Colin Powell and Katharine Gun: who is the hero?

Right now, I’m listening to the encomiums from politicians and commentators for Colin Powell.

Coincidentally, last night I watched (on NetFlix) a British film I’d never heard of, Official Secrets, the true story of a British woman I’d also never heard of, Katharine Gun, who leaked to a newspaper a NSA official’s memo about pressuring the UN Security Council members — what I’d impolitely call attempted blackmail — into supporting the immediate prospect of war on Iraq.

It’s a terrific film, terrifically performed. And frightening, in a devastatingly low-key sort of way — low key in the sense of another terrific film about a different sort of deadly, grievous wrong, Dark Waters.

Throughout, the filmmakers used news footage of Colin Powell, et al. making the case for the war. Remember how Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was an immediate threat to the U.S. and Great Britain?

What particularly resonated with me: Keira Knightley, as Gun, listening to the buildup to the war on TV, including Powell’s and Tony Blair’s insistence on the danger, and saying, “They don’t know that.” Her assertions that no one believed there were WMDs in Iraq matched exactly what I was seeing and saying at the same time. No rational, intelligent person believed that bullshit, the bullshit created by lies, the bullshit created to make W. a war president.

At the time, too, I was saying, “Why on this earth would Tony Blair cozy up to George W. Bush?” I’d thought Blair was more intelligent than that. (Virtually anyone was more intelligent than Bush.)

Katharine Gun leaked the memo to try to prevent the war. It didn’t work but she did provide evidence that we who did not believe the bullshit were right.

So I’m having trouble mourning Colin Powell. For all his admirable qualities, he handed over his reputation, his unusual gravitas to support a lie and a disaster founded in that lie.




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