Govt wiretapping opposition? MHA must respond to State Dept

I glanced through the US Department of State’s annual human rights report on Singapore. It contains little that I don’t already know. Much of it was a cut-and-paste from last year’s report.

Yet there were a few interesting tidbits that I noticed.

In June a visiting foreign citizen, Gopalan Nair, was arrested for comments he made in his blog about the High Court judge presiding in the hearing to assess damages in the Chee defamation case. He was charged with insulting a public servant, which carried a maximum fine of S$5,000 ($3,759) or one year in prison.

Gopalan Nair is a US citizen, albeit a former Singaporean. I found it interesting that the US State Dept (i.e., its foreign ministry), which is supposed to defend the interests of its citizens abroad, chose to avoid stating that Nair was a US citizen. I can think of two possible reasons. One, most Americans won’t even suspect or care that he is a US citizen; and two, they probably don’t want to cause an uproar back home over him, and jeopardize bilateral relations. Although that latter statement is probably me getting too big headed. Why would a hyperpower like the US care about offending Singapore in this respect?

The Films Act bans political advertising using films or videos as well as films directed towards any political purpose. The act does not apply to any film sponsored by the government, and the act allows the MICA minister to exempt any film from the act.

Another interesting omission was that they failed to mention anything about the AIMS committee, the government’s response to their report and the proposed “liberalisations” of the Internet and the Films Act. Either they thought that these were too insignificant to be worthy of mention, or it happened too late to make it to press time. I know that the US embassy here has taken some interest in these developments, so I’m surprised they didn’t report about it. Or maybe it’s because technically, the Films Act has yet to be amended — I believe it is still pending its second reading in Parliament.

The report also did not mention about the spike in incidences of cheating of foreign workers from Bangladesh, China and elsewhere. This must come as a huge relief to MOM, whose officers had probably already prepared a rebuttal and cleared it with their Minister for release.

The belief that the government might directly or indirectly harm the employment prospects of opposition supporters inhibited opposition political activity; however, there were no confirmed cases of such retaliation.

I’m glad to hear there were no confirmed cases — in 2008. I hope that continues on for 2009 and beyond, especially during an election year. In my opinion, this is the single biggest reason why the opposition continues to face such difficulties in recruiting more capable Singaporeans into their ranks.


Law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board, have extensive networks for gathering information and conducting surveillance and highly sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone and other private conversations. No court warrants are required for such operations. It was believed that the authorities routinely monitored telephone conversations and the use of the Internet. It was widely believed that the authorities routinely conducted surveillance of some opposition politicians and other government critics.

I wonder who these opposition politicians they are monitoring are? “Politicians” could mean elected MPs, or simply opposition party members. I consider it a gross invasion of privacy if they are wiretapping the telephone conversations and emails of law-abiding opposition members. It will be even more appalling and unacceptable if they are monitoring elected opposition MPs. That would be a huge misuse of government and taxpayer resources for political ends.

Imagine if Internal Security Department (ISD) officers — who are civil servants — are monitoring opposition party conversations and emails, and are reporting all their election strategies to the Prime Minister! I sure hope this is not happening, because I think the ISD and the PAP will lose every remaining shred of credibility if they do revolting things like that. If they don’t, then the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) should come out and strongly rebut this accusation by the US and state clearly that nothing of this sort happens in Singapore.

I have written separately to MHA to highlight this to them and request for their action.

Gems from President Obama’s inaugural address

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

*   *   *   *

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

*   *   *   *

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

*   *   *   *

Obama’s foreign policy proposals

I support Barack Obama but not simply because it’s the “in” thing. As a non-American whose country is greatly affected by US foreign policy, my main reason for rooting for him is because I believe he presents much better foreign policy proposals than John McCain. I particularly like his focus on diplomacy first. This is not going soft on America’s enemies. This is fighting smart. Extending America’s “soft power” would do much more to overcome terrorists and other enemies of the US than military power ever could.

The Obama campaign has done a good compilation of all his speeches where he outlined his foreign policy visions. Take a look.


