Barack Obama would like to bring Colin Powell into his new administration. But Americans consider Powell only marginally more credible than how the rest of the world views him, and the rest of the world thinks he lies like a rug. Powell either wholeheartedly backed the biggest crime thus far this century, or he secretly opposed it but worked to make it happen anyway. I'm not sure which is worse, but either disqualifies him for future office.
Can you imagine having an opportunity to address the United Nations Security Council about a matter of great global importance, with all the world's media watching, and using it to… well, to make sh*t up -- to lie with a straight face, and with a CIA director propped up behind you, I mean to spew one world-class, for-the-record-books stream of bull, to utter nary a breath without a couple of whoppers in it, and to look like you really mean it all? What gall. What an insult to the entire world that would be.
Colin Powell doesn't have to imagine such a thing. He has to live with it. He did it on February 5, 2003. It's on videotape.
I tried to ask him about it in the summer of 2004. He was speaking to the Unity Journalists of Color convention in Washington, D.C. The event had been advertised as including questions from the floor, but for some reason that plan was revised. Speakers from the floor were permitted to ask questions of four safe and vetted journalists of color before Powell showed up, and then those four individuals could choose to ask him something related -- which of course they did not, in any instance, do.
The panel that had been assembled to lob softballs at Powell served its purpose well. It was moderated by Gwen Ifill. I asked Ifill whether Powell had any explanation for the way in which he had relied on the testimony of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law. He had recited the claims about weapons of mass destruction but carefully left out the part where that same gentleman had testified that all of Iraq's WMDs had been destroyed. Ifill thanked me, and said nothing.
I wonder what Powell would say if someone were to actually ask him that question, even today, or next year, or ten years from now. Someone tells you about a bunch of old weapons and at the same time tells you they've been destroyed, and you choose to repeat the part about the weapons and censor the part about their destruction. How would you explain that?
Well, it's a sin of omission, so ultimately Powell could claim he forgot. "Oh yeah, I meant to say that, but it slipped my mind."
But how would he explain this:
During his presentation at the United Nations, Powell provided this translation of an intercepted conversation between Iraqi army officers:
"They're inspecting the ammunition you have, yes.
"For the possibility there are forbidden ammo.
"For the possibility there is by chance forbidden ammo?
"And we sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there."
The incriminating phrases "clean all of the areas" and "Make sure there is nothing there" do not appear in the official State Department translation of the exchange. Powell was writing fictional dialogue. He put those extra lines in there and pretended somebody had said them.
For most of his presentation, Powell wasn't inventing dialogue, but he was presenting as facts numerous claims that his own staff had warned him were weak and indefensible.
Powell told the UN and the world: "We know that Saddam’s son, Qusay, ordered the removal of all prohibited weapons from Saddam's numerous palace complexes." The January 31, 2003, evaluation of Powell's draft remarks prepared for him by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research ("INR") flagged this claim as "WEAK".
Regarding alleged Iraqi concealment of key files, Powell said: "key files from military and scientific establishments have been placed in cars that are being driven around the countryside by Iraqi intelligence agents to avoid detection." The January 31, 2003 INR evaluation flagged this claim as "WEAK" and added "Plausibility open to question." A Feb. 3, 2003, INR evaluation of a subsequent draft of Powell's remarks noted: "Page 4, last bullet, re key files being driven around in cars to avoid inspectors. This claim is highly questionable and promises to be targeted by critics and possibly UN inspection officials as well." That didn't stop Powell from stating it as fact and apparently hoping that, even if UN inspectors thought he was a brazen liar, US media outlets wouldn't tell anyone.
On the issue of biological weapons and dispersal equipment, Powell said: "we know from sources that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was disbursing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to various locations, distributing them to various locations in western Iraq." The January 31, 2003, INR evaluation flagged this claim as: "WEAK. Missiles with biological warheads reportedly dispersed. This would be somewhat true in terms of short-range missiles with conventional warheads, but is questionable in terms of longer-range missiles or biological warheads."
This claim was again flagged in the February 3, 2003, evaluation of a subsequent draft of Powell's presentation: "Page 5. first para, claim re missile brigade dispersing rocket launchers and BW warheads. This claim too is highly questionable and might be subjected to criticism by UN inspection officials." That didn't stop Colin. In fact, he brought out visual aids to help with his lying. Powell showed a slide of a satellite photograph of an Iraqi munitions bunker, and lied: