Paging Colin Powell

You might think a journalist like myself has special insight into the way news cycles work, but I must say that for every feeding frenzy that I predict, there is a story like this one that strikes me as huge, but is mostly ignored.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

General Powell, who left the Bush Administration in 2005, angry about the misinformation that he unwittingly gave the world when he made the case for the invasion of Iraq at the UN, is understood to have backed Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration.

The central news here is stunning — a former Bush Administration official asserting under oath that his bosses knowingly kept hundreds of innocent men imprisoned. Beyond that, there is the curiously phrased assertion that Colin Powell “is understood to have backed” these allegations. What exactly does that mean? I find it hard to imagine circumstances that would cause me to phrase something that way in a reported piece.

As far as I can tell, only Fox News has done the obvious follow-up reporting.

Peggy Cifrino, principal assistant to Powell, said in a written statement to Fox News, “General Powell has not seen Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration and, therefore, cannot provide a comment. Nor, obviously, can ‘it be understood that he backed’ the declaration as reported by Tim Reid of The Times.”

I am hesitant to skewer Colin Powell here since the strangeness of all this reporting makes it difficult to know exactly what is going on, but here is my tentative thought: Either President Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld are being slandered, and deserve for Gen. Powell to speak up on their behalf, or else they’ve committed grave injustices, in which case Powell owes it to the country to say as much. Instead we get a weaselly statement that neither confirms nor denies anything on the dubious ground that Powell hasn’t seen Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration. Am I wrong in imagining that if he wanted a copy he wouldn’t have much trouble getting ahold of it? Or that he is perfectly capable of commenting on the general question of whether the Bush Administration knowingly held innocents?

Perhaps General Powell is preparing a statement even as I type this. If not, I certainly hope he’ll come under pressure to reveal what he knows about this matter, whether its effect is to confirm or repudiate his former aide’s accusations.


7 Responses to “Paging Colin Powell”

  1. ncfrommke Says:

    I will never understand professional military types- they’ll throw down their lives for their country in a heartbeat- but risk their careers? Never.

  2. mfarmer Says:

    I get slammed quite often for my strictly libertarian, limited government views, yet, if this is true, it confirms why it’s vital to limit government, and not just surgically applied limitations – as long as government is not limited in a comprehensive way, we’ll get abuses of power such as this. It’s the nature of the State to cover-up and protect itself. If more journalists were doing their jobs, we’d likely uncover much more egregious mistakes and mispresentations from government. There’s a world of abuse within the State which we’re shielded from by lack of transparency and lack of limitations on power.

  3. scottchaffee Says:

    Powell is afraid, just as hundreds if not thousands of public servants are afraid, of speaking out regarding government practice. They fear retribution, the limelight, and embarrasment to their families. Still, this information will trickle out over time. The blockbuster stuff is still years from finding light.

  4. kurtfawnigat Says:

    My mom said there’s a special place in hell for the likes of Powell. But she’s a boomer-fake-hippy-turned moralist, firmly ensconced in the culture of now so make what you will of that.

    My personal feeling is that Powell’s already living in a special kind of hell- the kind where you see yourself holding up a little vial in front of an international assembly and talking crazy shit about sadam’s alqaeda chemical weapons stockpiles.
    You know it’s bullshit but you’re hedging your bets because of the money Schwarzkopf was getting on book deals and terror warrior lecture circuit gravvy train.

    Sometimes the risk versus reward result doesn’t work out the way we’d hoped.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to see how my Chertoff Group shares are doing. Keep an eye on BAE Systems for a record quarter.

  5. davidlosangeles Says:

    Mr. Friedersdorf,

    This is not complicated, people are embarrassed and exhausted by the never-ending war in Iraq. Those who supported the war, or did nothing, are embarrassed by the fact that they got fooled and bullied again. Those who opposed the war are exhausted and frustrated by their enormous but failed efforts to avoid disaster. Like the leaked video of a helicopter crew gunning down civilians and journalists, it just does not matter. Everyone knows that the war is over and the troops are coming home. People want to move on.

  6. dougem Says:

    General Powell makes me crazy! Here is a man, a soldier who earner our respect but because he is a soldier and a loyal boy scout he fell on his sword for the likes of Bush and Chenney. I’m sure his training caused him to do that but to completely surrender all credibilty by lying about Iraq and then remaining silent about this crime is just too much to bear. It’s time for General Powell to serve his country and not a misguided former administration. The crimes and the crimials need to be exposed.

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