Obama courting lobbyists

Barack Obama, who claims to reject Washington lobbyists, three days ago addressed the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — probably the most powerful lobby group in the US.

He pledged to “eliminate” the threat of Iran and do everything in his power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He also promised $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade. To a rousing ovation, he declared he would always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend Israel.

It is certainly a sight to see the future leader of the most powerful nation on earth grovelling at group of lobbyists who represent the narrow interests of a small foreign state.

To be fair to Obama, this is the default position of any American politician who aspires to be elected to high office. John McCain is even more hawkish when it comes to defending Israel and attacking Iran (recall his “Bomb, bomb, Iran” rendition of the Beach Boys’ song).

Fortunately, Obama in his speech signalled his commitment to realising an independent, contiguous Palestinian state at peace with Israel. One could hear a pin drop in the auditorium when he said that. I hope that as president, Obama will honour this commitment.

I support Israel’s right to exist and to defend its borders. But I do not support a US policy that provides unconditional support to Israel while ignoring the plight of Palestinians who are subject to such appalling injustice in their own land.


The East Asian twist in the Middle East nuclear crisis

There’s never a dull moment in Middle East politics. But Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbours has taken a much more intriguing twist in recent months.

On Sept 6 last year, Israeli F-15 and F-16 warplanes secretly bombed a mysterious target in northeastern Syria. It was not until weeks later that the world got to know about this bombing, and Israel remained mum about it more than 10 days after the news broke.

Initial speculation was that the target was either (1) a cache of arms bound for Hezbollah, a terrorist group committed to the destruction of Israel; (2) a practice run for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities; or (3) a joint North Korean-Syrian nuclear reactor project.

Syria’s feeble response after its Jewish neighbour’s audacious invasion of its airspace and attack within its borders only increased suspicion that the third scenario — a nuclear facility — was actually in the works. Even Syria’s Arab neighbours were deafeningly silent on the bombing, when one would expect them to be outraged over this attack on their Arab brethren. Judging from the nature of inter-Arab politics, they — Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular — must have been secretly pleased that Israel removed this threat from their backyard.

The issue was revived again in last Thursday when the US openly accused Syria of building a secret nuclear reactor with North Korea’s help. Some have accused the US of using this as a negotiating ploy with North Korea. Predictably, Syrian diplomats angrily refuted the American claims. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also expressed much unhappiness that the US and Israel did not share their intelligence with it, in order for them to send weapons inspectors to Syria to check out the facility themselves.

I feel the IAEA has the right to feel upset that it was totally sidelined and made irrelevant in this issue. But what else did they expect from Israel?

I am not a diehard supporter of the State of Israel, but I think that the action that Israel took was appropriate and necessary in this case. It already has a disaster waiting to happen with its other neighbour, Iran, and their alleged nuclear programme. It was a good move for them to have nipped Syria’s nuclear programme in the bud, before it opened up another nuclear front for them on their northeast border.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this situation pans out in the coming weeks.

See also:
Shock waves from Syria (Washington Post editorial)
IAEA chief hits out at US, Israel over Syrian reactor claims (CNA)

"Texas Barbeque Gathering" must go ahead

ASEAN-U.S. meeting will be an important step to building stronger relations

Photo: AFP

In what is seen as a signal that Southeast Asia is still important to the U.S., President George W. Bush has invited the region’s leaders to his ranch in Texas for a barbeque — and presumably more substantive talks too.

Bush made this invitation on Sep 7 at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Sydney, where leaders from 21 Asia-Pacific countries are gathered this week.

Many see Bush’s invitation as him making amends for skipping a high level summit with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was to be held in Singapore just before the APEC meeting. The Jakarta Post reported that Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said Bush “wanted to prove that his postponement of (the) Singapore summit on the way to attend the APEC summit did not reduce the U.S. commitment to ASEAN”.

Just a few weeks earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had, for the second time, skipped the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a security meeting between ASEAN ministers and their U.S., Russian, Chinese and Japanese counterparts.

All these no-shows by senior U.S. officials were seen as a snub to the region. U.S. officials insisted that it was due to scheduling difficulties — on each of these occasions, the U.S. leaders made last minute detours to the Middle East to deal with pressing security problems there.

