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Colin Powell discusses the WMD ‘blot’ on his record

In a forthcoming memoir, Colin Powell will describe the speech he gave at the U.N. justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the basis of bogus evidence that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons as “a blot, a failure will always be attached to me.”

As far as I can tell by the preview of the book published by Bloomberg, Powell does not suggest that he knew that was he was saying was false.

“I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem,” Powell writes about his role. “My instincts failed me.”

From the excerpt, I also can’t tell whether Powell discusses political pressure within the Bush administration that may have helped his instincts to fail. In the last days before the U.S. attack on and invasion of Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors — who at that point were getting full cooperation from the Saddam Hussein government — were strongly signaling that they could find no evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons stockpiles or ongoing programs to develop them. It’s impossible to say what might have happened if someone with Powell’s credentials and credibility had broken ranks with the administration’s push for war, but it’s possible the long, costly, unnecessary war could have been averted.

Here’s a chunk of the Bloomberg piece that covers the “blot:”

Powell’s UN speech, part of the Bush administration’s public case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with its unsupported assertions of mobile Iraqi biological-warfare labs and a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda terrorists, was based on “deeply flawed” evidence, Powell writes.

“So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech?” Powell writes. “‘Some of these same analysts later wrote books claiming they were shocked that I have relied on such deeply flawed evidence.”

Powell, who has quarreled over policy for years with former Vice President Dick Cheney, writes that Cheney had his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, make the case for Iraq having weapons of mass destruction “as a lawyer’s brief and not as an intelligence estimate.”

Because Libby’s material was “unusable,” Powell writes, he enlisted the help of the Central Intelligence Agency to prepare for his UN speech. Powell didn’t know that “much of the evidence was wrong,” he says.

While Powell returns to Iraq repeatedly in the book, he advises leaders to “try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible, own up to it.”

In some ways, this still raises question that it doesn’t answer, although perhaps the full book sheds more light. Powell still wants to share the blame with others who should have told him he was making a mistake.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/04/2012 - 11:14 am.

    The kindest interpretation?

    Confirmation bias by intelligence services and Powell.

    The worst interpretation?

    A known lie to start a war.

    It looks a lot more like the latter.


    In a series of meetings with the Guardian in Germany where he has been granted asylum, he {Curveball] said he had told a German official, who he identified as Dr Paul, about mobile bioweapons trucks throughout 2000. He said the BND had identified him as a Baghdad-trained chemical engineer and approached him shortly after 13 March of that year, looking for inside information about Saddam’s Iraq.

    “I had a problem with the Saddam regime,” he said. “I wanted to get rid of him and now I had this chance.”

    He portrays the BND as gullible and so eager to tease details from him that they gave him a Perry’s Chemical Engineering Handbook to help communicate. He still has the book in his small, rented flat in Karlsruhe, south-west Germany.

    “They were asking me about pumps for filtration, how to make detergent after the reaction,” he said. “Any engineer who studied in this field can explain or answer any question they asked.”

    Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.

    The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif’s son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.

    That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi’s claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.

    The German officials returned to confront him with Latif’s version. “He says, ‘There are no trucks,’ and I say, ‘OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],'” Janabi recalled.

    He said the BND did not contact him again until the end of May 2002. But he said it soon became clear that he was still being taken seriously.

    He claimed the officials gave him an incentive to speak by implying that his then pregnant Moroccan-born wife may not be able to travel from Spain to join him in Germany if he did not co-operate with them. “He says, you work with us or your wife and child go to Morocco.”

    The meetings continued throughout 2002 and it became apparent to Janabi that a case for war was being constructed. He said he was not asked again about the bioweapons trucks until a month before Powell’s speech.

    After the speech, Janabi said he called his handler at the BND and accused the secret service of breaking an agreement that they would not share anything he had told them with another country. He said he was told not to speak and placed in confinement for around 90 days.

    “Defector admits to WMD lies that triggered Iraq war”

    (end quote)

  2. Submitted by Lora Jones on 05/04/2012 - 11:38 am.

    Very sad and very predictable

    if, in fact, Powell urges others to accept responsibility while deflecting it from himself — it’s one of the recurring thems of today’s repubs that the buck stops one or two or more grade levels down.

  3. Submitted by David Greene on 05/04/2012 - 12:02 pm.


    I watched the Powell speech live and it was immediately apparently to me that the “evidence” was flimsy at best. Either he had full knowledge of the scheme and went along with it or he is the most incompetent Secretary of State ever.

  4. Submitted by Jim Camery on 05/04/2012 - 12:36 pm.

    Not just an issue of policy

    This WMD/no-WMD thing still gets tossed around like it was a question of what the best tax or transportation policy should be. This monumental scam has produced thousands of funerals in the US and who-knows-how-many in Iraq. Here’s 10 real tragedies from Minnesota that came out of some guys sitting around a conference room’s table “decision” – there’s 58 more and counting.

    Chad Allen Maple Lake
    Joshua Anderson Jordan
    Levi Angell Cloquet
    Brett Angus St. Paul
    Elden Arcand White Bear Lake
    William Beardsley Coon Rapids
    Johnathan Benson North Branch
    Michael Benson Winona
    Travis Bruce Byron
    Emilio Campo Jr Madelia

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