; they stripped Powell of his good name. They morally bankrupted Powell.

There is no rehabilitation for Colin Powell now; he is wedded to Condi Rice and to Cheney and to all the rotten Bush crew. He has fallen down in to the mire and muck of the worst presidency ever. Like Cheney and Bush and the others he will become a cautionary tale. He will be held up as an example of what not to do, of what not to become. He, most of all .will be held up as an example of how good men fail to oppose what is evil and wrong. He, most of all, will be held up as an example of a singularly moral failure. His is a great American tragedy.

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