However, many ASEAN leaders are concerned that ASEAN is getting relegated lower and lower in U.S. foreign policy and trade priorities, as the situation in Iraq and Israel-Palestine take centre stage, while remaining U.S. attention in Asia is getting diverted to rising giants China and India.

Going to Big Brother’s house?

Bush’s invitation to the ASEAN leaders to meet him together at his ranch has evoked mixed reactions. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described it as a “very good” move, with the government-controlled Straits Times boasting that Bush “reserves invitations to Texas as a diplomatic plum for close allies”[1].

Indonesian officials, however, were more cautious. They told The Jakarta Post that the location of the meeting in Texas could create the impression that “ASEAN leaders were ‘reporting back’ to a superior power”.[2]

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo was more circumspect. She told reporters that the meeting will be done “at the convenience” of ASEAN.

In most Asian family traditions, younger siblings are expected to visit the eldest sibling in his home during festive occasions like Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Eid ul-Fitr) — and not the other way around. While this protocol does not necessarily extend to international diplomacy, the cultural implications of Bush’s group invitation were probably lost on the President and his advisors.

The Myanmar Factor

Another reason for Bush and Rice skipping meetings with ASEAN could be because of the presence of Myanmar in the grouping. The Neo-cons in the Bush administration are understandably reluctant for their leaders to be seen sitting at the same table as the brutal military dictators who currently rule Myanmar. Hence, Bush’s latest invitation to the seven ASEAN leaders who were present at the APEC meeting could be a way for Bush to meet with just those countries he fancies, while excluding Myanmar, which the U.S. has been so openly critical about. Three ASEAN countries — Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos — are not APEC members.

In any case, the U.S. has a travel ban on leaders of the Myanmar junta and their family members. This makes it highly unlikely that it would allow any Myanmar leaders to attend the ASEAN-U.S. meeting in Texas. This could put ASEAN leaders in a quandary. ASEAN has up until now insisted on its principle that any meeting with ASEAN must include representatives from all its 10 member states. A previous ASEAN ministerial meeting with their European Union (EU) counterparts in The Netherlands got downgraded to “officials level” because the Dutch government refused to grant a visa to Myanmar’s Foreign Minister.

Whether ASEAN will insist on adhering to this principle this time around is unclear. Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda told The Jakarta Post that ASEAN leaders would first have to discuss the practicalities of responding to Bush’s invitation before reaching a decision on whether or not to accept. However, Singapore, the current chair of ASEAN, has already promised to “coordinate a time for the meeting”.

Working Out the Practicalities of the Meeting

The practicalities of the ASEAN leaders’ meeting with Bush in Texas can and definitely should be worked out. For example, instead of naming it an ASEAN-U.S. meeting, it could be billed as a meeting between the U.S. president and several Southeast Asian leaders. Alternatively, the U.S. could allow a low level Myanmar official to represent Myanmar at the meeting, while extending invitations to the remaining ASEAN heads of government. In any case, top Myanmar junta leaders seldom travel out of the country except to seek medical treatment.

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Much at stake with U.S.-ASEAN relations

For most pragmatists in ASEAN, the decision whether or not to proceed with the high level meeting with Bush (with or without Myanmar) is a no brainer. The U.S. is ASEAN’s biggest trading partner. Beyond trade, U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia is critical to maintaining the balance of power in East Asia. A rising China is actively courting ASEAN with its lucrative offers of increased trade and diplomatic links. While all ASEAN countries welcome China’s interest in the region, most of them would still prefer the U.S. to continue maintaining a strong presence in the region.

ASEAN leaders need to find a way to generate greater U.S. interest in the region. Likewise, the U.S. also needs to realise that much is at stake if they lose their focus on ASEAN, which is home to over half a billion people and is the fourth largest trading partner of the U.S.. The U.S. shares many concerns with ASEAN, from the long-running fight against terrorism to more recent concerns like environmental protection and bird flu.

