~~ 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 crème de la crème 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 civilians promised safe passage back to Baghdad along what was to become the Highway of Death.
The Good Soldier
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 hand...
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. Why he would do these things was put into powerful perspective last year by singer Harry Belafonte, who pointed out that Powell, whose initial stance on policies is to be admired, always "sells out" when pressured.
"There's an old saying," Belafonte said, "In the days of slavery, there were those slaves who lived on the plantation and there were those slaves that lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master...exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him."
In the ensuing media furor, Belafonte, an avid United Nations supporter, refused to back down. In fact, he was eager to put his remarks into perspective -- "The idea that you work in the house of the master is almost in itself its own opportunity to do some mischief and make a difference, but when you are in that place and you help perpetuate the master's policy that perpetuates oppression and pain for many others, then something has to be said about it," Belafonte said. "And the master in this instance, of course, was the president of the United States."
Powell harrumphed that Belafonte's slave reference was an "unfortunate" throwback to another place and another time and he was proud to be serving his nation and his president. Unfortunately for the nation, George W. Bush is president, and it appears that Powell is increasingly unable to separate the two, making "honor" as well as "truth" an early casualty of war...
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 in the corridors and tunnels of his master's house 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 90-percent of Florida's African-American "Gore" voters 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 been lost."
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 -- litter the desert landscape. But their number is not too terribly interesting because -- as you know -- we don't do body counts.
Don't Go There!
When tasked by his master in February 2003 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 wreck 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 hilarious 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 his master'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, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
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 ensuring 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, pled 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." (Boston.com. March 1, 2004)
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 inaction.
Roll out the banner -- Another bloody mission accomplished.
Haiti is indeed another place and another time where Powell and his masters would rather we not go. In Haiti last week to show support for the new U.S.-backed regime, Powell echoed his master's voice -- "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 moonstruck by the gentle warrior beckoning to you from the shadows of his master's house, 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.
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