Monday, September 15, 2003

Powell Rebuts criticism

[2003 October 15]

Partly in response to the CBS News report I dissect in "The Man Who Knew", Secretary Colin Powell gives the following interview to a BBC News reporter. The transcript is replicated on the State Department web site, hence it is fair game to copy it here.

The rebuttal begins about halfway down, namely:

That's nonsense. I don't think I used the word "imminent" in my presentation on the 5th of February. I presented, on the 5th of February, not something I pulled out of the air. I presented the considered judgment of the intelligence community -- the coordinated judgment of the intelligence community of the United States of America. And the information I presented -- some of which has already been validated by David Kay.

And the investigation continues. We have found clear indications that Saddam Hussein maintained the infrastructure for chemicals -- weapons of mass destruction. We found some evidence of them. We haven't found stockpiles yet. The work continues. The investigation continues. There is an individual, I guess, who is going on a television show to say I misled the American people. I don't mislead the American people and I never would. I presented the best information that our intelligence community had to offer.

... I have many experts in my Department, and there are many differences of opinion among any group of experts. And it's quite easy for a television program to get this individual, and then they complain. But to try to turn it around and say that, "Secretary Powell made this all up and presented it, knowing it was false," is simply inaccurate.

... And so this is one of those cases where one individual strongly disagrees -- not just with me, he's disagreeing with the judgment of the intelligence community -- and this program is using it as a way of saying I tried to mislead the American people; quite the contrary. I presented the best judgment of our intelligence community and I supported that judgment. I sat there for five days and had them make the case to me, and I am confident in what I presented.

[http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2003/25206.htm]

Interview with Mr. Matt Frei of BBC Television

Secretary Colin L. Powell

Washington, DC

October 15, 2003

2003/1040

MR. FREI: Thank you very much for talking to us, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POWELL: You're quite welcome.

MR. FREI: Let me start with a question about Gaza. For the first time ever, today American diplomats have been ambushed and killed in the Palestinian occupied territories. Does that mean that you're now drawn into that conflict?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, I don't think it does. I just think it shows that there are terrorists -- there are murderers -- in that part of the world that want to destroy the dreams of the Palestinian people for their own state.

You know what our people were doing when they were murdered in this manner? A convoy of American diplomats was in the Gaza Strip to interview individuals who had expressed an interest in the Fulbright Scholarship. We were going to bring them to the United States to study here as part of the Fulbright program. And that's the group that these people attacked -- and murdered three of their security guards.

We will not be deterred from trying to get Palestinians into our Fulbright program, or pursuing the roadmap or trying to bring peace to the region. We will not be deterred. And this kind of --

MR. FREI: And where does this leave the roadmap for peace?

SECRETARY POWELL: The roadmap is still there. It depends upon the Palestinian Authority coming together quickly; forming a government under, if it's going to be Mr. Abu Ala’a, forming that government quickly; giving that government political authority; and giving that government control of all the security forces in the Palestinian Authority so they can go after terrorists.

Three Americans lost their lives in the service of peace and in the service of the Palestinian people today. And the Palestinian leaders and the Palestinian people have got to come to the realization that terror does not serve their interests. There is nothing to cheer about. It is destroying the lives of innocent people and the dreams of the Palestinian people.

MR. FREI: But if you've been drawn into the conflict, as I said -- your people are being targeted -- can you be a mutual broker between Israel and the Palestinian Authority?

SECRETARY POWELL: We will serve our role. We will not let terrorists deter us from our role.

Now this is not the first time Americans have been attacked by terrorists in different parts of the world, as you well know. This is the first time it's ever happened in Gaza. But as much as we regret the incident and mourn the loss of these three brave men and express our sympathy to the families, we will not be knocked off our point, so to speak. We will not abandon the Palestinian people or the Israeli people who wish to find a way forward to peace.

MR. FREI: Let me ask you about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Earlier this year, in February, you gave a presentation at the United Nations in which you talked about the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. Eight months later, we still haven't found anything of substance. And now, one of your former senior intelligence officials in your own department is claiming that you basically misled this nation and the world in that presentation.

SECRETARY POWELL: That's nonsense. I don't think I used the word "imminent" in my presentation on the 5th of February. I presented, on the 5th of February, not something I pulled out of the air. I presented the considered judgment of the intelligence community -- the coordinated judgment of the intelligence community of the United States of America. And the information I presented -- some of which has already been validated by David Kay.

