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Pots and Black Kettles: Powell Utters the G-word
by Paul de Rooij
September 20, 2004

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On September 9, 2004, in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, accused the government of Sudan of genocide as follows:

“When we reviewed the evidence compiled by our team, we concluded – I concluded – that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility, and that genocide may still be occurring.”

Consider the context of this statement. The US conducted a war of aggression against Iraq, and it has therefore committed a supreme international crime. [1] Therefore, American leaders – including General Powell – “are guilty of having committed the supreme international crime in Iraq.” [2]  Furthermore, even while Powell was accusing the Sudanese government, the US military in Iraq were engaged in actions that can only be considered war crimes or worse. So here is General Powell, a mass criminal, accusing the Sudanese government of some retail barbarity. It is not an issue of whether or not such crimes are occurring, but what is revolting is to find Powell sanctimoniously accusing the Sudanese. It is another case of the “pot calling the kettle black.”

About Darfur

It is likely that some awful things are occurring in the Darfur region, but it may not fall neatly into Powell's characterization. First, part of the conflict in the area was caused due to the changing climate. The desertification of the region, the expanding Sahel, has created a conflict between the “camel herders” and farmers. [3]  Second, the characterization of the conflict as one between “Africans” and “Arabs” is stretched by any standard. As Alex de Waal stated: “Despite talk of 'Arabs' and 'Africans', it is rarely possible to tell on the basis of skin color which group an individual Darfurian belongs to. All have lived there for centuries and all are Muslims.” [4]  Finally, several countries have been interfering in the region, and it is likely that the US or its surrogates have been arming groups in the region. [5] It is likely that the US may be a party to the crimes occurring in the area. In sum, any claims and accusations about mass crimes occurring in Sudan should be treated with caution, especially when uttered by the US at a time when it may be useful to deflect attention of its own depredations in Iraq. The initial admonishments against Sudan occurred a few days after the main revelations about the US-conducted torture in Iraq.

A matter of speed

It is of interest to compare General Powell's response to the Darfur “crisis” to his intervention in Israel in April 2002. After issuing his initial warnings about the situation in Darfur, Powell flew in a matter of a few days directly to Sudan to confer with government officials. Even while in Sudan, Powell issued stern public warnings and threats about the alleged mass abuses. In contrast, in 2002 Powell's reaction to Ariel Sharon's depredations in the West Bank, including the flattening of the Jenin refugee camp, was very different. Here Powell's reaction entailed making several stops in Morocco, Syria… en route to Jerusalem, arriving only after Sharon had finished his gory deeds in Jenin. While ostensibly Powell went to Israel to convey president Bush's message that Israel should “stop its military action immediately”, after his arrival in Jerusalem, Powell suspended his mission for a few days because of a suicide bombing! Even though Powell's mission should have dealt with serious business and possibly issue stern warnings against Sharon, what we witnessed instead was Powell engaged in jovial exchanges with Sharon and his coterie – it was an all-smiles affair. Upon his return, Powell didn't appear in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he didn't pressure the United Nations to threaten sanctions, but instead colluded with the Israelis to sabotage the possibility of a UN fact-finding commission to Jenin – eventually this commission was aborted. Again, Powell demonstrated that double standards apply.

Genocide, where have you been?

It is also astonishing to see that Powell actually uttered the word “genocide”. A bit of context will be helpful to appreciate the hypocritical heights Powell has scaled. After the Second World War, the United Nations sought to enact a convention against genocide, but the United States did everything in its power to sabotage this convention. First, in the late 1940s, the US sought to wreck and postpone the UN convention on genocide. It managed to have the principal architect of the convention (Raphael Lemkin) removed; it then reduced the scope of the convention thereby eliminating its effectiveness in preventing future genocides. Even after watering-down the convention, the US didn't ratify it, but delayed until 1988 when it ratified it conditionally, and the long list of appended provisos rendered the convention toothless. [6]  With this history in mind, it is therefore dubious to find Powell leveling accusations of genocide today.

