Colin Powell’s Over The Top Argument For War With Iraq Is Still Outrageous, Still Unforgivable

My friend at Alone On A Limb wrote a post Sunday that praised Gen. Colin Powell’s “earnest, unreserved endorsement of Barack Obama,” and described Powell as, “a person admired in America by all but the opposite endpoints of the political spectrum.” In my comment to this post I disagreed.

You don’t have to be at the end of a political spectrum to be disgusted at the cabal of liars who pushed us into the Iraq War. The whole bunch is far from admirable. In my view, Powell’s over the top effort to persuade the UN, along with the US public, to initiate George Bush’s Iraq War is unforgivable.

Colon Powell at the UN, February 5, 2003, makes the case for war with Iraq.

Colin Powell at the UN, February 5, 2003, makes the case for war with Iraq.

I wrote, “I’m still angry with Powell, because, he is one person, who could have stood in the gap, and, I feel, could single handly have stopped or delayed the movement to war with Iraq. Powell’s endorsement of Bush’s madness to take us to war is really unforgivable, because, certainly, with the resources available to him, he should have known that the evidence for WMDs was weak and unreliable, yet he gave the impression that he was completely and absolutely convinced, and his confident testimony at the UN had a big impact.

“I doubt that Powell was as nearly convinced about WMDs as his testimony indicated. The high probability is that his testimony was basically dishonest. In Powell’s high level position, he had too much opportunity to know better. It seems to me that Powell’s testimony about WMD’s was politically driven, politically expedient; he seemed willing to sell his soul to stay in good standing with the Bush crowd. For this despicable act, dishonestly promoting this despicable war, Powell deserves to be shunned and forgotten.

“So, I can’t be too impressed with Powell’s Obama endorsement.  Maybe the endorsement will help Obama.  But, Powell’s endorsement doesn’t change my anger at his UN actions.  Powell’s Iraq testimony revealed his deeply political nature.  Powell waited until two weeks before election day to endorse — when, its seems, it was clear which way the wind is blowing.  If McCain was up in the polls, I’d bet that Powell would probably not say a peep either way — Powell would want to secure his opportunity to gain prominence in a McCain administration, and, it seems a safe bet, if he thought McCain had a good chance to win, Powell would not endorse Obama.

I concluded, “Obama, in my judgment, would be wrong to give Powell much positive attention.”

After writing my little tirade, I decided to do some research.

This web-site contains a complete transcript of Powell’s UN remarks, (along with the slides he used) and the transcript shows how striking were the words that Powell used.  He communicated absolute confidence in his “evidence,”  absolute conviction of urgency, of national emergency.  Powell achieved a big goal.  The goal was to convince, and what convinced was not so much the evidence, as Powell himself.  (Imagine George Tenet using the same script and props.)  Powell’s presentation demanded that his listeners accept his authority, vouch for his integrity, and heed his words.  Who else in the Bush administration could possibly have succeeded so well?

Powell says, “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.”  At another point, Powelll says,  “This is evidence, not conjecture. This is true. This is all well-documented. ... The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction pose to the world.”

In a web-site called After Downing Street, I found this article, “Lie After Lie: What Colin Powell Knew Five Years Ago, and What He Told the World,” that outlines in detail what Powell knew at the time of his UN presentation, compared to what he testified to.  The article says,  “As much criticism as Powell has received for it—he calls it ‘painful’ and something that will ‘always be a part of my record’—it hasn’t been close to what’s justified. Powell was far more than just embarrassingly mistaken; the evidence is conclusive that he fabricated evidence and ignored repeated warnings that what he was saying was false.”

I found a transcript from a “Frontline” program that interviewed Greg Thielman, a former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau.  Thielman was in a position to know, and he accuses the White House of “systematic, across-the-board exaggeration” of intelligence.  Thielman said, “Instead of our leadership forming conclusions based on a careful reading of the intelligence we provided them, they already had their conclusion to start out with, and they were cherry-picking the information that we provided to use whatever pieces of it that fit their overall interpretation. Worse than that, they were dropping qualifiers and distorting some of the information that we provided to make it seem more alarmist and more dangerous than the information that we were giving them.”

Thielman was asked by his interviewer, “And that criticism would be applied to the president, but also to the secretary of state?”  Thielman replied, I would, very reluctantly, have to include the secretary of state in that judgment.  He (Powell) took the tubes argument before the United Nations, when he had been expressly told by his own intelligence people that it didn’t hold.  And if one looks now, if one goes back to that very long presentation, point by point, one finds that this was not a very honest explanation. I mean, you had terrorist activity described that was taking place in Iraq without the mention that it was taking place in an area under the control of the Kurds, rather than an area under control of Saddam.”

