By Alli McCracken
I found out yesterday afternoon that Colin Powell was speaking at American University. I couldn’t let him speak without doing something.
After all, I will never forget that shameful day on February 6, 2003 when Colin Powell appeared before the UN Security Council spewing lie after lie about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein’s relationship with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda training camps in Iraq. All lies, but Powell’s presentation was used to justify attacking a nation that never attacked us. I was in Baghdad at the time with a CODEPINK delegation. We’d just met with the weapons inspectors who told us there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We knew Colin Powell was lying, the press in Iraq knew Colin Powell was lying, and I am sure that Colin Power himself knew he was lying.
Instead of facing a war crimes tribunal for drawing our nation into a war based on manipulation and disinformation, the General was going to face a university crowd for a hefty (but undisclosed) amount of money. I just couldn’t let that go without a response.
I had planned to meet up with my CODEPINK colleague Paki Wieland, who is in town for a few days to protest the School of the Americas, also known as the School of Assassins. She was game for going over to the university. I grabbed a “Real Men Make Peace” banner, and quickly made another sign saying “Powell=War Criminal” and off we went to the big campus arena where Powell was speaking. We walked right in with no problem and since the place was packed, we sat down in the back. As soon as Colin Powell got on stage, we walked up the side aisle and calmly opened our signs. We were planning to stand quietly by the podium, but Powell addressed us as soon as we approached. “I agree with you,” he said. That threw me off, as I was holding the war criminal sign. But then I realized he was commenting on the “real men make peace” banner. Since he was talking directly to us, I decided to go up on stage with the war criminal banner while Paki stayed behind. Before I knew it, all plans to stand quietly were ditched and I was shouting, “This man is a war criminal. He has the blood of Iraqis and US soldiers on his hands.” The security guard–a woman–grabbed me but I held on to the rail, determined to make my point before getting dragged off.
The poor security woman who pulled me out was huffing and puffing. “You’re a small woman but you had a mighty grip on that rail,” she muttered. I explained to her that I had a lot of friends in Iraq who have been killed or have had their lives destroyed because of a war that Powell sold to the American people. I told her that a young American woman who was like a daughter to me, Marla Ruzicka, was killed in Iraq in her efforts to save the lives of Iraqi civilians killed by our military. The guard loosened her grip on me and we started to talk.
“I’d like to just let you go, but I have to call the campus police,” she said apologetically. “I already might be in trouble for not stopping you before you got on the stage, but to tell the truth, I thought Powell was inviting you on stage.” We laughed.
A student came up to say thank you, but most students clapped for Powell as we were pulled out. Of course, it is a self-selecting group that went to see the General but I do get the sense that not many students on this campus are aware of General Powell’s sordid past.
When the campus police finally showed up, they asked me many questions, took down all my information, took photos (a front and side mug shot, like a criminal) and wrote up a citation saying I was banned from AU for one year. Paki was not given any citation, but the two of us were then escorted off campus.
Reflecting on the evening, I was glad to have made the statement. It is too bad that the peacemakers get banned from the university, but the warmaker gets a big honorarium and accolades from the students. I hope that someday it won’t be just a couple of protesters making a symbolic statement, but real tribunals that hold leaders accountable for their actions.