Rachel Maddow’s Colin Powell Interview

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Rachel Maddow opens her interesting interview with General Colin Powell who served as Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration with comments by his former Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson that senior administration officials knew the consequences of sending untrained staff to Guantanamo and that there were many in Guantanamo who were innocent.
Powell’s response essentially validates in substance and emotion Colonel Wilkerson’s views — particularly when you watch General Powell’s expression when he speaks of the detention of teenagers and a 93-year old man.

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Then, Rachel Maddow gets into the question of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the policy that permits gay Americans to serve in the military as long as soldiers hide their sexual identity. . .completely. If they don’t, then they can be and usually, will be discharged. Barack Obama has signaled his intention to eventually change this policy. Powell’s response was fairly bureaucratic — open to change if it can be shown that the “quality of the force” would not be adversely affected.
Powell is tilting in a constructive and progressive direction, but I still find myself disappointed by the lack of principle he feels in this case with regard to discrimination against gay people. The “quality of the force” has clearly been adversely affected by the discharge of highly qualified soldiers, technical experts, and translators because they were gay and we allowed bigotry to undermine American national security interests.
But beyond the question of soldiering efficacy is the question of whether the U.S. military should look like American society — or not. And in my view, discriminatory standards and codes are as abhorrent when applied to race as to sexual identity. I think Colin Powell knows this — and have reason to believe that he is more than ready to accept and support gays in the military. But it is clear that he is not going to be the leader that calls for change.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

17 comments on “Rachel Maddow’s Colin Powell Interview

  1. David says:

    Rich,
    Thanks for the excellent summary of who Colin Powell has always been, and likely will always be.
    Jim,
    Your comment also captures a very important essence of Colin Powell, one which helps explain how Larry Wilkerson could contend that Powell opposed torture. What Powell might personally oppose is as nothing to what he will countenance as his suit defines what his actions will be. Clearly he is not homophobic, but also clearly it is of no value to the larger issue of homophobia in the military.
    And that is how he could be the person most responsible for getting people who should have known better, especially in the press, to accept the invasion of Iraq.
    Powell is first and foremost an establishment person (the “good” soldier), in the all-too-superficial sense of that concept, both as regards whatever establishment he serves and the establishment of his own career. Ambition has apparently always trumped personal principles for Powell, which makes him pretty much a run-of-the-mill climber.
    When we bombed the Chorillo district of Panama City during the war crime known as the invasion of Panama, with Colin Powell as chair of the joint chiefs, I became convinced that he was just another principle-challenged “warrior hero.”
    Colin Powell enjoyed culture-wide respect that he never deserved, and which contributed greatly to Cheney/Bush’s ability to commit the war crime known as the invasion of Iraq.
    His support for Obama seemed like it might have signalled a change, and to the extent that it possibly helped Obama win, it was a public good, but I suspect Powell is incapable of any kind of personal transformation such as the transformation for Admiral Zumwalt regarding the use of agent orange in Viet Nam, the chemical soul[less]mate to the torching of villages and carpet bombing. Powell’s soul apparently does not run that deep.

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  2. Jim Darby says:

    Sorry I missed the program with Powell
    In the early 90’s Powell had a driver/secretary. I believe his name was McManus. Powell was a strong supporter of keeping DADT. When confronted with the fact that McManus was gay, Powell simply said – “So.”
    Colin Powell could have been the one person to end the policy. Thanks to Colin Powell we are still at the back of the bus

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  3. rich says:

