Posted by Wordsmith on 25 May, 2009 at 12:04 am. 5 comments already!


Colin Powell is a Republican. It doesn’t bother me as much as it grates on the nerves of a number of movement activists who feel a sense of betrayal.

I certainly don’t want Republicans like Powell as a leader of the GOP since moderates of his caliber do not embody the best of conservative ideology. But I do believe in not shrinking the party by purging it of RINO/CINO “infiltrators”.

The real story, however, is not the media sensationalism that wishes to egg on the Powell-Cheney-Rush bickering and GOP uncivil war. NewsBusters points out the real scoop from Powell’s Face the Nation interview isn’t about “A kinder, gentler, more inclusive party”, but about Powell’s defense of Bush era decisions:

Here are some of the early headlines:

* Powell Still a Republican, Despite Party Differences — New York Times
* Powell to Republicans: Listen to moderates, too — Associated Press
* Powell Takes on Cheney, Limbaugh in Battle for Republican Party — Bloomberg

Unfortunately, in their fascination with conflict, the press could miss the most interesting part of this interview when Powell defended what George W. Bush did after the 9/11 attacks (video embedded below the fold with partial transcript, relevant section at 12:20):

COLIN POWELL: And one point I have to make. It really comes out of the things that have been written lately. That is in the first year after 9/11, we did everything we could to stop the possibility of another 9/11. We put in place the PATRIOT Act. We used enhanced interrogation techniques. I shut down for the most part the visa system until we could fix it. But after about a year-and-a-half when it looked like things were relatively secure and we were doing a better job, then we started to relax the visa system once we fixed it because we can’t keep moving in that direction with putting people in jail forever without resolving their cases. We’re not letting people come to our country.

So it was natural to start shifting back to our more normal ways of doing business and dealing with the rest of the world after we had achieved a level of security.

We are more secure. I mean, my Republican friends sort of get mad when I say we need government. People want effective, responsible government. Republicans have not cut much government even though talk about limited government and cutting government. We created the Department of Homeland Security. Needed. We created the Transportation Security Agency that guards our terminals where people go in and out. Needed. We created a director of national intelligence. Needed. The American people want to see a FEMA that takes care of us in hurricanes and tornadoes. The American people want to see federal regulators making sure we never get into the kind of financial problem we had last year. And we’re working our way out of it.

So there is a need for government. What the American people want not just slogans, limited government. They want effective government. Government that works and just as much as we need. But if we need it, let’s have it.

BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST: All right. Let me ask you this. The former vice president said he had no regrets about the methods that were used including waterboarding. He actually authorized it. He says they may have saved thousands of lives. I want to ask you two questions. Do you agree with that? That these techniques were effective?

And number two, when did you know about this business, general?

POWELL: When we started to examine these techniques I was in some meetings where they were discussed.

POWELL: I was not privy to the memos that were being written or the legal opinions that were being written.

I think it was unfortunate but we had a system that kept that in a very compartmented manner. And so I was apart that these enhanced interrogation techniques were being considered. And they were judged not to be torture at the time.

And when you were facing the possibility of a 9/11, you had to give some — some flexibility to the CIA. But it was under the Bush administration that they stopped using these techniques back in 19 — in 2003.

So obviously the CIA did not feel that we had anybody else in our custody that would need to have these techniques used. And as a result…

SCHIEFFER: Do you think they were effective?

POWELL: … they haven’t been used — I have no idea. I hear that they were. I hear that they weren’t. You see people from the FBI who come out and say, we got all of that information before any of that was done. I cannot answer that question.

And the problem is, I don’t know what I don’t know.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you this. Jan Crawford Greenburg of ABC News reported last year that the top people in the administration, you, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the national security adviser, were actually brought in to meetings in the White House where these things were outlined. But you’re saying you don’t know — at those meetings you’re saying that nothing was (INAUDIBLE)?

POWELL: They were outlined. We were aware that these techniques were being discussed. And we were aware that legal opinions were being given that said they met the standard of the law.

But over time, now that we look at it, it’s easy now in the cold light of day to look back and say, you shouldn’t have done any of that. But as Mr. Cheney has said very, very often, as has President Bush and all of us, if we had another attack like 9/11, say on 9/11 a year later, nobody would have forgiven us for not doing everything we could.

And the CIA thought we needed those kinds of techniques but now we see that these are not appropriate.

When it is pointed out to critics that they have removed themselves emotionally from the context of the times (9/11 still fresh in the minds of Americans through the rest of 2001 and into 2002) in judging the decisions made by the Bush Administration, a common rejoinder I hear is that now that they are distanced by history, they have a clearer, rational head and we can now clearly see in 20/20 hindsight, wrongful decisions made in “the heat” of the years 2001-2002.