It would be unfortunate if relations were held back because of the Myanmar millstone or U.S. pre-occupation with events in the Middle East. This proposed Texas retreat will be an important step in the right direction to build stronger relations between ASEAN and the U.S.. All parties will do well not to pass up this opportunity.

This article first appeared in OhmyNews International.

[1] “Asean leaders get an invite to Texas from Bush”, The Straits Times, Sep 8, 2007.

[2] “Bush’s Texas invite leaves APEC leaders in an awkward silence”, The Jakarta Post, Sep 8, 2007.

US ambassador says "US will fight" if China invades Taiwan

If the People’s Republic of China decides to take Taiwan by force, the US will fight on behalf of Taiwan against the Mainland, said a former US ambassador.

Chase Untermeyer, who just completed his tour as ambassador to Qatar and is on his way back to the US, made these personal comments on 28 Aug at a public lecture on “US policy in the Middle East” at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, which was attended by about 80 government officials, foreign diplomats, academics and students.

The ambassador used the Cross Strait example to illustrate the importance the US government — in his opinion — places on the principles of democracy and freedom in making its foreign policy decisions. He pointed out that successive US administrations had made decisions to enter military conflicts not simply out of national interests or detailed calculations of the costs and benefits of entering the wars, but based on deep seated principles that are “as old as the US itself”.

Untermeyer cautioned that many countries would be mistaken if they think the US conducted its foreign affairs solely on hard-nosed pragmatism, like securing oil supplies. In the case of an invasion of Taiwan by China, Untermeyer believed that the US will fight China not because of treaty obligations or even out of national interest, but based on its principles to defend its democratic allies against aggression. (The US’ Taiwan Relations Act obliges the US to supply Taiwan with the military capability to defend itself.) Untermeyer assessed that even if a war with China is detrimental to US economic interests, the US will still aid Taiwan if the Chinese invasion goes against the will of the Taiwanese people.

Attempting to debunk the common perception that the US is interested in the Middle East only for its oil and enriching its own oil companies, Untermeyer argued that if that were so, the US would have never created the State of Israel, knowing the unpopularity of that move in a region dominated by Arab countries. The US depends on the Middle East for a quarter of its oil supplies. He said that the European Union is much more dependent on Arab oil and therefore sees the Middle East through the prism of energy security much more than the US does.

On the powerful Jewish lobby in the US influencing foreign policy in the Middle East, Untermeyer explained that Jews made up only five per cent of the US population, and that Jews alone would not be able to influence US policy that much. In fact, he said, the pro-Israel lobby in the US is powerful not just because of Jewish support, but because it fights for a “broadly popular cause” subscribed to by a wide spectrum of American citizens, including conservative Christians.

On Iraq, Untermeyer predicted a gradual reduction in troop numbers over the next year following a much anticipated report to Congress next month by the US ambassador to Iraq, but that it would not go “down to zero”.

Touching on Iran, he was convinced that Islamic republic is in the process of developing a nuclear bomb and the capability to deliver it on missiles. By removing Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the US had unfortunately removed the a heavy counterweight to Iran, which is a far more threatening member of the “Axis of Evil” than Iraq was.

Untermeyer was sceptical that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will resolve all the problems the US is having in the region, although he emphasised that the US should help “solve it for its own sake”. Cautioning that since any final settlement will involve large compromises by both sides (the Israelis and the Palestinians), he expected that right wing and jihadist groups would still seize upon any compromises that did not favour the Palestinian side to whip up sentiment against the US.

Voicing his personal disagreement with the policies of the current US administration, Untermeyer said that he did not “see anything wrong with dealing with Syria” rather than isolating them, which is the current Administration’s policy. He pointed out that isolation and sanctions have never been effective ways to change undemocratic regimes — Cuba being the most prominent example.

During the question and answer session, a student from China, referring to Untermeyer’s statement about defending Taiwan, pointed out that the island has been an integral part of China for far longer than the US has been nation. He asked Untermeyer what the US would do if one of its own states broke away. Untermeyer refused to be drawn into the Chinese student’s analogy, instead repeating that the US will fight based on its own principles of defending democracy, rather than historic precedent or economic interest.