    And this is, of course, why our ‘counterinsurgency’ programs will fail in Afghanistan and in Iraq. You don’t have to be a genious or devour Alfred McCoy’s collected works to understand that.
    Colin Powell is symptomatic. But he’s integral to the problem:
    “In 1963, Capt. Colin Powell was one of those advisers, serving a first tour with a South Vietnamese army unit. Powell’s detachment sought to discourage support for the Viet Cong by torching villages throughout the A Shau Valley. While other U.S. advisers protested this countrywide strategy as brutal and counter-productive, Powell defended the “drain-the-sea” approach then — and continued that defense in his 1995 memoirs, My American Journey. (See The Consortium, July 8)
    After his first one-year tour and a series of successful training assignments in the United States, Maj. Powell returned for his second Vietnam tour on July 27, 1968. This time, he was no longer a junior officer slogging through the jungle, but an up-and-coming staff officer assigned to the Americal division.
    By late 1968, Powell had jumped over more senior officers into the important post of G-3, chief of operations for division commander, Maj. Gen. Charles Gettys, at Chu Lai. Powell had been “picked by Gen. Gettys over several lieutenant colonels for the G-3 job itself, making me the only major filling that role in Vietnam,” Powell wrote in his memoirs.
    But a test soon confronted Maj. Powell. A letter had been written by a young specialist fourth class named Tom Glen, who had served in an Americal mortar platoon and was nearing the end of his Army tour. In a letter to Gen. Creighton Abrams, the commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam, Glen accused the Americal division of routine brutality against civilians. Glen’s letter was forwarded to the Americal headquarters at Chu Lai where it landed on Maj. Powell’s desk.
    “The average GI’s attitude toward and treatment of the Vietnamese people all too often is a complete denial of all our country is attempting to accomplish in the realm of human relations,” Glen wrote. “Far beyond merely dismissing the Vietnamese as ‘slopes’ or ‘gooks,’ in both deed and thought, too many American soldiers seem to discount their very humanity; and with this attitude inflict upon the Vietnamese citizenry humiliations, both psychological and physical, that can have only a debilitating effect upon efforts to unify the people in loyalty to the Saigon government, particularly when such acts are carried out at unit levels and thereby acquire the aspect of sanctioned policy.”
    Glen’s letter contended that many Vietnamese were fleeing from Americans who “for mere pleasure, fire indiscriminately into Vietnamese homes and without provocation or justification shoot at the people themselves.” Gratuitous cruelty was also being inflicted on Viet Cong suspects, Glen reported.
    “Fired with an emotionalism that belies unconscionable hatred, and armed with a vocabulary consisting of ‘You VC,’ soldiers commonly ‘interrogate’ by means of torture that has been presented as the particular habit of the enemy. Severe beatings and torture at knife point are usual means of questioning captives or of convincing a suspect that he is, indeed, a Viet Cong…
    “It would indeed be terrible to find it necessary to believe that an American soldier that harbors such racial intolerance and disregard for justice and human feeling is a prototype of all American national character; yet the frequency of such soldiers lends credulity to such beliefs. … What has been outlined here I have seen not only in my own unit, but also in others we have worked with, and I fear it is universal. If this is indeed the case, it is a problem which cannot be overlooked, but can through a more firm implementation of the codes of MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) and the Geneva Conventions, perhaps be eradicated.”
    Glen’s letter echoed some of the complaints voiced by early advisers, such as Col. John Paul Vann, who protested the self-defeating strategy of treating Vietnamese civilians as the enemy. In 1995, when we questioned Glen about his letter, he said he had heard second-hand about the My Lai massacre, though he did not mention it specifically. The massacre was just one part of the abusive pattern that had become routine in the division, he said.
    Maj. Powell’s Response
    The letter’s troubling allegations were not well received at Americal headquarters. Maj. Powell undertook the assignment to review Glen’s letter, but did so without questioning Glen or assigning anyone else to talk with him. Powell simply accepted a claim from Glen’s superior officer that Glen was not close enough to the front lines to know what he was writing about, an assertion Glen denies.
    After that cursory investigation, Powell drafted a response on Dec. 13, 1968. He admitted to no pattern of wrongdoing. Powell claimed that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were taught to treat Vietnamese courteously and respectfully. The Americal troops also had gone through an hour-long course on how to treat prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, Powell noted.
    “There may be isolated cases of mistreatment of civilians and POWs,” Powell wrote in 1968. But “this by no means reflects the general attitude throughout the Division.” Indeed, Powell’s memo faulted Glen for not complaining earlier and for failing to be more specific in his letter.
    Powell reported back exactly what his superiors wanted to hear. “In direct refutation of this [Glen’s] portrayal,” Powell concluded, “is the fact that relations between Americal soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.”
    Powell’s findings, of course, were false. But it would take another Americal hero, an infantryman named Ron Ridenhour, to piece together the truth about the atrocity at My Lai. After returning to the United States, Ridenhour interviewed Americal comrades who had participated in the massacre.”
    You can’t win a ‘war’ like that. And America should be the last nation to go that route.
    http://www.consortiumnews.com/archive/colin3.html

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  4. rich says:

