“We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo lighters,” Powell recalled. “Why were we torching houses and destroying crops? Ho Chi Minh had said the people were like the sea in which his guerrillas swam. …We tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable. In the hard logic of war, what difference did it make if you shot your enemy or starved him to death?” (from Collin Powell’s memoir, ‘An American Journey’).
I came across the above quote in a series of articles about Powell’s service in Vietnam written by journalists Norman Solomon and Robert Parry. The articles were written in 1996. Yet the material is not dated by any means. Indeed, in light of the recent revelations about ex-Senator Bob Kerrey, the work of these two journalists needs more public attention.
In ‘The Case Against Colin Powell” (Toronto Globe & Mail, 12/26/2000), Christopher Hitchens accuses Colin Powell of “a direct role in suppressing the inquiry into the My Lai massacre, and into related atrocities against civilians”. Reviewing Colin’s performance on a number of major policy decisions, including his failure to confront Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Hitchens concludes that Powell has demonstrated “a recurring strain of moral cowardice”.
For a little background concerning the charges leveled at Powell, I will quote briefly from an article by Russ Kick. “The My Lai massacre. On March 16, 1968, US soldiers from the Americal Division slaughtered 347 civilians–primarily old men, women, children, and babies–in the Vietnamese village of My Lai 4 (pronounced, very appropriately, as “me lie”). The grunts also engaged in torture and rape of the villagers. Around six months later, a soldier in the 11th Light Infantry Brigade–known among the men as “the Butcher’s Brigade”–wrote a letter telling of widespread killing and torturing of Vietnamese civilians by entire units of the US military (he did not specifically refer to My Lai). The letter was sent to the general in charge of ‘Nam and trickled down the chain of command to Major Colin Powell, a deputy assistant chief of staff at the Americal Division, who was charged with investigating the matter and formulating a response. After a desultory check–which consisted mainly of investigating the soldier who wrote the letter, rather than his allegations–Powell reported that everything was hunkey-dory. “
Aside from his troubling record while an officer in Vietnam, Powell’s business dealings also raise some serious question marks, should anyone ever cares to pose the question. This ex-General is now a multi-millionaire, partly due to his presence on the board of AOL. His son, Michael Powell, the newly appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, was part of the commission that approved the AOL/Time/Warner merger, while his dad retained his AOL seat.
Which brings us full circle to the Kerrey’s atrocity at Thanh Phong and the role of two mass media players, the New York Times and the Washington Post, in ‘holding’ the story for two years. For the full length of a two-year cover-up, Sulzberger and Graham had the option of making the file on Kerrey public. It does not take a stretch of the imagination to assume that Kerrey paid close attention to the foreign and domestic policy edicts marketed by these media titans on their editorial pages. Once he lost his power as a Senator, he became fair game.
Over the last few months, the New York Times, with the assist of their partners in media crimes at the Washington Post Company, have waged an intensive campaign to sanitize the criminal war record of Ariel Sharon. These media outfits are as familiar with Qibya and Sabra and Shatila as they are with My Lai and Thanh Phong. So far, they have chosen to expose Kerrey’s file, bury Sharon’s file and keep their options open on the Powell file. As long as the Secretary of State continues to lease out his department to the Israeli lobby, he will be lionized in the press. In the unlikely event that he demonstrates an ounce of interest in Palestinian human rights or political aspirations, Powell will be deflated in a New York minute.
One only needs to recall the media circus that came to town on the strength of the accusation that Madeline Albright had been “unaware” of her Jewish heritage. It was enough to generate unending howls across the editorial pages of the gray lady, Sulzberger’s daily ruse. Compared to Albright, the file on Powell is enough to warrant an investigation of a war crime, or at the very minimum, a cover-up of a war crime. Then there is the very serious charge of conflict of interest involving the AOL/Time/Warner merger, a story that is unlikely to air on CNN. It was only a few months ago that the New York Times vigorously reported on the charges that German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had struck a police officer during a 1973 demonstration. Yet Sharon’s murderous escapades at Sabra and Shatila in 1982 is kept out of the public eye. How exactly does this square with an outfit that bills itself as the ‘paper of record’. Sulzberger’s minions increasingly act like the J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, a man who knew all about handling political files and keeping records.
Is Powell’s file an obstacle to the formulation of a balanced and reasonable American foreign policy in the Middle East? Consider that, so far, he has bowed to Sharon’s demands that the United States abandon the ‘peace process’ in favor of letting the Israeli army ‘win’. Powell has been quick to veto any United Nations resolutions designed to protect the Palestinians from unrelenting Israeli assaults and refuses to utter a word of sympathy for the hundreds of Palestinians that have been murdered and the thousands who have been mutilated by the random and excessive use of Israeli lethal force. Most alarming, has been his blind refusal to recognize the ‘facts on the ground’; that this is a struggle by an unarmed native population against a ruthless foreign occupation army led by a serial war criminal. Instead, he has adopted Sharon’s language, calling for the Palestinians to stop their ‘terrorism’ and accept Sharon’s land thieving army as lords and masters for another generation. Powell knows all about ‘pacification’ programs. Tormenting a native people into submission was part of his career development program.
This Secretary of State is a severely compromised man. He is daily manipulated by the media titans who can unleash a ruinous assault against him and his family should he waver from compliance with the marching orders from Tel Aviv. After all, they made him the man he appears to be today, and they can destroy him with a couple of timely headlines in the Sunday edition. Add to that, a taste of the fortunes that is a reward for his ‘cooperation’, and it is no idle boast for the media lords to claim they have “a man at State”.
Many Palestinians had hoped that an African-American at the State Department would at least diminish some of the overt pro-Israeli bias that is the basic foundation of American Policies in the Middle East. Certainly, they reason, an African-American who came of age in a segregated America, before the Civil Rights movement, would understand the racist nature of the Israeli occupation. For fifty-three years, the Israeli occupation has been one long land grabbing enterprise. If you are Palestinian, your land and your homes were confiscated to make room for the VIP Jewish settlers. And this policy has always required massive state violence to force the Palestinians to abandon their properties and their villages. Powell knows the details, but for now, his concerns over his files have neutralized any serious policy initiatives. Besides, This man is not Ralph Bunche and human rights will not factor into any of his decisions. One thing is certain, this Secretary of State is wide open to blackmail by the media barons. For that alone, the concerns about the independence of his judgement, Colin Powell should resign.