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Torture Watch

Ali Frick writes for Thinkprogress about how former secretary of state Colin Powell ducked MSNBC host Rachel Maddow's questions yesterday about his role in approving the torture of detainees.

Maddow: "On the issue of intelligence, tainted evidence, and those things, were you ever present at meetings at which the interrogation of prisoners, like Abu Zubaida, other prisoners in those early days, where the interrogation was directed, where specific interrogations were approved? It has been reported on a couple of different sources that there were principals meetings to which you would have typically been there, where interrogations were almost play by play discussed."

Powell: "They were not play-by-play discussed, but there were conversations at senior level as to what could be done with respect to interrogation. I cannot go further because I don’t have knowledge of all the meetings that took place or what was discussed at each of those meetings and I think it’s going to have to be the written record of those meetings that will determine whether anything improper took place...."

Maddow: "Water boarding, were those officials committing crimes when they were getting their authorization?"

Powell: "You ask me a legal question...I mean I don't know items would be considered criminal and I will wait for whatever investigation that the government or the Congress intends to pursue with this."

One reason for optimism: Powell's repeated insistence that the "complete record I think in due course will come out."

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 2, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Looking Backward , Torture  
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I watched the Rachel Maddow interview with Secretary Powell and was dismayed by how disingenuous he was. He parsed the question as narrowly as Bill Clinton ever did.

He never answered whether he knew of the tactics being discussed; he never said that he approved or disapproved--or if he did, what paper trail might confirm that; he never said he thought any of these actions under discussion were war crimes.

It boils down to this: Secretary Powell was either an accomplice to war crimes or he was out of the loop so seriously, he had no idea what was going on.

The man is neither naive nor innocent. He knows how Washington works and should have known what was happening in the meetings he was not attending, much less the ones for which he was present.

I hope that there is an investigation--a very thorough one. And I hope, for his sake, that Secretary Powell was oblivious to what the Administration was doing. The alternative is that he's a war criminal.

Posted by: drewbitt | April 2, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Well stated, I thought much the same.

He reframed it on the narrow interpretation of "legal" interrogation. It is quite likely he was kept out of the loop by Cheney, but that is not the same as saying he collaborated with the deceptions by not speaking up or resigning in protest. Albert Speer didn't torture, but he certainly knew something was amiss.

For Rachel Maddow, my suggestion would have been to ask, "If uniformed US troops held prisoner were treated in this manner would it be considered torture under the definition of the Geneva Conventions? Would the US protest that our soldiers had been tortured? Would we have legal justification to pursue those who had commanded and directed the torture?"

Or perhaps Rachel should have read Philippe Sands' fine book "The Torture Team" and adapted some of his questions. He uses the definitions in US Army Field Manual 38-52 concerning the treatment of prisoners.

Posted by: boscobobb | April 2, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

@drewbitt: I'm inclined to believe he didn't know as much as many people suspect. I recall reading a while back that Cheney and Rumsfeld actively schemed to exclude Powell as much as possible. Still, he should play a visible and cooperative role in any future investigations to atone for enabling the Bush admin for so long.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 2, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse


Hear, hear! Based on what I've read in the newspapers and various books (e.g., "Angler", "Torture Team"), I also think it likely that Powell wasn't party to the decisions, but may have known that something odd was going on.

I'd like to see a return to the previous format for comments, in which I could click on the "recommend" link for someone else's comment.

Posted by: apn3206 | April 2, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Powell is covered in fail.

Posted by: sparkplug1 | April 2, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Regardless of whether he knew or approved of torture, Powell knowingly lied to the world at the UN. He knowingly let Bush lie the nation into a disasterous war. The blood on his hands will never, EVER, wash off. His standing as anything other than a liar and possible war criminal is gone. Powell will be remembered as a coward who, when confronted with whether to tell the truth and risk his career, chose to lie and remain in good graces with the Republican party and the Neocons. He has disgraced himself beyond repair and has no place in the discussion of serious national topics.

Posted by: davidbn27 | April 2, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

If he wants to come clean, we'll listen.


Posted by: vigor | April 2, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to all those posting to this link, you have a similar perception as me.

And kudos to Rachel Maddow for the directness of her questions. The interview was extremely revealing for what Powell did NOT say. Carefully, parsed? You bet. One of the leading indicators that there is meat to the story. Yet he openly admitted that details of "enhanced interrogation techniques were discussed", and hinted that investigations were not only forthcoming, but likely appropriately so. As if he were saying "Based on what I know, a court should probably be involved to make a legal determination (cuz I think it may be torture,wink wink). And somebody should probably get a start to find and read whatever records exist (cuz I think they may prove it, nudge nudge)."

Posted by: 4afreepress | April 2, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Powell has a long history of being mixed up in scandals and controversies where he's failed to live up to his honorable / good-guy reputation.

Add My Lai and Iran-Contra to his U.N. WMD and Torture debacles.

Posted by: toweringqs | April 2, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Powell: "You ask me a legal question...I mean I don't know items would be considered criminal
In other words Powell knew EXACTLY what was going on but is not going to answer the question.. Funny how the Left wants to lock up Bush and Cheney but when it comes to Powell, who still has those high approval ratings, many bend over backwards to give him the benefit of the doubt. I guess for some there are 2 systems of justice.. one for people you like and one for people you don't...

Posted by: sovine08 | April 2, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

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