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At This Hour

Colin Powell Dies At 84 Of COVID Complications; Powerful Gang Kidnaps 16 Americans, One Canadian In Haiti. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 18, 2021 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We do begin with the breaking news. The death of an American hero, General Colin Powell died this morning at the age of 84 due to complications from coronavirus. He was fully vaccinated, his family said in its statement, but a source also tells CNN that General Powell was also battling multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that suppresses the body's immune response.

Powell held a variety of critically important roles in his lifetime of service to the United States, Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and four-star U.S. Army General. His leadership in several Republican administrations helped shape American foreign policy over the last four decades. And at one point he was a leading present -- he was considered a potential leading presidential candidate.

But his story is also a complicated one. Marked by his speech before the United Nations in 2003 to make the case for the war, the invasion of Iraq, citing faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, he would later call that decision, a blot on his record. CNN's Wolf Blitzer looks back at the incredible life and career of General Powell.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Colin Powell, a soldier turned statesman made history on many fronts, the first African American and youngest Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and later, the first African American Secretary of State.

POWELL: So I've always felt strongly that you should try to solve conflicts in this world through negotiations through diplomacy. Anytime we can solve a problem that way and not use force and satisfy our objectives, let's push for that.

BLITZER: Powell grew up in the Bronx, New York. His parents emigrated from Jamaica. By his own admission, he was not an outstanding student. POWELL: It's been amusing over the years to have people come up to me and say, well, General Powell, you're Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When did you go -- when did you graduate from West Point? I couldn't have gotten in.

BLITZER: He enrolled in the City College of New York. Geology was his major, but the ROTC became his passion. Powell flourished as a cadet, and after graduating, excelled as a soldier. He served two tours of Vietnam before earning a prestigious fellowship working for the Office of Management and Budget during the Nixon era in 1972.

Afterwards, Powell returned to his troops, eventually becoming a general and went back to the White House in 1987, as President Reagan's National Security Adviser. Then, in 1989, the General became the highest ranking officer in the U.S. military when President George H.W. Bush named him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

POWELL: Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it.

BLITZER: Powell became a household name during the first Gulf War. His policy of overwhelming force against Iraq became known as the Powell doctrine.

POWELL: I express my sincere thanks to each and every one of you for being here to share my final day in uniform.

BLITZER: After a distinguished 35 year career, Powell retired from the army in 1993. Ten years later, the United States would become involved in another Gulf War and Powell again played a key role.

POWELL: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

BLITZER: Then Secretary of State Powell made a case in front of the U.N. Security Council, arguing that Iraq posed a grave threat to the world because he said they had weapons of mass destruction. The following month, the U.S. invasion began. The war lasted more than eight years, no weapons of mass destruction ever turned up.

POWELL: I regret it now because the information was wrong.

BLITZER: After four years as President George W. Bush's Secretary of State, Powell returned to private life. He spent his civilian years empowering you through his projects, America's Promise Alliance and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.

POWELL: We're going to go and educate the kids who are most in need. And when I heard their stories, I said I got to get -- this is where I belong. I'm home again.


BLITZER: General Colin Powell, a leader and a patriot who devoted a lifetime to service. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: And joining me right now for more on this is retired U.S. Army Major General Dana Pittard and CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel. Thank you both for being here. General Pittard, as Wolf lays out, Powell was the first African American and youngest Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was also the first African American Secretary of State. Just a great American story, a complicated American story but what is your reaction to the news today?

MAJ. GEN. DANA PITTARD (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Oh, it's obviously very, very sad. I got more e-mails and calls from friends and colleagues. General Powell was a towering figure. You know, I first met him in Germany with my corps commander, and I was a young Captain 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. And just meeting him was such an honor at the time.

And I got to meet him and talk with him on different occasions since then. But obviously, he was a person who was a trailblazer in so many ways, whether it was as a national security adviser in the Reagan administration, to being the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton, and then becoming the Secretary of State under George W. Bush.

BOLDUAN: What did he mean to black soldiers?

