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Powell's Momentous Moment

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By John E. Carey
September 15, 2006

General Colin Powell is a great American. Serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1990 and 1991 during "Operation Desert Shield" and then the war, "Operation Desert Storm," he always provided expert, reasoned advice.

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Much of the advice went to our current president's father.

But as Secretary of State, Colin Powell never felt that his views and opinions mattered much. The dynamos running foreign policy in George W. Bush's presidency were undoubtedly, the Vice President, Mr. Cheney, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and even the National Security Advisor and Powell's successor as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

On February 5, 2003, Colin Powell made the case for the United States of America before the United Nations. In a detailed presentation with graphics, he thought he showed the CIA's best estimate of the Weapons of Mass Destruction situation inside Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The United States and coalition allies invaded Iraq. In fact, U.S. forces rushed into Iraq and disarmed and disbanded Saddam's army much faster than almost anyone believed possible.

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Much of what the CIA had told Colin Powell about Saddam's WMD turned out not to be true. Or at least it looked that way. And to many, around the world, there is still great doubt about the U.S.'s explanation about why war was needed against Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Allies and friends of the U.S. have asked me: "If Saddam was such a threat, and had such great stockpiles of WMD, and the mighty U.S. military invaded and quickly ended the war; where are those WMD?

Where indeed.

Colin Powell certainly wonders.

General Powell retired. And in keeping with long standing traditions of retired U.S. military officers, especially Generals, he has largely stayed out of politics and the ongoing national debate about the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

But then the CIA Director urged the president to sponsor a reinterpretation of rules governing the treatment of prisoners. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden wanted the Geneva Conventions reinterpreted or redefined for his questioners of prisoners.

Powell decided to strike. We think he just could not remain quiet any longer.

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He wrote a letter to Senator John McCain. Senator McCain, a former prisoner of war that has suffered from ememy torture, has strong feelings about the proper legal guidance to Americans entrusted with the care of prisoners in time of war.

In a carefully worded letter to Senator John McCain, General Powell wrote that the president's plan to redefine the Geneva Conventions would encourage the world to "doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," and "put our own troops at risk."

Another former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Vessey, in a letter to Senator McCain urging him to stop changes in interpretation to the Geneva conventions wrote, " could give opponents a legal argument for the mistreatment of Americans being held prisoner in time of war."

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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