The word “moderate” is an interesting word. It is supposed to mean “within reasonable limits.” When you compare Hitler to Mussolini and the atrocities they committed, one could argue that, in some sense, Mussolini was a “moderate.” Fascism in Italy, at least, did not involve concentration camps designed to incinerate millions of people.

What about Saddam Hussein? Is he a “moderate” compared to Osama bin Laden, given that the former had no involvement in the attacks on 9/11?

You’re probably thinking that what I just said is an asinine abuse of the English language: Claiming Mussolini was a “moderate” fascist or Saddam Hussein was a “moderate” agent of atrocities. If you are thinking along those lines, you are absolutely correct. It’s morally indefensible to claim that a person who committed mass crimes against humanity was “moderate” in any sense of the word.

This Friday, Feb. 17, you can drive down to Santa Barbara to hear Colin Powell speak at the Arlington Theatre. Powell is someone the corporate press and its punditry have often portrayed as a “moderate.” He was invited by UCSB to participate in their Arts & Lectures series, under the title, “Leadership: Taking Charge.” UCSB apparently believes Powell has the credentials to lecture us about leadership; according to Arts & Lectures, “Drawing on examples garnered from experience as both a leader on the world stage and as eyewitness to leadership in action, Gen. Powell illustrates for audiences precisely what it takes to be a leader, providing strategies for ‘taking charge’ during times of great change and great crises.”

When Powell speaks next week, don’t expect him to mention his involvement in one of the most well-known massacres conducted by American troops, an attack on the village of My Lai in Vietnam where between 172 and 347 people were systematically executed by American soldiers. All of the victims were unarmed civilians, including the elderly, women and children – some little babies. Powell didn’t pull a trigger that day – his job was to cover up the atrocity.

A soldier who was involved and deeply grieved by what occurred in My Lai wrote a letter about the massacre. Major Powell was given the task of investigating the letter. Powell concluded that only “isolated incidents” had occurred and that “in direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.”

In 1989, George H.W. Bush and his Defense Secretary Dick Cheney decided to invade Panama to kidnap its leader, Manuel Noriega. Noriega was a drug trafficker who supplemented his income with funds from the CIA – including in 1976 when George H.W. Bush was director of the CIA.

As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, was a very key proponent of the invasion of that defenseless Third World country, “Operation Just Cause.” It left hundreds of Panamanian civilians dead or wounded. The carnage was hardly reported by corporate media in this country. During the invasion, Powell stated proudly, “We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, ‘Superpower lives here.'”

In 1991, scores of defenseless, retreating Iraqi soldiers were shot in the back by the U.S. military in the infamous “turkey shoot.” When asked about the “enemy dead” in Iraq, Powell replied, “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in.”

As Secretary of State Powell went before the United Nations Security Council in February 2003 to make a case for war against Iraq. He made 29 allegations and every one was false. This after he had bragged that he spent four days and nights at the CIA going through everything, and what he came up with was solid and could be verified.

One month later, without U.N. approval, President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. Iraq had no air force, no navy, no weapons of mass destruction and no links to the attacks of 9/11. Yet as a consequence of this illegal invasion, Iraq has become a blood bath both for American military personnel and for the Iraqi people. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since President Bush declared “major combat” was over on May 1, 2003.

There is nothing “moderate” about committing crimes against humanity. There is no leadership of value about overseeing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent, defenseless people who got in the way of a rogue superpower’s political agenda.

To many, Colin Powell is a personality to be admired. We choose such people – this country’s leaders – and they say volumes about who we are as a people.

Cameron Miller is a UCSB alumnus. This column was first published in the Santa Maria Times on Feb. 10, 2006.