    Back on topic and back on stable ground —
    Ms. Maddow does a fantastic job exposing Mr. Powell’s complete unresponsiveness to the issue. Powell pretends that torture is a legal issue that’s the province of lawyers — an gambit ineffectual in reducing the culpability of officials in State, Defense and the White House.
    For Sgt. Schultz as Secretary of State in Colin “I see Nussink!” Powell. It’s fundamentally not (only) a legal question. Mr. Powell knew those meetings were going on and either a) studiously avoided specific experience of them, or b) knew what went on in them and the result of them — and accepted their result as though that could ever supply him with plausible over for his participatory and enabling role.
    Either way, Powell is even now refusing to say what he knows, or state for the record that torture is torture, and that it is, by definition, illegal.
    http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/slick-by-digby-following-on-of-ddays.html
    Again, torture goes beyond illegality and is also a political, practical and moral question — one no Secretary of State, general, operative or Prznt/POTUS ever need consult a lawyer to understand is completely out of bounds.
    That’s why Mr. Powell’s continuing failure as a man, as a citizen and civilian, as a leader and public servant, resonates so strongly with the misdeeds and miscreants of the Bush Administration.
    Let’s get real here. Mr. Powell is not going to step back into public life and rescue the Republican Party from its indulgent perfidiousness because as a willing and knowledgeable participant he willingly facilitated those violations of the letter and spirit of American law.
    And rather than respond to Maddow, Powell openly lies about what he knows, about what he knows to be illegal and about the status of the question posed, and about what was done.
    NOte Powell’s words put the lie to Wilkerson’s claim that Powell fought Bush’s policy of torture. If Colin Powell had done so — his resistance would be evidence that he knows torture is wrong. It would be evidence he fought a dishonorable policy and is thus off the hook. He should have no problem discussing a policy he objected to; there would be no legal jeopardy and no political cost for coming clean with the American people.
    Instead, Mr. Powell is trying to protect himself and protect and stay in the good graces of Dick Cheney, his backers, and the officials Bush & Cheney ‘left behind’ as an insurance policy.
    But Mr. Powell’s obvious disingenuousness are evidence that he knows he’s culpable.
    But think about this: for 8 years we had a Secretary of State who couldn’t make a decision about torture, couldn’t supposedly understand the issue and couldn’t admit the issue was a policy and political issue for which he was responsible. Not his department. Up to the lawyers. Wasn’t his concern. Didn’t have the influence, even if he was.
    As long as a Secretary of State thinks torture is a legal question, then he clearly holds himself above the law. Never mind that he shouldn’t have to ask a lawyer; he’s positing that his job function simply doesn’t draw in legal questions. Some will object & say that’s not Powell’s position–but that’s clearly what he’s asking you to believe; that’s what he’s saying to evade speaking honestly about torture, still.
    Rachel Maddow really did a masterful job exposing Powell as another cheap suit.
    What it comes down to is this: George Washington spilled British blood and fought even more tenaciously to put an end to the torture English citizens & British soldiers themselves faced at the hands of the Crown’s guardians of law & public order. What victories George Washington won against official callousness meted out through bureaucratic practices long-held to be inhumane if not criminal, Colin Powell has thrown away. What George Washington built, Colin Powell has undone. True, he did it while preserving his career, but that’s not exactly a recommendation.
    digby is also onto this — from the transcript:
    MADDOW: If there was a meeting, though, at which senior officials were saying, were discussing and giving the approval for sleep deprivation, stress positions, water boarding, were those officials committing crimes when they were giving that authorization?
    POWELL: You’re asking me a legal question. I mean I don’t know that any of these items would be considered criminal. And I will wait for whatever investigations that the government or the Congress intends to pursue with this.
    Get it? Mr. Powell claims to not be expert enough to know whether or not torture is illegal. Or whether torture occurred. But pulling the Ronald Reagan defense or the John Roberts nomination tactic won’t work for Powell. It’s a flat-out insult. Why? Because we have Secretaries of State so that the country can function without descending into legalistic hairsplitting about agreed-upon principles. We have Secretaries of State so that the country can defend itself militarily without having to a) engage in counterproductive & repugnant practices anathema to our way of life, torture being of primary relevance to the very birth of America; and b) so that we do not have to re-fight that question every time there is a friggin’ crisis.
    Now, some will insist Mr. Powell did resist the Cheney/Bush-driven torture machine, internally. It’s possible he had disagreements; it is impossible to discount the fact that Mr. Powell willingly countenanced torture, saying nothing when it mattered, nor did he opt to responsibly act in the only way that mattered: publicly.
    Mr. Powell will be employed for life. But his refusal to deal forthrightly with the American People on this is not something he can shake.
    Secretary of State is a civilian position, and the job description does not involve following orders; certainly not at the expense of every birthright and responsiblity George Washington bequeathed the country.

