War criminal Colin Powell gloated that “human rights” NGOs serve US imperial interests as a “force multiplier” in American military wars and an “important part of our combat team”

Colin Powell: ‘Human rights’ NGOs are ‘force multipliers’ for US military, part of ‘combat team’

Benjamin Norton


A lot of my work as a journalist has been dedicated to exposing the role of so-called “human rights” groups and “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) as tools of US imperialism. But rarely is their status as an arm of Washington’s imperial power openly acknowledged.

That is what makes the follow remarks from blood-soaked war criminal Colin Powell so, well, explosive.

On October 26, 2001, top US military General Powell, who was then serving as secretary of state under the George W. Bush administration, gave a speech at the “National Foreign Policy Conference for Leaders of Nongovernmental Organizations,” held in the State Department.

This was well over a month after the 9/11 attacks, and the United States was already several weeks into its war on Afghanistan. The Bush administration was also setting the stage for its subsequent invasion of Iraq.

Powell gathered leaders of prominent NGOs in Washington to butter them up and emphasize the crucial supplementary role that they would be playing in the US government’s war efforts.

Powell heaped praise on NGOs that “shed light on human rights.” He noted that they were a key part of US military efforts, a “force multiplier” in Washington’s wars, and “such an important part of our combat team.”

Powell dispelled any pretense that American NGOs do work around the world in the interest of vague notions like “human rights.” Rather, he gloated, these NGOs serve the United States’ imperial interests, and it is in fact the illusion of their ostensible “independence” from the US government that is precisely what “makes [them] so valuable.”

Here is the full quote from Powell (emphasis added), taken directly from the official transcript published at the US State Department website:

If we at the State Department and in other branches of government and other departments of government are truly serious about outreach and about cooperation, outreach and cooperation and working with you has to happen every day at every single level in all of our bureaus and all of the pieces and parts of our Department here, and at our embassies overseas.

And I want you to know that I have made it clear to my staff here and to all of our ambassadors around the world that I am serious about making sure we have the best relationship with the NGOs who are such a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team.

I have also made it clear to the members of the diplomatic community who work for American interests around the world that they will not be doing their jobs — they will not be doing their jobs for the American people if they do not keep abreast of the work and the ideas that NGOs operating in their areas of responsibility in the countries to which they are accredited. And I have made a point of instructing all of our ambassadors, especially the new ones going to posts for the first time, I have instructed them to make every effort to work with NGOs, international and especially indigenous, and to factor the contributions that NGOs make into their planning and into their programs.

Needless to say, cooperation between governments and NGOs is not the same as co-opting you. Always, we must respect your independence. After all, it is the very fact of your being independent and not an arm of government that makes you so valuable, that permits you to do your essential work, and that gives you the flexibility that you need to do it.

Admissions like this help clarify why billionaire-funded NGOs like Human Rights Watch, which have a revolving door with the US government, also just so happen to vigorously lobby for murderous American and European sanctions on socialist governments in Latin America.

Let’s not forget, Powell is not just some Joe Schmoe; he sits at the heights of US military royalty. Powell served as national security advisor for Ronald Reagan, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff (the highest-ranking US military position) for George H. W. Bush, and secretary of state for George W. Bush.

Although he might be most well remembered for his infamous speech lying to the United Nations Security Council about non-existent “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in Iraq, never forget that Powell presided over the following atrocities:

  • the criminal US invasion of Panama, a blunt act of murderous neocolonialism, in which thousands of homes were burnt down and the bodies of civilians were shoveled into mass graves;
  • the first war on Iraq, the heinous Persian Gulf War, in which Washington intentionally bombed the country back to the stone age, devastating civilian infrastructure, even slaughtering fleeing Iraqi soldiers and Palestinian civilians on the abominable “Highway of Death”;
  • and the unspeakably criminal invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, in which more than 1 million Iraqis lost their lives, their country once again destroyed.

When Powell says purported “human rights” groups and other NGOs serve as “force multiplier” and “an important part of our combat team,” he means they help the US empire more effectively carry out blood-curdling war crimes like these.

All of this is only further confirmation that NGOs’ supposed support for “human rights” is just an imperial fig leaf to cover for Uncle Sam’s subjugation and exploitation of the planet.

Credit to scholar Philip Cunliffe, who cites this Powell quote in his book “Cosmopolitan dystopia: International intervention and the failure of the West”

Originally published at https://bennorton.com on May 26, 2020.



Benjamin Norton

Benjamin Norton is an independent journalist reporting on geopolitics. // Benjamín Norton es un periodista independiente informando sobre la geopolítica.