By Jacob Weber
On October 18, 2021, former Secretary of State Colin Powell passed away due to complications from COVID-19. He was 84 years old. A distinguished general and statesman, media coverage of Powell’s death and legacy has painted an overwhelmingly positive picture of his tenure in the military and government, contrary to all available evidence. In the upper echelons of the US Government, where callousness and inhumanity are job requirements, Powell went above and beyond in his creation of conditions of abject misery for literally millions of people around the globe, a legacy that will be little covered by mass media.
While a Captain in the US Army during the Vietnam War, Powell encouraged the torching of entire villages throughout the A Sầu Valley as part of his “drain-the-sea” approach to villages in Viet Cong held areas. Discouraged by other US military advisors as needlessly brutal and counter-productive, Powell defended his actions as late as 1995 in his memoir My American Journey. Later in the war, Powell played a pivotal role in covering up the Mỹ Lai massacre, an event in which US soldiers massacred 504 unarmed civilians, and gang-raped and mutilated women and children as young as 12. Powell, charged with investigating the rumors surrounding the massacre at the time, against all available evidence, stated “In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American Division soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent”. Powell’s role in diminishing and covering up the massacre allowed 25 of the 26 soldiers charged in the killings to go free.
Powell is perhaps most infamous for his role in spreading the lie that the Bush Administration used to justify the Iraq War. This justification, the claim that Saddam Hussein’s government possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), was based on little to no evidence even from the beginning. Powell himself stated in 2001 that Saddam “has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction”. The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s J2 Intelligence Directorate concluded in 2002 that “Our assessments rely heavily on analytic assumptions and judgment rather than hard evidence. The evidentiary base is particularly sparse for Iraqi nuclear programs.” Despite this, 6 months later in February of 2003 Powell testified before the United Nations to ‘prove’ that the Iraqi government was harboring WMDs. Based on evidence from an Iraqi citizen living in Germany, who later admitted his claims were false, Powell stated “Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence”. Powell, taking a page from the Joseph Goebbels book of propaganda, continued to support and repeat this ‘big lie’ and was essential to shaping the public opinion required for the war. After his UN testimony, Powell continued to emphasize the importance of invading Iraq, and supported later deployments of tens of thousands of more troops to the country, helping to orchestrate an invasion that led to the deaths of over 1 million Iraqis and the displacement of up to 9.2 million people, according to Brown University’s Cost of War Project. These are no small numbers, and Powell played no small role in the events that led to them, acting as a cunning propagandist and ruthless military strategist to ensure imperialist American dominance of the globe through bloodshed. Unfortunately, Powell died as all American war criminals do: at the end of a long and happy life surrounded by his family, never once fearing or experiencing any consequences for his actions. We cannot allow history to absolve a monster like Colin Powell.