It seems that the US only uses the accusation of genocide when it is useful for its own political gain, and will use this accusation even if there are no indications of genocide under way. (Or alternatively, ignore genocides when they do occur.) During the wars in Bosnia or Kosovo, the accusation of “genocide” was also used, but it is doubtful whether it applied. [7]  Some of the alleged mass crimes seem to have been perpetrated by the Bosnians or Kosovars themselves! The tribunal set up to deal with the crimes in ex-Yugoslavia also attests to the US's cynicism in this matter. The tribunal was set up to deal specifically with Bosnia/Kosovo, but not within a framework where future mass crimes could be prosecuted; it is another case where selective justice is diminished justice.

Attention deficits

Journalists or editors often claim that the public can only pay attention to one or two issues at a time. When an event occurs in say, Sudan, it means that the coverage of events in Iraq will be reduced. And here we see the real reason Powell has sought to level the accusation of genocide against Sudan. Powell seems to have lent himself for a propaganda campaign to divert the public's attention from the on-going war in Iraq and the Israeli depredations in the occupied territories. In February 2003, he played along with the grotesque leveling of fraudulent accusations against Iraq at the Security Council, and now he is doing it again to deflect attention from unsavory aspects of the US-wars. The US election is also upon us, and it is important to divert the electorate's attention from the key issue in the election.

Oh, hatred!

An often-heard question in the US is “why do they hate us?” The answer is becoming increasingly clear to Americans. [8] Performances like Powell's indicate that US foreign policy is a mix of cynicism, hypocrisy and sadism. It is not an issue of perceptions, but the on-going war in Iraq, the continuous bombing of Fallujah, the assassination of hundreds of Iraqi intellectuals…, all show that there is a concrete basis to assess American actions around the world. There are ample reasons why people may hate the United States.

* For a detailed discussion of Colin Powell's recent history see: Paul de Rooij's A Political Obituary: Colin Powell, D.O.A., Dissident Voice, May 22, 2004.

Paul de Rooij can be contacted at (NB: all attachments will be automatically deleted). ©2004 Paul de Rooij


1) Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal wars, collateral damage and crimes against humanity, Pluto Press 2004, p. 5. This is a very important book clarifying many of the issues about the applicability of international law and the American implication in major crimes.

2) Mandel, ibid, p. 6.

3) Alex de Waal, “Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap,” London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 15 dated 5 August 2004. This is an excellent article demonstrating that the situation is not “black & white” as depicted by Powell, but one with a degree of complexity and a long history.

4) de Waal, ibid.

5) Pierre Abramovici, United States: the new scramble for Africa, Le Monde Diplomatique, July 2004. (unfortunately, the web version [paid subscription] doesn't contain the map).

6) Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide, City Lights Books, 1997. For an excellent discussion of the American machinations surrounding the genocide convention see pp. 363–393.

7) Diana Johnstone, Fools' Crusade, Pluto Press, London, 2002.

8) See for example: Paul J. Balles, Why does the rest of the world hate you and me?, Sept. 9, 2004.

Other Articles by Paul de Rooij:

* Palestinian Misery in Perspective
* A Political Obituary: Powell, D.O.A.
* Glossary of the Iraqi Occupation
* The BBC and the Quiet Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians
* For Whom The Death Tolls: Deliberate Undercounting of “Coalition” Fatalities
* The Politics of Crying Wolf
* Demolishing the Myths of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
* Amnesty International: The Case of a Rape Foretold
* Predictable Propaganda: Four Months of US Occupation of Iraq
* The Parade of the Body Bags
* Ambient Death in Palestine
* The Hydra’s New Head: Propagandists, and Selling the US-Iraq War
* Gretta Duisenberg: An Activist in the Trenches
* Propaganda Stinkers: Fresh Samples From the Field
* Arrogant Propaganda: US Propaganda During The First 10 Days of the US- Iraq War
* A Glossary of Warmongering