PITTARD: Well, I think it's what did he mean to, all soldiers, but especially soldiers of color? Because when you looked at someone like General Powell, you thought, yes, maybe I could do that, too. But he was never afraid to reach back. I remember, when he was a one-star general at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he noticed there was nothing honoring the Buffalo Soldiers. So that's one thing he pushed for. And that was in the, you know, the early 1980s.

And by 1992, there was a monument to the Buffalo Soldiers, and he went there and spoke himself. In fact, my godfather, my uncle, Harry Hallowell was a Buffalo Soldier, escorted him there. And again, I got to meet him at that time also. Well, he was a trailblazer, but let's not forget that there would have been -- America wouldn't have known Colin Powell, if it hadn't been for back in the, I think, is a Carter Administration. Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander had been the first African American secretary the army.

When the general officers list came out in late 1970s, he made a comment and said, wait a minute, are there -- is there no enough color who could be a general officer? And then on the next list, there were a couple, including then Colonel Colin Powell. So diversity inclusion and then having someone who could champion that was very, very important.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Jamie, you've covered General Powell extensively throughout the years, you know, I was just looking at Robert Draper just last year and a profile on Powell wrote how he mournfully himself predicted to others that his obituaries first paragraph would include his authorship of the U.N. speech is how Draper put it, right? And it's one thing to have read that when that profile, which was very interesting, came out, that rereading it this morning, it hits so very differently. Such an amazing American story, a complicated one, though.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. But I think what may be most important about that complicated time when he made the speech to the U.N. in favor of WMDs is what he did afterwards.


GANGEL: He came out, and he said, I made a mistake. That's the kind of leadership and leader that Colin Powell was. I actually first met him, I think it was his first day on the job in the Reagan administration in the national secure -- as national security adviser. And as a general just said, he really was, we talked about people being larger than life, impressive, towering figures. He was all that. He was very charismatic.

He also had an easy way about him, a smile. He knew how to connect with people. So that that very first time I met him, I knew that this was someone who was special and was going to go big -- dig big places. I just want to point out one thing a couple of years ago, I did an interview with him. It was actually for a documentary about former President Bush 41 and we were talking about the lead up to Desert Storm.


And I think it says a lot about how he felt in the army and he said, quote, that he was the reluctant general. I'm always the reluctant general, because I don't like war. If we can avoid war, we avoid war. It has terrible consequences. That said, he was also the kind of general who, when diplomacy didn't work, he knew what his mission was. And he was intent on filling that mission.

BOLDUAN: You know, General Pittard, I remember, you know, Jamie is talking about what kind of sticks with you in meeting and covering and interviewing General Powell. I remember interviewing him once on the anniversary of -- on an anniversary September 11th in the fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and asking him before we began the interview, just simply if he preferred I call him secretary or general.

And he said, he's always a general first. And that's always, I think that was in 2009. And that is just that perspective from him has always kind of stuck with me. What do you think that he meant in saying that?

PITTARD: Well, I think he was proud to serve our country. And to his heart, to his soul, he was a soldier at his core. And he could relate to soldiers really of all ranks. I agree what was just said, as far as being so relatable to people. And he could explain things well, as far as the mission and he'd want to follow up. The 13 principles that he put out, you know, an example of one was never have a position where you are so invested, that you don't have perspective to it. I've never forgotten that. Also the Powell doctrine, the use of overwhelming force, that if we're going to go to war, we need to go to war to win, all those, those things just stick with you.

BOLDUAN: Let me play for everyone what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said just this morning, about his passing. Let me play this.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed. Alma lost a great husband and the family lost a tremendous father. And I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me, and I can always go to him with tough issues. He always had great counsel. We will certainly miss him. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.


BOLDUAN: General Pittard, what do you think the lessons are of General Powell that you hope any young military officer will carry with them?

PITTARD: Well, first of all, that was very heartfelt comments from General Austin who I know well on General Powell. You know, General Powell's legacy is that he came from very humble beginnings, you know, his family immigrated from Jamaica, and he was raised in New York City. And with grit determination, you can do anything.

