Powell Quiet on Terror in 2001
Newsview: Powell Quiet on Terror in 2001
By GEORGE GEDDA
.c The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Three days before President Bush's inauguration, Colin Powell at his confirmation hearing discussed for the first time his priorities as the nation's new secretary of state. He spoke on 20 topics - from China and the Balkans to U.N. sanctions and Iraq.
He never mentioned the al-Qaida terrorist group.
As the debate continues over whether the Bush administration paid adequate attention to Osama bin Laden's terror threat before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Powell's testimony that day offers a stark insight into just how differently many U.S. officials thought before the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
For if Powell did not mention bin Laden that day, neither did the senators who questioned him.
The transcript of the Jan. 17, 2001, hearing contained more than 60,000 words, the centerpiece of which was Powell's opening statement of more than 8,000 words.
In it he raised roughly 20 issues, starting with the state of the alliance between the United States and Europe, and ending with State Department management issues. On Iraq he said U.N. sanctions against that country must be ``re-energized.'' He also discussed his views on China, Russia, the Balkans and Iran.
He made two references to terrorism, citing it at one point as an example of one of the issues that ``know no borders.''
In the other reference, Powell said, ``We must guard our citizens and our society against crime and terrorism. ... Nothing defeats our honest purposes in a more insidious way than organized crime, and international terrorism.''
But the incoming secretary of state gave no sense that terrorism belonged on the front burner. His relative inattention to the subject during his global overview could be seen by some as lending support to the allegations of former anti-terrorism official Richard Clarke.
Clarke has said the Clinton administration had ``no higher priority'' than combatting terrorists. He has said the Bush administration made it ``an important issue but not an urgent issue'' before Sept. 11. Clarke was a top anti-terrorism official in both administrations.
Powell, rebutting Clarke's charges, said in a Sunday interview that on Dec. 20, 2000, four days after Bush nominated him, he conducted his first briefing in preparation for taking office.
The briefers included Clarke and experts from the CIA, the FBI and the State Department. ``We talked about terrorism. We talked about al-Qaida,'' Powell said on CBS-TV's ``Face the Nation.''
Yet, al-Qaida was never raised in the hearing a month later, either by Powell or the many senators who questioned him.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., was the only senator who mentioned the link between Afghanistan and international terrorism. Brownback called Afghanistan a ``summer camp'' for terrorists.
Powell's lone reference to Afghanistan was in response to concerns voiced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., about the Taliban's mistreatment of women.
Powell said, ``The treatment is atrocious, bordering on barbaric, and it will be a priority of my stewardship.''
The administration, of course, has reacted angrily to Clarke's suggestions of temporizing on terrorism.
Powell said Sunday, alluding to the administration's first days in office, ``We all knew it was a threat. We really didn't need Dick Clarke to tell us that. ... The USS Cole had been blown up three months earlier.''
He also said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice began taking counterterrorist measures within days after settling in at the White House.
To the extent that anyone was inattentive, Powell said, it was President Clinton, pointing to the daily CIA briefings that Bush received, a practice that he contends Clinton shunned.
Yet in terms of emphasis, his comments Sunday about the first days of the administration bear little resemblance to those he made before senators on Jan. 17, 2001.
EDITOR'S NOTE - George Gedda has covered foreign affairs for The Associated Press since 1968.
03/31/04 08:27 EST
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.