And the investigation continues. We have found clear indications that Saddam Hussein maintained the infrastructure for chemicals -- weapons of mass destruction. We found some evidence of them. We haven't found stockpiles yet. The work continues. The investigation continues. There is an individual, I guess, who is going on a television show to say I misled the American people. I don't mislead the American people and I never would. I presented the best information that our intelligence community had to offer.

MR. FREI: But that individual was the leading expert for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in your own department.

SECRETARY POWELL: I have many experts in my Department, and there are many differences of opinion among any group of experts. And it's quite easy for a television program to get this individual, and then they complain. But to try to turn it around and say that, "Secretary Powell made this all up and presented it, knowing it was false," is simply inaccurate.

It's a disservice to the wonderful young men and women, and not so young men and women, who have spent a lifetime gathering intelligence. And so that may be his view, but the view I presented that day with the Director of Central Intelligence sitting behind me, was the considered judgment of the professional men and women of American intelligence agencies.

MR. FREI: Is it possible, then, that you were misled by the intelligence community?

SECRETARY POWELL: No. I sat and I very carefully went over the material that I presented on the 5th of February. It was scrubbed. I am confident in the judgments that were given to me, and Dr. Kay is still out gathering information. He has miles of documents to exploit. He's got many more people to interview. And we will see what we will see as he finishes his work.

And so this is one of those cases where one individual strongly disagrees -- not just with me, he's disagreeing with the judgment of the intelligence community -- and this program is using it as a way of saying I tried to mislead the American people; quite the contrary. I presented the best judgment of our intelligence community and I supported that judgment. I sat there for five days and had them make the case to me, and I am confident in what I presented.

MR. FREI: In the year 2001, February of that year, you spoke to Face the Nation on CBS, and you said, "Saddam, today, is weaker, much weaker than he was before."

SECRETARY POWELL: He was.

MR. FREI: What happened in those two years between 2001 and --

SECRETARY POWELL: No, you're trying to put different pieces together.

In February 2001, I said he was much weaker than he was at the beginning of the Gulf War, some ten years earlier; and he was. We had destroyed his conventional forces by a factor of, I'd say, 50 to 60 percent. So he didn't have the capacity to invade his neighbors any longer because his conventional force was so small.

I also indicated that we -- I never said at that time he didn't have weapons of mass destruction -- I said that the sanctions had served the purpose of containing them, but not getting rid of them. And so the danger he presented in 2001 was a danger that continued into 2002, and I think was exacerbated and accelerated by what happened on 9/11 when suddenly we saw the potential danger of marrying up these kinds of weapons of mass destruction programs or actual weapons with terrorists was a risk the world should not be faced with. And for that reason, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain and other leaders came together, presented the case at the United Nations, and earlier this year took military action in response to UN Resolution 1441, even though many other nations disagreed with our action. And we don't have to worry about this any longer.

This isn't a question that has to be debated any longer because the man responsible for all of this, Saddam Hussein, is no longer in power. He's in hiding. Remnants of his regime are trying to thwart our efforts to build a better Iraq that will be a democratic nation that will have elected leaders, and will no longer be investing its treasure into weapons of mass destruction programs or in the capacity to threaten its neighbors.

MR. FREI: Very briefly, the UN resolution that's currently on the table, are you confident it'll pass? And what difference will it make on the ground?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm increasingly confident that it will pass. I think it will make a difference because it will show the international community coming together again. I don't know how many votes there will be for the resolution; we're working on that right now. But it will show us coming together and I hope it will give momentum to the Donors Conference that will be held in Madrid next week, and I hope it will give encouragement to those nations that are considering making additional contributions, whether they are military contributions or financial contributions or political support.

We have 32 nations, or thereabouts, standing alongside us in the Gulf, in Iraq. We're not alone. It is a coalition that has come together: Estonia, Latvia, Spain, Italy. So many nations are contributing this. Of course, the United Kingdom is making a massive contribution. Turkey has expressed its willingness to make a contribution, and we are working through some of the challenges associated with that.

But this is not the United States alone. This is the United States and a large group of responsible nations who did not want to face the continued risk of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and a regime that brutalizes people and filled graves with innocent people for a period of 30 years. That's over. That's done. We have nothing to apologize for and we are proud of what we've done.

MR. FREI: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, sir.

[End]

Released on October 15, 2003