Joe Conason's Journal

The 2001 videotape of Colin Powell's remarks about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction is damning. So why isn't it getting more airtime?

Salon Staff
September 26, 2003 9:48PM (UTC)

That smoking Powell video
Has everybody seen the videotape of Colin Powell's remarks about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction on Feb. 24, 2001? I suspect not.

Uncovered by Australian investigative reporter John Pilger, the tape of those comments strikes me as just as damningly untrue -- and much more significant -- than Bill Clinton's famous "didn't have sex with that woman" lie -- but for some inexplicable reason this tape isn't getting quite as much airtime.


Here is what Powell told reporters on that day in Cairo at a press conference with the Egyptian foreign minister Amr Moussa. Asked about angry local reaction to his visit because of American policy toward Iraq, the secretary of state sought to explain:

"We had a good discussion, the foreign minister and I and the president and I, had a good discussion about the nature of the sanctions -- the fact that the sanctions exist -- not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein's ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction. We should constantly be reviewing our policies, constantly be looking at those sanctions to make sure that they are directed toward that purpose. That purpose is every bit as important now as it was 10 years ago when we began it. And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."

Allow me to repeat the pertinent sentence, since Powell, Condoleezza Rice and the president are pretending this isn't a smoking tape:

"He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction."

Rice dissolved into babble when confronted with the tape by Diane Sawyer (and if anyone can figure out what the national security advisor was saying, please let me know).

After playing the tape, Sawyer gently inquired:


"A quote, Feb. 24, 2001, from Secretary Powell. He says that Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. Was he wrong then?"

Answered Rice, "As this story unfolded, and you'll notice that's very early in the administration, we began to get important reporting, for instance, on the fact that in 1998 Saddam Hussein was diverting maybe $500 million in illegal funds from oil revenue by the period of 2002, not -- $3 billion in illegal revenue. Yes, the story unfolded. The intelligence estimate on which the president acted said that Saddam Hussein had chemical, biological weapons and was pursuing nuclear weapons, and if left unchecked on the nuclear front, would have them by the end of the decade. That's the report on which he acted."

Sawyer more or less shrugged. "I didn't think I was going to get you to say the secretary was wrong. Not surprised."

Rice replied, "No, he was not."

Powell's own answer to the unearthing of this tape is even less plausible. "I didn't change my assessment ... I did not say [Saddam Hussein] didn't have weapons of mass destruction. He was a threat then. The extent of his holdings were [sic] yet to be determined. It was early in the administration and the fact of the matter is it was long before 9/11."


America's reputation has been shattered by this administration's deceptions. We have a president and a secretary of state who have no credibility at the United Nations or in any other international forum.

This hectic life, points west and Midwest
On Saturday afternoon I will be signing copies of "Big Lies" at Garcia Street Books in Santa Fe, N.M. The event will begin at 4 p.m. By Monday evening I will be in Chicago, signing books at the Borders store on North Michigan Avenue at 7 p.m. The following evening, at 7:30 p.m., I'll visit the Barnes & Noble in Skokie, Ill., at the Old Orchard Center.
[10:30 a.m. PDT, Sept. 26, 2003]

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Salon Staff

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