Biography of Colin Powell

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Posted by Esperanza from ( on Wednesday, February 05, 2003 at 9:45PM :

A Political and Military Biography of Colin Powell



In his memoirs, An American Journey on page 140 Gen. Powell writes, about the Vietnam war:

If a helo [helicopter]spotted a peasant in black pajamas who looked remotely suspicious, a possible MAM [military age male] the pilot would circle and fire in front of him. If he moved, his movement was judged evidence of hostile intent, and the next burst was not in front, but at him. Brutal? Maybe so.

Article Three of the Geneva Convention of 1949 to which the United States is a signatory, states that::

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

In his memoirs, General Powell also defends the U.S. practice of forcibly displacing peasants and destroying their homes, part of the "strategic hamlet" program – in fact, Gen. Powell's first "combat" assignment was in that program.

In 1968, he was charged with responding to a letter by Tom Glen, a soldier in the Americal division. The letter charged American soldiers with indiscriminately shooting into people’s homes and with severe beatings and torture of civilians. Without interviewing Glen, Powell wrote a response denying the allegations, claiming that "relations between Americal soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent." (The New Republic, 4/17/95). Given his involvement in the "strategic hamlet" program and the knowledge expressed in his memoirs of the brutal practices of American soldiers in Vietnam, he had to know his report was false. The report came out shortly after the My Lai massacre, in which hundreds of unarmed men, women and children were murdered and many women raped (Four Hours in My Lai: Penguin, 1993) – an atrocity committed by that same Americal division.


Gen. Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the invasion of Panama. In his memoirs he states that he recommended the invasion to President Bush (Also see, Bob Woodward The Commanders, 1993). Previously, the U.S. had supported the then dictator of Panama, Gen. Noriega. -- he was on the CIA’s payroll (Buckley, Panama: The Whole Story, 1991; George Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State, 1993). In terms of international law, there is no difference between the invasion of Panama by the U.S. and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq -- both are illegal. The number of civilian deaths caused by the invasion in Panama have been estimated to be between 1000 to 4000, greater than the number killed in Kuwait by the invasion of Iraq. The Central American Human Rights commission [CODEHUCA] studied the invasion and reached the following conclusions:

1) The U.S. Army used highly sophisticated and experimental weapons against unarmed civilian populations;

2) Estimates of the number of non- combatants killed run from as few as 2200 to as high as 4000 Many of the mostly black victims were residents of the El Chorrillos slum which was next to the Panamanian military headquarters and was razed to the ground in the attack;

3) U.S. efforts to obscure the actual death toll included massive incineration of corpses prior to identification, burial in mass graves prior to identification, and U.S. military control of administrative offices of hospitals and morgues;

4) "A thorough, well-planned propaganda campaign has been implemented by U.S. authorities to... deny the brutality and extensive human and material costs of the invasion." (CODEHUCA report submitted to Americas Watch 6/5/90)

US Ambassador to Panama Ambler Moss said his "gut instinct is that there is an awful lot of parties around there that have an interest in covering up numbers" (New York Times, 1/10/90) Catholic priest Diego Caffley, claimed that the invasion killed 3,000 people and that the main obstacle to learning the full number was the US Army Southern Command (La Republica, Costa Rica, 11/01/90) Washington Post Columnist Colman McCarthy commented on Powell's actions in Panama:

Of the victims of the one-sided, sure-thing massacre, Powell says the "loss of innocent life was tragic." Of course. Tut tut. This superficial expression of grief was a run-up comment to Powell's telling of "the lessons I absorbed from Panama": "Use all the force necessary, and do not apologize for going in big if that is what it takes." For sure. In the name of peace, kill as many women and children as get in the way of U.S. policies. (Washington Post, 10/3/1995)


Colin Powell was the highest ranking military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Gulf War. He was thus directly involved in decision making at all levels. In his memoirs, Gen. Powell recounts drafting a warning to Saddam one day before the beginning of the fighting, on Jan. 15, 1991.

If driven to it, I wrote, we would destroy the dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and flood Baghdad, with horrendous consequences. (Powell, 1995; p.491)

The city of Baghdad that Gen Powell threatened to flood is home to 4 million civilians who are also victims of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. During the Gulf War, the U.S. deliberately targeted the water supply infrastructure – Professor Thomas Nagy of Georgetown University

obtained a … seven-page document prepared by the US Defence Intelligence Agency, issued the day after the war started, entitled Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities and circulated to all major allied Commands. (Scottish Sunday Herald, 9/17/200)

The report analyzes Iraq’s water systems, the effect of sanctions on them, and how long ""Full degradation of the water treatment system" will take. Allied targeting decisions were clearly affected by the document --

During allied bombing campaigns on Iraq the country's eight multi-purpose dams had been repeatedly hit... Four of seven major pumping stations were destroyed, as were 31 municipal water and sewerage facilities -- resulting in sewage pouring into the Tigris. Water purification plants were incapacitated throughout Iraq. (Scottish Sunday Herald, 9/17/200)

Water is one of the main necessities of civilian life. Bombing water supplies violates Article 54 of the Geneva Convention titled the Protection of Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population. Article 56 specifically bans the destruction of dams, even for military objectives.

Gen. Powell also decided to bomb biological and chemical weapons arsenals (Powell, 1995; p.491). Article 56 of the Geneva Convention, Protection of Works and Installations Containing Dangerous Forces, bans attacking such installations even for military objectives as these may cause immense harm to the civilian population and the environment. On the subject of bombing these arsenals, Gen. Powell writes that he told Sir David Craig "if it heads south, just blame me" (Powell, 1995; p.491) – the implication being that he didn’t care if enemy civilians lost their lives, only if U.S. forces were imperiled. Even more blatantly, when asked about the total number of Iraqi dead killed by the air and ground assault by the U.S., he replied, " It's really not a number I'm terribly interested in". (New York Times, 3/23/1991)

In fact, some of the winds did blow south towards the U.S. troops. While the CIA investigations concluded that Iraq had never used chemical or biological weapons against U.S. troops (CIA Report on Intelligence Related to Gulf War Illnesses, 2 August 1996), the same report shows that U.S. bombed many installations containing such agents, some of which were very close to U.S. troops. Today about 80,000 Gulf Veterans suffer from Gulf War Syndrome, with frequent allegations of a cover up by the Administration. General Powell has never taken the blame as he has promised to do, in spite of repeated pleas for help from Gulf War Veterans.

Finally, near the end of the Gulf War, after the Iraqi army had been ordered to leave Kuwait, U.S. forces unleashed death and destruction on the two so-called "Highways of Death." (Time, 3/18/91) A total of perhaps 2000 military vehicles containing tens of thousands of retreating troops, flying white flags, and a large number of civilian vehicles were attacked. First the U.S. bombers disabled the front and back vehicles, then bombed the resulting traffic jam for hours. The Iraqi vehicles offered no resistance. There were almost no survivors. "It was like shooting fish in a barrel," said one U.S. pilot. On one road, every vehicle for 60 miles was destroyed (Los Angeles Times, 3/11/91). Article 3 of the Geneva Convention prohibits killing soldiers who are out of combat. This was not war, but a massacre of an "enemy" that was suing for peace.

The war on Iraq is not over. Iraq under an economic siege known as sanctions. Sanction are war by other means, a war that targets children, elderly and the sick by restricting the amount of food, medicine and supplies they have access to. In their tenth year, the sanctions have not hurt Saddam Hussein one bit but according to U.N. report have killed over one million civilians, half of them children under the age of five. (Unicef press release, "Iraq Survey Shows ‘Humanitarian Emergency,’" 8/12/1999)

-- Esperanza
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