By Sheila Samples
was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week
before I killed him" - Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart
He has always been there, barely visible - his comforting
presence more felt than seen. From ROTC to Vietnam, from Iran-Contra
to Desert Storm, from the Joint Chiefs to Foggy Bottom, he
has been quietly steady, honest, trustworthy and obedient.
Both in and out of uniform, Secretary of State Colin Powell
has served brilliantly.
Powell is the creme da la creme of the media's ability to
create heroic caricatures, exceeded only by their carefully
constructed image of George W. Bush. Although Powell's military
career dates back to Vietnam, he first appeared full-blown
in America's line of vision during the first Persian Gulf
War where, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he is
credited with orchestrating that wild and bloody foray that
ended in a Feb. 1991 crescendo of bullets in the backs of
tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians promised
safe passage back to Baghdad along what was to become the
Highway of Death.
Colin Luther Powell is a good soldier. Few know just how
good, because Powell is a walking dichotomy - very adept at
showing only his illuminated side to moonstruck supporters.
Americans who so generously bestow political capital upon
Powell are either unaware of, or do not believe, the deadly
murkiness of his dark side. They see Powell striding confidently
across the international landscape - compassionate, moderate,
diplomatic - issuing gentle, tongue-clucking "warnings" to
those who resist the gift of U.S. hegemony. They fail to note
the chaos and the tangle of bodies that inevitably pile up
behind Powell in whatever country he approaches with outstretched
Americans are not only blind, they appear to be deaf to
those who chronicle Powell's evolution from a cunning eager-to-please
young officer on a military fast track to a cold-blooded unrepentant
shock-and-awe executioner. What Powell has done - is doing
- for those he serves is public record. He seems increasingly
unable to separate service to his nation and service to his
president, making "honor" as well as "truth" an early casualty
Other Places, Other Times
In 1996, investigative journalists Robert Parry and Norman
Solomon teamed up to produce a penetrating and meticulously
researched account of Powell's sometimes frenzied activity
for most of his military life. Even in a tight, "just the
facts, ma'am" format, the finished product, published in Consortium
News, was so voluminous it comprised a five-part series.
That critical series was republished
in December 2000 after Powell - once compelled by a straight-shootin'
sense of integrity to defy the Uniform
Code of Military Justice and publicly blast his commander-in-chief
about gays in the military - stood by silently at the Bush
ranch in Crawford, Texas, while Florida's African-American
voters for Gore were disenfranchised. A scant four days later,
Powell was rewarded for his silence with the coveted Secretary
of State slot.
Read the Parry/Solomon series. Slog through the steaming
fetid excrement that comprises Powell's smarmy sense of honor
as he makes easy choices in covering up Vietnam atrocities,
including the hundreds of unarmed civilians slaughtered in
the My Lai massacre. Recoil at his involvement in funding
Nicaraguan contra terrorists by illegally routing missiles
through Israel to Iran. Chuckle at how he covers his own ass
by first setting up Oliver North to take the fall for the
Iran-Contra mess, and even his boss and mentor, Secretary
of Defense Caspar Weinberger, if it came to that. Count the
lies with which this soldier padded his career - in letters,
reports, interviews and testimony before Congress. How many,
you ask? Well, it depends upon how many times he opened his
mouth - and he isn't through talking yet.
Our descent into Vietnam more than three decades ago left
an indelible mark on this country, and the mere mention of
the "V" word even today evokes a kaleidoscope of emotions
about the brutal, needless slaughter of 57,000 U.S. soldiers
and 2,000,000 Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. I cannot
speak to Powell's emotions, but as a minimum, it appears that
his experiences in Vietnam allowed him to dehumanize his enemy
and to use overwhelming force to destroy anything in his path
- civilians and combatants alike. His experiences allowed
him to adopt the murderous Weinberger Doctrine; his ego compelled
him to co-opt it and to refine it into what is widely touted
today as the "Powell Doctrine."
In his autobiography, My
American Journey, Powell coldly describes the deliberate
destruction of "the enemy," or villagers who might sympathize
with the Viet Cong: "We burned the thatched huts, starting
the blaze with Ronson and Zippo lighters... Why were we torching
houses and destroying crops? Ho Chi Minh had said people were
like the sea in which his guerillas swam. We tried to solve
the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable. In the
hard logic of war, what difference does it make if you shot
your enemy or starved him to death?"