Thielman said, “You had this very tenuous link made between Saddam and Osama bin Laden in the remarks of Secretary Powell, when his own terrorist officials and virtually everyone else in the U.S. intelligence community said there is no significant connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. … You had statements about missiles that Saddam allegedly had when, in fact, the intelligence community said that we cannot account for the destruction of all of the 819 Scud missiles that Iraq had acquired over the years. That was transmogrified into statements that Iraq has a small number of Scud missiles, with no qualification. Secretary Powell said that with no qualification, just as George Tenet, director of Central Intelligence, said it with no qualification. There is a big difference between saying, ‘We cannot prove that every last one of these missiles has been destroyed,” and saying, ‘We know Saddam has these missiles.’”

Powell tells about the power of anthrax

Powell tells about the power of anthrax

The Frontline interviewer asked Thielman, “What conclusion do you come to? Was he (Powell) lying?” Thielman replied, “I don’t like to use the word ‘lying’ because, again, it implies that I know what was in his mind on these issues. All I can say is that I have to conclude he was making the president’s case. He works for the president. The president had gone way out on a limb in making a lot of what I regard as unjustified characterizations of the intelligence, and Secretary Powell was being a loyal secretary of state, a ‘good soldier,’ as it were, building the administration’s case before the international community. …”

Media Matters shows four areas that evidence shows that Powell must have knowingly, at the minimum exaggerated his claims, or worse, deliberately misspoke.

1) Nuclear Reconstitution
“In his U.N. speech, Powell claimed: ‘We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program. … Since 1998, his efforts to reconstitute his nuclear program have been focused on acquiring the third and last component, sufficient fissile material to produce a nuclear explosion…’

“Though Powell and the rest of the administration did not say so, the State Department’s own Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) disputed the claim — advanced by the majority of intelligence agencies in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) — that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.

As Media Matters has noted, Tyler Drumheller — a 26-year CIA veteran who served as chief of the agency’s European operations during the lead-up to the Iraq war — said on the April 23 broadcast of CBS’ 60 Minutes that by the fall of 2002, the CIA had recruited an Iraqi official in the ‘inner circle of Saddam Hussein’ to provide intelligence on Saddam’s weapons programs. Drumheller said that the Bush administration ‘stopped being interested in the intelligence’ when the CIA reported that the Iraqi official — whom 60 Minutes identified as then-foreign minister Naji Sabri — revealed that Iraq “had no active weapons of mass destruction program.”

2) Aluminum tubes
“In October 2003, Greg Thielmann, who was in charge of assessing Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs for INR before the war, told CBS News that in 2001, he had ‘reported to Secretary Powell’s office that they [INR] were confident the tubes were not for a nuclear program.’

“Yet in his U.N. speech, Powell claimed: ‘Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed.’ He added, ‘Most U.S. experts think they [the tubes] are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium.’ Powell acknowledged that ‘[o]ther experts, and the Iraqis themselves, argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon, a multiple rocket launcher,’ but Powell did not reveal that this view was held by his own intelligence agency. Powell then cast doubt on INR’s assessment, stating that ‘it strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets.

“In its 2004 report, the ISG found that ‘Baghdad’s interest in high-strength, high-specification aluminum tubes … is best explained by its efforts to produce 81-mm rockets.’”

3) Unmanned aerial vehicles
“In his U.N. speech, Powell explicitly linked Iraq’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) program to its supposed chemical and biological weapons, claiming: ‘The linkages over the past 10 years between Iraq’s UAV program and biological and chemical warfare agents are of deep concern to us. Iraq could use these small UAVs, which have a wingspan of only a few meters, to deliver biological agents to its neighbors or if transported, to other countries, including the United States.’

According to the Robb-Silberman Commission’s final report to the president, a separate NIE, published in January 2003, dealt specifically with the suggestion — later advanced by Powell and Bush — that Iraq might use its UAVs to target the United States. The commission reported that in the NIE, the Air Force, Army, and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had stated that Iraq’s acquisition of “mapping software” — upon which the claim was initially based — was “not necessarily indicative of an intent to target the US homeland.”

4) WMD training for Al Qaeda
In his U.N. Speech, Powell said that a “senior Al Qaeda terrorist” who had been “responsible for one of Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan” but had since been detained told interrogators about “Iraq offering chemical or biological weapons training for two Al Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” Bush apparently made reference to the same claim in his October 7, 2002, speech, asserting, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.”

Media Matters has noted that according to a November 10, 2005, web-exclusive article by Newsweek investigative correspondents Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, “the principal basis” for these claims was a series of statements made to investigators by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured Al Qaeda commander.

In a November 6, 2005, article, Washington Post staff writer Walter Pincus noted that “in January 2004 al-Libi recanted his claims, and in February 2004 the CIA withdrew all intelligence reports based on his information.” But Pincus reported that in February 2002 — eight months before Bush reportedly referred to al-Libi’s bogus claims and a year before Powell’s U.N. speech — the DIA produced a document in which it concluded that it was “likely” that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading” his interrogators.

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