And he was an example of that. In his autobiography, "My American Journey," he talked about that, doing the right thing, always. And he was such a trailblazer. I think that that is helpful not to just people of color but all Americans because his story is an American story American success story.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. General Pittard, thank you for being here. Jamie, thank you as always for your great reporting on this, if you could just stick with me, we've got much more to come. You know, as we mentioned off the top General Colin Powell's death is short to raise more questions about his health. And let me bring in right now some -- to get some perspective on this.

As we know from the family, he died of complications they said with coronavirus. Dr. Megan Ranney is here. She is a professor of emergency medicine and associate dean of public health at Brown University. So Dr. Ranney the statement from the family said he was fully vaccinated died of complications of coronavirus. And importantly, we have now learned he was battling multiple myeloma. What do people need to know about this, how this cancer could have played into his death?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE: Thank you, Kate, first, my condolences to the family, and of course, to our entire nation on his unexpected death. I think it's really important for us as we talk about his death and the fact that it was from complications of COVID-19 to reframe that vaccination discussion.

What we need to know is that multiple myeloma is a horrible blood cancer. The treatment of which requires you to basically become immunosuppressed. We've known for months that the vaccines do not work as well if they work at all in people who are immunosuppressed.


And this is why we've been calling for boosters for the immunosuppressed and the FDA actually approved those way back in August. This is also why it's so important for all of us to get vaccinated, because those of us with healthy immune systems, when we get vaccinated helped to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Thereby protecting people like General Powell, who no doubt was infected by someone else, possibly someone who had not gotten the vaccines. So the takeaway is not that the vaccines don't work, but rather that we know that they don't work for a small group of our population. And General Powell was unfortunately one of those.

BOLDUAN: I think this is so important, because this is something I know Sanjay Gupta has been hitting on so much, which is it's not -- it is about protecting yourself. But it is also about protecting those who cannot be protected right now. Speak to what this means when you're -- he's fully vaccinated.

But when you are dealing with something as horrible as blood cancer like he was, what that does to your body, the vaccine just can't work because your body is depleted in its ability to fight.

RANNEY: It's exactly right. So with multiple myeloma where you have this proliferation of cancerous blood cells, the treatment for it is a variety of different things, ranging from chemo to steroids, to a bone marrow transplant that potentially require you to be on immunosuppressant's for life. Each of those treatments along with the cancer itself means that your body is not going to be able to mount the normal immune response that healthy people are able to create.

And again, this is where that concept of herd immunity or of protecting your community matters so much. It is for people like him, it is for people who have cancer and are undergoing chemo. And it's of course for our children who can't yet be vaccinated, that it's so important that the rest of us show up and get our vaccines.

BOLDUAN: And also Dr. Ranney, I mean, General Powell was already in a high risk group being 84 years old, even without the cancer that we're speaking about.

RANNEY: You know, that's exactly right. Throughout the pandemic, we know that the elderly have been more likely to get severe COVID-19 to be hospitalized and to die. Then when you add on to it, the fact that he was immunosuppressed and had blood cancer, I mean I've seen studies showing that people who are immunosuppressed have as much as 500 times the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death compared to people that aren't.

So he had multiple factors going that made this disease so much more dangerous for him. You know, I'm of course curious as to what treatments he got whether he received monoclonal antibodies, but even those right this thing that's being touted by many politicians as a cure may not have been enough once he caught the disease. BOLDUAN: Right, reinforcing the need to be vaccinated for yourself and for everyone around you. Thank you, Dr. Ranney, for that perspective. Appreciate it.

We've got much more to come. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: Developing this morning, 16 American missionaries one Canadian missionary are missing in Haiti right now after being kidnapped by one of the most powerful gangs on the island. The gang which has already kidnapped dozens of people this year, abducted the missionaries over the weekend after they were visiting an orphanage near Port-au-Prince.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is live at the State Department with more on this for us this morning. Kylie, what more are you learning about this kidnapping?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Kate, the State Department has now confirmed that there were 16 Americans who were kidnapped in Haiti over the weekend by a gang there. We are told by this organization, this nonprofit Christian organization based in Ohio that in total, there were 17 people kidnapped, 16 of them Americans, five of those were children.

