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Beware of a hawk in dove's clothing

By Sharon Smith | August 30, 2002 | Page 7

AS THE debate over invading Iraq continues, Secretary of State Colin Powell appears to be a voice of sanity--urging caution while George W. Bush races to start another war.

To be sure, Powell's calm and patient demeanor stands in sharp contrast to the hyperventilating hawks dominating the Bush administration. Prior to the start of the war against Afghanistan last fall, Powell was even dubbed a "dove" by the mass media for his insistence on building international support for the war before the U.S. started bombing.

But Colin Powell is as bloodthirsty as the rest of the warmongers in the Bush administration. In fact, the key element of the "Powell Doctrine" is the use of overwhelming U.S. military force, with no regard for civilian casualties on the other side.

Powell's own murderous record speaks for itself. As he rose up the military ladder during the Vietnam War, he burned Vietnamese villagers from their homes and then helped to cover up the widespread killing and torture of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers.

In 1968, a soldier named Tom Glen wrote a letter documenting this pattern of abuse by entire units of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade (also known as the "Butcher's Brigade"). Earlier that year, U.S. soldiers had raped, tortured and then slaughtered 347 old men, women and children at the village of My Lai. The unit that carried out the My Lai massacre was part of the 11th Brigade, although Glen did not specifically discuss the incident.

Major Colin Powell, who investigated Glen's letter from the American headquarters at Chu Lai, never even contacted Glen before dismissing his claims. "In direct refutation of [Glen's] portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent," Powell wrote. The Vietnam War, all told, killed seven million civilians.

As deputy security adviser to Ronald Reagan's Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in the 1980s, Powell helped orchestrate the illegal transfer of arms to the Nicaraguan Contras--what became known as the "Iran-Contra Affair."

The Contras, who were engaged in a U.S.-backed war to topple the democratically elected Sandinista government, were condemned by the World Court for their record of human rights atrocities.

In 1989, at Powell's urging, George Bush Sr. invaded Panama to capture Manuel Noriega, in clear violation of international law. The U.S. government admits just a few hundred civilian deaths in Panama, but human rights agencies place the total in the thousands.

The invasion of Panama was just a dress rehearsal for the Gulf War in 1991, overseen by Powell as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the course of the seven-week war, the U.S. military dropped 88,000 tons of bombs--the equivalent of seven Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs--on Iraq, destroying virtually its entire infrastructure.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 Iraqis were killed--including retreating soldiers and fleeing civilians who were burned alive by U.S. bombs, and soldiers buried alive by U.S. tanks. Powell has been called a national war hero for his role in this mass slaughter.

As secretary of state under the second Bush administration, Powell helped assemble international support for the bombing of Afghanistan, which killed thousands of Afghan civilians last fall and winter.

This past spring, Powell also helped cover up the Israeli massacre of Palestinians at the Jenin refugee camp. Israel kept foreign journalists out of Jenin for nearly two weeks after the attack, and then refused to allow a United Nations investigation.

Journalists did witness at least one mass grave--30 Palestinian corpses being buried outside a hospital. Yet Powell dutifully reported to Congress, "I've seen no evidence of mass graves…no evidence that would suggest a massacre took place."

Now, Powell's debate with Bush is not whether to invade Iraq, but rather when and how to do so. The way to stop this war is to follow the example of the protesters who dogged Bush on the campaign trail over the last two weeks--and build the broadest possible antiwar movement in the months ahead.

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