In April 2002, shortly after the Jenin refugee camp massacre
in Palestine's West Bank, Powell took a turn around the site
and returned to testify to Congress - "I've seen no evidence
of mass graves... no evidence that would suggest a massacre
took place... Clearly people died in Jenin - people who
were terrorists (emphasis added) died in Jenin - and in
the prosecution of that battle innocent lives may well have
Powell was not asked why not one single home in Jenin was
left standing; he did not address the problems he must have
had maneuvering through the rubble, nor did he give any indication
that the pungent, stifling smell of rotting corpses bothered
him at all. Anyway, that was then and this is now.
Although Powell says Vietnam is "another place, another
time," his unrepentant callous disregard for the lives of
innocent civilians is legend, and continues in this place
and in this time. When a reporter asked him in April 1991
about Iraqi military and civilian deaths, Powell shrugged
with stunning indifference, "That's not really a number I'm
terribly interested in." Now, 12 years later, we are back
in Iraq where bodies of the dehumanized stack up on city streets
and litter the desert landscape. But their number is not too
terribly interesting because - as you know - we don't do body
Don't Go There!
When tasked in February 2003 by George W. Bush to go before
the United Nations and convince the world that Saddam Hussein
was armed and poised to destroy every living thing on the
planet unless we immediately took preemptive action, Powell
obediently expended his considerable cache of political capital
- and threw in his sterling reputation for good measure.
"What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based
on solid intelligence," Powell assured the UN Security Council.
Never mind that most of Powell's "proof" of Iraq's intentions
to wreak world havoc was lifted from an article written by
a postgraduate student from Monterey, California. It didn't
matter because Powell's "bells-and-whistles" presentation,
which included aerial photographs of trailers designed for
producing biological weapons, wild warnings of secret arsenals
of weapons of mass destruction and hiliarous Republican Guard
telephone intercepts, was aimed directly at the American people.
Of course it worked, but at great cost in American money
and in American and Iraqi lives. Not to mention the damage
to Powell's ability to function on the world stage as an effective
diplomat. Casting aside his carefully nurtured role of "reluctant
warrior," Powell soldiers on, reduced to defending Bush's
"vision" of a new world order and to warning other nations
such as Syria, Palestine, Libya, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi
Arabia to get in line behind U.S. policies or find themselves
"on the wrong side of history."
But nothing reveals Powell's brutish dark side so clearly
or exposes his utter disdain for all creatures brown or black
as his recent orchestration of the coup d'etat in Haiti and
the forced ouster of its democratically elected president,
Quietly, quietly, Powell stood by for three years as Haitian
rebels were trained and armed in the Dominican Republic for
the overthrow of Aristide's government. In early February,
just prior to the planned coup, Powell assured the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, "It is the policy of the government
that it is not for regime change."
Quietly, the administration cut off aid to Haiti, and Powell
administered a "hands-off" policy during the ensuing violence
and bloodshed. Rebel forces spread over the provinces, toting
U.S.-made M-16s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Finally,
Aristide, who refused to leave for fear that all who supported
him would be killed, pleaded for U.S. assistance.
The assistance Powell sent was armed Marines who forced
Aristide and his wife aboard a plane under threat of death,
and whisked them out of the country. Members of the Congressional
Black Caucus courageously attempted to penetrate the public
consciousness, but to no avail. Randall Robinson, close associate
of Aristide and founder of TransAfrica, said "Colin Powell
is the most powerful and damaging black to rise to influence
in the world in my lifetime."
While America yawned, Powell quietly pulled the media curtain
on the Haiti regime change - Cheshire-cat smile in place as
Florida television talk-show host Gerard Latortue was installed
as prime minister. The killing of all who supported Aristide
began. Bodies continue to be dumped on a Haitian hillside,
where dogs and pigs feast on them. Caribbean countries seeking
a UN probe of Aristide's ouster have been intimidated into
Roll out the banner - another bloody mission accomplished.
Haiti is indeed another place and another time where Powell
would rather we not go. In Haiti last week to show support
for the new U.S.-backed regime, Powell echoed George W. Bush
- "I urge the proud people of Haiti to come together in peace,
to seize this new chance to put your country firmly on the
path to democracy."
Sound familiar? Before you get too comfortable, remember
that the blood of the innocent - from Vietnam to Haiti - not
only stains every warmonger in this administration, but cries
out for justice. Lest you are still moonstruck by Colin Powell,
remember that few things are more frightening than fascism
in disarray when time is running out.
And, don't go there!
Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma freelance writer and a former
US Army Public Information Officer. She will accept praise
and atta-boys at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Complaints and death threats should be directed to her cousin,
Junior Samples, at BR-549