An Indian student then queried how the US could spring to democratic Taiwan’s defence, yet cosy up with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who overthrew a democratically elected government. Untermeyer acknowledged that Pakistan presented a whole slew of policy difficulties for the US, but that the US saw Musharraf as “our man” for now in no small part because of the threat of Al Qaeda.

Untermeyer admitted that there were many examples of US actions that contradicted this assessment. However, he pointed out that even pragmatists like former secretary of state Henry Kissinger conceded that the principled, values-based approach to foreign policy will in the long run prevail over an approach based purely on hard nosed pragmatism and selfish national interests.


This article first appeared in

Colin Powell’s interview on NBC’s Meet the Press

NBC’s Tim Russert interviewed former US Secretary of State Colin Powell on NBC’s Meet the Press on 10 June 2007. The full transcript is available here. Powell — whom I have huge respect for and have seen in person when he spoke at my uni — covered a wide range of issues, including the Iraq war, Iran, Gitmo and the next US presidential elections. Many thanks to pseudonymity for highlighting this interview in his blog. The following are some extracts which I found quite eye-opening.

On the Iraq War

Powell: I didn’t think the war was a mistake at the time we entered into it. It was a war that I would have preferred to avoid, and I said to the president in August of 2002, “Let’s take this to the UN and try to solve it, because there are consequences, both unintended and intended, associated with entering into a conflict with Iraq that are going to be difficult. We break it, we’re going to own it. We’re going to be liberators, we’re also going to be occupiers.” And the president did that, he took it to the UN. But he did not get a satisfactory solution from the UN, and he made a decision to use military force, and I supported him in that. But I think we have handled the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad in, in a very ineffective way.

Russert: Knowing what you know today, would you do the same thing all over again?

Powell: If we knew today—or knew then what we know today, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, I would’ve had nothing to take to the United Nations…. I think it is doubtful that without the weapons of mass destruction case, the president and Congress and the United Nations and those who joined us in the conflict—the British, the Italians, the Spanish, the Australians—would’ve found a persuasive enough case to support a decision to go to war.

But let’s go back to around 10 April of 2003. Saddam Hussein’s statue fell on the 9th, and from the 10th of April, for a month or two, everybody in the United States thought this was a terrific outcome. And it looked like it was going to work, just as the administration has said it was going to work. We were liberators for a moment, and then we simply did not handle the aftermath. We didn’t realize we were in an insurgency when we were in an insurgency, and we watched as the ministries that we were counting on, the government ministries we were counting on to help us take over, were being burned and looted. And we didn’t respond. And we didn’t have enough troops in the ground.

Because once the government fell, the whole structure of government collapsed. Once the government in Baghdad came down, everything came down. And it was our responsibility then, under international law as the occupying authority as well as the liberators, to be responsible for restoring order, and we didn’t have enough troops there to restore that order nor did we have the political understanding of our obligation to restore that order.

I spent five days out at the CIA going over every single piece of information that was going to be in my presentation (to the UNSC on 5 February 2003). There were a lot of other pieces of information that different people would have wanted me to use and it was all rejected. Everything in that statement was blessed by the director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet; his deputy, John McLaughlin; and all of their senior officials. They believed it, too. George has said he believed it. And so I went to the UN having dumped a lot of stuff on the side of the road because it wasn’t multiple source. It might have been right, but it wasn’t multiple source and I wouldn’t use it. And the reason you see Director Tenet sitting behind me is because I wanted to make sure and he wanted to make sure that people understood I was not making a political statement. I was making a statement of the facts as we knew them.

And we all believed it. Our military believed it going into battle. Other governments believed it. The reality is they did not have those stockpiles. We were wrong.

Fourth point I’d like to make. Suppose that the UN sanctions had subsequently broken down. We didn’t go into a war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein was free of all UN constraints because of the collapse of the Oil for Food program. Would you believe, would anybody believe, that with the capability and with the intent he would not then go back to trying to build up those stockpiles? That’s the chance the president did not want to take, that’s the risk he did not want to take.

We went to war on the basis that we have a terrible regime and what makes—it’s been terrible forever. What makes it so terrible now, in the aftermath of 9/11, is that they had demonstrated that they will use these weapons.

