Okay I think the

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Okay, I think the wheels are now officially off this car. The Baltimore Sun quotes Colin Powell as saying that “we kept the president informed of the concerns that were raised by the ICRC and other international organizations as part of my regular briefings of the president, and advised him that we had to follow these issues, and when we got notes sent to us or reports sent to us … we had to respond to them, and the president certainly made it clear that that’s what he expected us to do.”

Powell further said that he, Rice and Rumsfeld kept Bush “fully informed of the concerns that were being expressed, not in specific details, but in general terms.”

Not only does that contradict what the White House and the president have said. It contradicts the testimony of one of Don Rumsfeld’s principal deputies from only yesterday.

When asked by Sen. John Warner whether the ICRC’s concerns had made their way to the Secretary’s level, Stephen Cambone replied: “No, sir, they did not. Those reports — those working papers, again, as far as I understand it, were delivered at the command level. They are designed — the process is designed so that the ICRC can engage with the local commanders and make those kinds of improvements that are necessary in a more collaborative environment than in an adversarial one.”

I’ve been hearing for days that the State Department at the highest levels (i.e., not a few lefty FSOs in the bureaucracy, but authorized at the highest levels) has been leaking like crazy against the civilian leadership of the Pentagon on this story.

And here we have it right out in the open. Powell isn’t exactly saying the White House or the president is lying. What he’s doing might fairly be described as walking up to the black board, writing out “2+2=” and then letting us draw our own conclusions.

Now, Powell’s critics will argue that this is his standard operating procedure: distancing himself from bad news with a shrewd campaign of leaks and carefully phrased attacks, which give the targets of the attacks no clear place to grab on to. And they’d be right. That is classic Colin Powell, a master Washington insider.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. And at a certain point — though you’d imagine we’d already reached that point — having the Secretary of State openly contradicting the Secretary of Defense and the president on a matter of such grave concern to the country is a situation that simply cannot last.

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