But removing the “emotionalism” and state of mind is a luxury afforded to those who sit back in judgment, after the fact- never while the events unfold.

Also, read Thomas Sowell:

One of the many signs of the degeneration of our times is how many serious, even life-and-death, issues are approached as talking points in a game of verbal fencing. Nothing illustrates this more than the fatuous, and even childish, controversy about “torturing” captured terrorists.

People’s actions often make far more sense than their words. Most of the people who are talking lofty talk about how we mustn’t descend to the level of our enemies would themselves behave very differently if presented with a comparable situation, instead of being presented with an opportunity to be morally one up with rhetoric.

What if it was your mother or your child who was tied up somewhere beside a ticking time bomb and you had captured a terrorist who knew where that was? Face it: What you would do to that terrorist to make him talk would make water-boarding look like a picnic.

On the heels of 9/11 with the smouldering ruins of the WTC still smoking and bodies still being pulled from the rubble, the possibility of another wave of attacks was palpable.

Pg 8 of Inside Gitmo, by Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu:

First, it was urgent that we learn whether the September 11 attack was a stand-alone event or part of a planned series of attacks. There were news reports that day of up to eight other aircraft that had been abruptly grounded along with the entire civil fleet after the initial four hijackings were discovered. All aircraft were searched and on those particular planes, knives and box cutters were found hidden underneath seats or in seat-back storage pockets.


The possibility of a follow-on attack was universally considered highly likely if not inevitable. Moreover, concerns were very grave that the next wave of attacks would use dirty bombs, atomic weapons, poison gases, or biological agents. Recall, in the days following 9/11, the series of letters to political figures containing weaponized anthrax. Across America, five deaths were confirmed as caused by either inhalation or subcutaneous anthrax exposure. Another 11 deaths were suspicious, but insufficient evidence was present to link them directly to anthrax exposure. This minor biological attack paralyzed and preoccupied much of America. Had another attack occurred killing hundreds or thousands, and it was later learned that one of the detainees confined at Guantanamo possessed prior knowledge of the attack, the outcry would be deafening.

Were we then overreacting out of irrational fear and emotionalism?

Christian Brose:

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way about Obama’s speech was how dismissive he was of fear and the people who rightly felt it (and still do). The decisions made after 9/11, he said, were “based upon fear rather than foresight,” as if that alone discredits them. Cheney and others are “fear-mongering” by reminding the voting public that there are people out there who want to kill us, and that Americans differ over how to prevent that from happening. The truth is, fear is a human emotion, and thus an inherently political issue. Obama and company are perfectly willing to play on people’s fears when it comes to jobs, or health care, or the environment. People are legitimately afraid for those things, just as they are for their security. And one purpose of policymaking is to assuage those fears.

Everyone was afraid after 9/11, for one good reason: a lack of facts — about whether more attacks were coming, and if so, how, and when, and from where, and by whom. Uncertainty is the greatest fear of all, and like it or not, in the weeks after 9/11, that was the climate in which new policies had to be made on a host of hard problems for which there were few precedents, legal or historical. Cheney and others contend that those policies worked. They generated facts, and those facts saved lives. And if only Obama would release the CIA memos that supposedly lay out what was learned, the American people could see those facts for themselves and draw their own conclusions about “enhanced” interrogation.

Brose goes on to say the debate will probably never be settled, even should the rest of the memos be released.

This is what I mean by an argument without end. For all of the facts we now have, and those that may still emerge, I doubt they will convince the American public decisively to side either with Obama or Cheney. And where there is uncertainty there will continue to be fear. This helps to explain the recent paradoxical findings from a major Gallup poll that a slight majority of Americans believe both that “enhanced” interrogations were justified and that past instances of their use should be investigated for misconduct.

This seems to go hand-in-hand with Thomas Sowell’s piece regarding how much differently one’s perspective may be when one is emotionally vested- how far would you go to save a loved one?

Also, Mark Bowden who thinks torture (real torture that goes beyond waterboarding and caterpillering) is justifiable if the situation demands it, but should be kept illegal, so as to not encourage large-scale abuses:

In a nutshell, I argued that torture in all its forms should be banned, but that in some instances, as with the waterboarding of Zubaydah, it is defensible. The trial and punishment of those who break the law is always subject to the discretion of prosecutors, juries and judges. In rare cases, such as Zubaydah’s, in which a coercive method is employed to prevent a greater wrong, the interrogators involved should not be prosecuted.

I might imperfectly analogize it this way: Jaywalking is against the law. Yet what if I saw a child’s life in danger of being hit by a car and ran out into the street to save his life? Sure, fine me with the jaywalking ticket; or dismiss the violation by understanding the circumstance that prompted the act of violating the law.

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