I’m glad the regime is gone. I’m glad Saddam Hussein is gone. But the case that we took to the world and the case that we took to the American people rested not just in his human rights abuses or his cheating on the Oil for Food program, it rested on the real and present danger of weapons of mass destruction that he could use against his neighbors, or terrorists could use against us. That was the precipitating issue in my judgment, and it turned out those weapons were not there.

…when we decided to take it to the UN, I worked for seven weeks to get a UN resolution, a unanimous resolution. as it turned out, 1441, and that resolution had a get out of jail card for Saddam Hussein. It gave him, I think it was 30 or 60 days, to come forward and answer all the questions that are outstanding about your capability and your stockpiles and what you’ve done with it. And, instead of seriously trying to answer that question, he just dumped a whole bunch of stuff on us that really wasn’t credible or believable. And it was at that point that he set us on the road to war. He had a chance to stop this. And when I briefed the president in August of 2002 about the potential consequences of the war, and he said, “What do we do?” I said, “I recommend we go to the UN.” He accepted that recommendation, we went to the UN. But I said to the president at that time, you know, “He could satisfy us, and if he satisfies us, if he makes it clear that here is it—here it all is, then you have to be prepared to accept that, and there may not be a war, and we may have a changed regime but not a regime change.”

Russert: What did the president say?

Powell: He said yes, he understood that.

I would’ve preferred no war because I couldn’t see clearly the unintended consequences. But we tried to avoid that war with the UN sanctions and putting increasing diplomatic and international pressure on Saddam Hussein. But when I took it to the president and said, “This is a war we ought to see if we can avoid,” I also said and made it clear to him, “If, at the end of the day, it is a war that we cannot avoid, I’ll be with you all the way.” That’s, that’s part of being part of a team. And therefore I couldn’t have any other outcome, and I had no reservations about supporting the president in war. And I think things could’ve turned out differently after the middle of April if we had responded in a different way.

On Iran and Syria

I believe we should be talking to all of Iraq’s neighbors. I think we should be talking to Iran, we should be talking to Syria. Not to solve a particular problem or crisis of the moment or the day, but just to have dialogue with people who are involved in this region in so many ways. And so I think it is shortsighted not to talk to Syria and Iran and everybody else in the region, and not just for the purpose of making a demand on them “and I’ll only talk to you if you meet the demand that I want to talk to you about.” That’s not the way to have a dialogue in my judgement.

On Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo has become a major, major problem for America’s perception as it’s seen, the way the world perceives America. And if it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I’d close it. And I would not let any of those people go. I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system.

America, unfortunately, has two million people in jail all of whom had lawyers and access to writs of habeas corpus. And so we can handle bad people in our system. And so I would get rid of Guantanamo and I’d get rid of the military commission system and use established procedures in federal law or in the manual for courts-martial. I would do that because I think it’s a more equitable way to do it and it’s more understandable in constitutional terms. I would always—I would also do it because every morning I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds. And so, essentially, we have shaken the belief that the world had in America’s justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open and creating things like the military commission. We don’t need it, and it’s causing us far damage than any good we get for it. But, remember what I started in this discussion saying, “Don’t let any of them go.” Put them into a different system, a system that is experienced, that knows how to handle people like this.

On the next Presidential elections

I’ve met with Senator (Barack) Obama twice. I’ve been around this town a long time, and I know everybody who is running for office, and I make myself available to talk about foreign policy matters and military matters with whoever wishes to chat with me.

Russert: Would you ever come back in the government?

Powell: I would not rule it out. I’m not at all interested in political life, if you mean elected political life. That is unchanged. But I always keep my, my eyes open and my ears open to requests for service.

Russert: Any endorsements?

Powell: Oh, not yet. It’s too early.

Russert: But you’ll support the Republican?

Powell: It’s too early.

Russert: Would you support an independent?

Powell: I’m going to support, I’m going to support the best person that I can find who will lead this country for the eight years beginning in January 2009.

Russert: Of any party?

Powell: The best person I can find.