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Colin Powell, first black US secretary of state, dies of COVID complications

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-10-19 09:00

Colin Powell, the first black US secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, died of COVID-19 complications on Monday, his family announced. He was 84.

In announcing his death, Powell's family said that he had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus but gave no other details.

Powell had been treated over the past few years for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that impairs the body's ability to fight infections and to respond well to vaccines, The Associated Press reported, citing Peggy Cifrino, his longtime chief of staff.

She also said that Powell had Parkinson's disease, which put him at high risk with an immunocompromised system. Even if fully vaccinated, cancer patients who are immunocompromised are at greater risk from the virus, studies have shown, the AP reported.

Cifrino also confirmed that Powell was vaccinated early with the Pfizer vaccine and had his second shot in February. She said he was scheduled to get his booster shot this past week, but that was when he fell ill, so he wasn't able to receive it.

President Joe Biden issued a proclamation ordering the flags at the White House and other federal buildings to fly at half-staff until sunset Friday.

In a statement distributed by the White House, Biden called the diplomat and military leader "a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity" .

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell served as national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, and secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

Powell rose to the rank of four-star general, and in 1989 became the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role, he oversaw the US invasion of Panama and later the US invasion of Kuwait to oust the Iraqi army in 1991 after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait.

Under President George W. Bush, Powell pushed faulty intelligence to justify the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In a presentation at the United Nations, Powell cast Saddam as a major global threat who possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), displaying a vial of what he said could have been a biological weapon.

Powell had called Iraq's claims that it had no such weapons "a web of lies". No WMD were ever found, however, and that intelligence turned out to be erroneous.

The speech was later derided as a low point in Powell's career. He later admitted that his speech represented a "blot" that would always be a part of his record.

"My instincts failed me," he wrote in his 2012 memoir. "It was by no means my first, but it was one of my most momentous failures, the one with the widest-ranging impact.''

Bush said in a statement Monday that he was "deeply saddened" by news of Powell's death.

"He was such a favorite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom — twice," Bush said. "He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man."

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