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  5. Kathleen G says:

    POA with bb Nothingdoin (bibi Netanyahu) refusing to recognize a two state solution and the completely out of the closet racist Lieberman taking the lead over there in Israel. I am completely convinced that Israel never wanted Peace..just more chaos to grab more land.

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  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    BTW, has anyone else noticed that the media is not emphasizing the highly predictable, logically inevitable, and impending collapse of the “success of the surge”? Its unraveling. And Obama’s plan for the Afghanistan machine is about to have a major wrench thrown in the gears. Do we really have the troops to deal with an escalation in Afghanistan/Pakistan while Iraq erupts into civil chaos?
    Stay tuned, this clusterfuck is just gettin’ started. And we thought the last eight years were bad.
    Obama is a one termer. And he will exit stage left, to the refrain of “we told ya so” from these slimey scumbags on the far right who will blame him for destroying the “success” in Iraq. And the dithering idiots that are the vast majority of the Wal-Mart collective, known as “the American public”, will swallow it hook, line, and sinker.
    And watch Israel fry Palestinians gleefully while the world is distracted by Iraq’s implosion.

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  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Who’d this cowardly Maddow clown inteview about the impending N.Korean missile launch? The guy’s name was Cohn, Cohen, somethin’ like that? I got a kick out of it. The jackass said that the U.N. was proving itself irrelevent if it didn’t enforce resolutions. Of course, he only said that because he was talking about N.Korea, and not Israel. How many U.N. resolutions is Israel thumbing its nose at? 62? Of course, Maddow didn’t mention it.
    I mentioned a week or too ago that I felt Maddow was “over-hamming” it. I’ve changed my mind. She might as well act like a buffoon on the air, because she has proven herself to be anything but a serious news show host or reporter.
    While we are on the topic of selective snippets of truth, I was a bit disappointed in Steve as well when he was on Washington Journal. When talking about Hamas ascendency to power, he failed to mention Israel’s actions as having anything to do with Hamas winning favor with the residents of Gaza. He basically blamed American incompetence at being able to read tea leaves, but didn’t mention Israeli transgressions at all.

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  8. Kathleen says:

    Important questions to be asking Powell. Important. But Rachel failed (unless I missed it) to ask Powell why no one has been held accountable for all of the false intelligence that he used at his UN charade? Only hundreds of thousands of folks dead as a direct result of the use of the false intelligence/
    Oh yeah still have not heard Rachel mention the Charles Freeman Withdrawal or the upcoming Aipac espionage trial.
    Yes there are quite a few issues that RAchel Maddow is too chicken shit to report about. I hate to think that her own personal agenda keeps these issues “off limits”

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  9. rich says:

    Steve writes,
    “Powell’s response essentially validates in substance and emotion Colonel Wilkerson’s views.”
    Only up to a point. Mr. Wilkerson’s job description seems to include image repair in some sort of triage operation for Mr. Powell’s reputation. But this interview puts the lie to such a weak and after-the-fact damage control project.
    While I’ve taken pains not to second-guess officials who’ve remained on the job — it is clear Mr. Powell has frittered away the benefit of the doubt to which he was due here.
    [After all: the professional & personal decision about when to stick around (to keep an eye on loose cannons on the deck of the ship of state (i.e., Rummy, Cheney, Bush) much as the Joint Chiefs did for Richard Nixon) and when to bail and/or renounce bad dealings — is a personal one, and we can’t be privy to all info & goings on that goes into these decisions.]
    Yet it is now clear that Mr. Powell made the wrong decision. By sticking it out and remaining silent, he facilitated the machinery of state that tortured innocent men who had no information — and he himself participated in torture.
    Sure, it is possible to be on the NSC Principals Committee AND resist the radical officials who’d go even further. Yet that does not justify Mr. Powell’s inaction, nor does it explain his participation. Neither does it make right Powell’s willing participation. Nor does it compensate the American people for that gross & egregious violation of sacred honor — not to mention straight American principle, our trust and his official duty.
    Nothing about Mr. Powell’s infighting — true or not (& its veracity should be questioned) — excuses his silence. Knowing of and deciding policy about torture is the right and obligation of the American people — and is the province of no government official. Their secrecy is the incontrovertible indictment of this truth, and of its status as our birthright.
    Mr. Powell had no higher obligation than to inform the American people that their country had sunk to torture, and he was and still is hip-deep in a process that made war crimes standard American policy.
    There is a bright line, and Mr. Powell is on the wrong side of it. This interview undermines Mr. Wilkerson’s image-rescuing project.
    Far from validating Mr. Wilkerson’s views, Powell was not able to bring himself to uphold his loyal underling’s integrity. His description of a process in which citizens are tortured over three to five years and then released — can never explain or smooth over or be responsive to the torture itself. This is more fuel for the fire, not less.
    If Mr. Powell can’t bring himself to condemn that policy of torture now, then he was dead wrong all the way down the line.
    Look, condemning torture should be automatic — but Mr. Powell’s reputation continues to implode because he cannot summon the courage, nor the forthrightness, to well-serve his country by facing up to the issue. That’s why his image will never be rehabilitated.
    Though Mr. Powell is continually presented as a responsible, moderating influence, that reputation is now thoroughly shattered. And no one can say no one told them so: from My Lai to George Bush, Mr. Powell has been a go-along to get-along guy. And he’s profited from his choice to sacrifice sworn principle so as to violate the national interest, along with human decency, just to assuage and reassure the status quo.
    If Mr. Powell had any lingering respect in D.C. circles, I question whether there’s any remaining . . at least in quarters where that matters. He’s digging himself a deeper hole: this interview doesn’t make up for his U.N. performance, it reprises it.