So this is something that of course we are watching extremely closely. The State Department says that they are in regular contact with Haitian authorities over this. And I was told last night by a senior administration official that the United States still doesn't know where exactly these Americans are right now. They were taken hostage when they were leaving an orphanage where they were doing work in Haiti.

And of course, it's important to note that hostage problems have been ongoing in Haiti for the last year. It's one of the reasons that the State Department travel advisory tells Americans do not travel to Haiti. But we also know that this has been an increasing problem in recent months. There's an organization in Haiti that did some research showing that there was a 300 percent increase in hostages taken just since July of this year. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Kylie, thank you so much for that update.

Let me bring in right now, Laurent Lamothe, a former prime minister of Haiti for more on this. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for being here. What do you know of this gang?

LAURENT LAMOTHE, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF HAITI: Well, it's been operating for several years. You know, it's a very dangerous gang. And they've had several kidnappings before. And, you know, it's a very complicated and difficult situation to be.

BOLDUAN: You know, as Kylie was kind of pointing to, gang activity and kidnappings and hostage taking in Haiti unfortunately seems out of control at the moment even before this weekend and what we saw here, would you say that is the case that it's out of control at the moment and why?


LAMOTHE: Well, the spiral of violence has been unprecedented. What's happening also in Haiti is, you know, it's a compounding effect of, you know, the United Nations had a military component or military force for over 14 years spent over $14 billion and left in 2019, creating a huge security void.

Basically, they train the police and the police is under 16,000 police officers, and is not really equipped to fight off the type of gang activity, the type of gang warfare that's going on right now in Haiti. So there is a huge -- there is a void for military presence in Haiti, which is not the case today. And it's favoring the gangs and it's favoring violence.

BOLDUAN: So I mean, you're kind of getting at it. But what is needed to get this under control? I mean, bring some safety and some security to a nation that is struggling with so much from natural disasters to the assassination of the president.

LAMOTHE: Well, for sure, I mean, the assassination of the president left a legitimacy issue. So there is a political problem to be solved, through elections, that there has to be a legitimate government to deal with gang warfare and issues through legitimacy. There is definitely on the short-term assistance needed to the police with equipment, supplies, even manpower to fight off the gangs on the short term.

But on the long run, there needs -- Haiti needs to reestablish its military. So the military, the police, having a strong force fighting together against these gangs and also stop the deportations of criminals for a certain period of time, because, you know, Haiti is receiving over 100 criminals from -- that are being deported from the U.S. back to Haiti, and the country simply cannot afford to receive any more of them. And it's creating, you know, it's reinforcing the gangs and it's creating it creating a very, very fragile security situation, making it even worse.

BOLDUAN: I was actually going to ask you, because if you were in your old position, you would be speaking with the Biden ministration. And what would you ask of President Biden right now? You do think there is a direct link between those being deported from the United States, as we saw those dramatic pictures at the southern border back to Haiti, you think there was a connection to these gangs?

LAMOTHE: Oh, no, it's not the migrants, it's mostly the criminals, the hardened criminals that serve --


LAMOTHE: -- in U.S. jails and that are sent back. Every week there is claim full of those criminals going back to Haiti that's on top of the migrants. And what was going to happen is the gangs are making the country unlivable. And when the country is unlivable, we see what -- we see the immediate effect of the migrant issues, you know, professionals are leaving Haiti in very high numbers, the brain drain is getting even worse.

So what I would ask President Biden, if I was in office today, I would ask him, one, reinforce, you know, send a team down there, reinforce the Haiti National Police which supplies an equipment that will boost the morale. And also adjust your policy on the Haitian military. I know that the Haitian military has not been the model military in the past. But today's situation on the ground calls for the military in Haiti and you just have to face it. This is needed right now.

BOLDUAN: Prime Minister, thank you for your time.

LAMOTHE: Thank you very much.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, former President Donald Trump is being deposed right now in one of the many civil lawsuits against him on camera. On the record, what a deposition of Donald Trump could mean for Donald Trump?