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  10. ToddinHB says:

    I, for one, am just grateful that a journalist like Maddow has emerged on the national stage to ask questions that put Judith Miller to shame (not that she wasn’t already). Peabody anyone?

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  11. rich says:

    Glad you got to this, Steve. I’d intended to post a link to this last night.
    Mr. Powell’s inability to come right out and stand up for defining American principles is damning.
    For every TWN reader who hasn’t been able to grasp the continuing anger directed at Mr. Powell (& Mr. Wilkerson), this is why. This is Exhibit A (ok, Ex. C) directly verifying the source and cause of the angry indictments of Colin Powell.
    Mr. Powell tortured. He was a member of the NSC’s 6-member Principals Committee, and he directed the torture of citizens who had no information, some of whom were innocent of any crime.
    Note that the posted clip has excised Maddow’s intro detailing that uncomfortable fact. Clips of the full interview are readily, easily obtainable. Instead, ‘courtesy’ of the inappropriately giddily smiling Andrea Mitchell & MSNBC, that key fact is curiously omitted. (Disclaimer: since I’m at work, I’ll re-view the whole clip & revisit this point).)
    Mr. Powell continues to damage, not rehabilitate, his already irreparably soiled image.
    There is a bright line, and Mr. Powell is on the wrong side of it.

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  12. Daro says:

    Can’t see the video. And can’t even connect/ping msnbc!
    207.46.245.33
    Are they down?

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  13. Mark says:

    One of the things about the interview that really torqued me was that Powell said he didn’t know if waterboarding was torture or not (paraphrasing here). Maddows rightly pressed him, and he still declined to say otherwise.
    Hard to believe that a man who was Secretary of State, is a four-star general, and who ran the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wouldn’t know the particulars of the Geneva Convention.
    Wholey unconvincing, and most disappointing.
    FYI, Mark

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  14. David says:

    Colin Powell will always be Colin Powell, but it is worth something that he has gone as far as he has since leaving government. His offenses were of the first order, especially because he, more than any other single American, legitimized for the press and the public the invasion of Iraq. And he falls far, far short of any actual atonement for that political sin of the first magnitude. Larry Wilkerson is the one with the spine.
    On the other hand, if you consider Obama’s victory a positive, there is a possibility that Powell’s endorsement made it possible for voters who otherwise would have voted for the “old warrior” to embrace Obama. Such are the vagaries of American electoral politics.
    And just as Eisenhower was viscerally racist, if some of the history is correct, moved only to send troops to Central High because the state of Arkansas defied a federal court order, perhaps Powell is viscerally homophobic, but willing to accept something else for America.
    The Iowa supreme court…no need to say anything else on that score, except Steve, the good guys will win out over all secular institutionalized manifestations of homophobia, as was the case with slavery, then suffrage, and then apartheid.
    We as a species might, of course, still insist on rendering the earth less than amenable to human life, and we might refuse to transform ourselves from essentially militaristic tribes writ large as nations and alliances of nations. But that is a different page.

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  15. Hypatia says:

    “But it is clear that he is not going to be the leader that calls for change.”
    well, duh. i hope you didn’t just figure that out.

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  16. Cato the Censor says:

    The man is still a war criminal, one who OK’d torture. Nothing done or said afterward can change that.

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  17. Mr.Murder says:

    “In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.”
    Has that milketoast excuse for manhood ever really changed?
    Even his current depictions were full of legalese.
    Hard to man up if you aren’t or never were one one, Colin.

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