Sources: THE NATION, May 7, 2001, Title: “Bush’s Contra Buddies,” Author: Peter Kornbluh; IN THESE TIMES, August 6, 2001, Title: “Public Serpent; Iran-Contra Villain Elliott Abrams is Back in Action,” Author: Terry Allen; EXTRA, September/October 2001, Title: “Scandal? What Scandal?,” Author: Terry Allen; THE GUARDIAN, February 8, 2002, Title: “Friends of Terrorism,” Author: Duncan Campbell; THE GUARDIAN, February 18, 2002, “No More Mr. Scrupulous Guy,” Author: John Sutherland; WASHINGTONIAN, April 2002, Title: “True or False: Iran-Contra’s John Poindexter is Back at the Pentagon,” Author: Michael Zuckerman; Corporate media coverage: THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 1, 2001; LOS ANGELES TIMES, January 12, 2002, and September 30, 2001; and BALTIMORE SUN, September 7, 2001; NOTE: While a number of corporate media newspapers mentioned the story in short briefs or on single individuals, a full look at the issue was ignored by most of the U.S. press.
Faculty Evaluator: Francisco Vazquez
Student Researchers: David Immel, Joshua Travers & Chris Salvano
Since becoming president, George Bush has brought back into government service men who were discredited by criminal involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, lying to Congress, and other felonies while working for his father George Bush, Senior, and Ronald Reagan.
In February 2001, John Poindexter was appointed to head the new Information Awareness Office (IAO), an offshoot of the Pentagon-based Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). After serving as Reagan’s National Security Advisor, John Poindexter was charged and found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and the destruction of evidence as he played a central role in the Iran-Contra affair. Costa Rica has officially declared Poindexter to be a drug trafficker, and has barred him from entering the country.
Poindexter’s new job at IAO will supply federal agents with “instant” analysis of private e-mail and telephone conversations. As the vice president of Syntek Technologies, Poindexter helped develop the Orwellian “Project Genoa” for the IAO. Genoa will gather information about electronic conversations, financial transactions, passport tracking, airline ticket sales, phone records, and satellite surveillance into a matrix from which “useful information” will be made available to federal authorities.
Elliot Abrams was recently appointed to the National Security Council (NSC) as director of its Office for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Relations. In 1991, Abrams plead guilty to withholding evidence from Congress regarding his role in the Iran-Contra affair. As Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, he used to oversee U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, and was active in covering up some of the worst atrocities committed by the U.S.-sponsored Contras. According to congressional records, under Abram’s watch, the Contras “raped, tortured, and killed unarmed civilians, including children,” and “groups of civilians, including women and children, were burned, dismembered, blinded and beheaded.” George Bush, Senior, subsequently pardoned him.
John Negroponte, the new ambassador to the U.N., served under Reagan as ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985. He is known for his role in the cover-up of human rights abuses by CIA trained paramilitaries throughout the region. Coincidentally, Honduran exiles associated with the paramilitary forces that had been living in the U.S., were exported to Canada prior to Negroponte’s Senate confirmation hearing, thus rendering their testimony unavailable.
Otto Reich has been appointed as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (which includes Latin America). The Bush Administration used a “recess appointment” during January 2002 to side step the Senate confirmation hearing otherwise required of the appointment. Democrat opposition to Reich’s nomination had been predicted.
In the eighties, Reich was head of the office for Public Diplomacy, which was censured by Congress for “prohibited covert propaganda activities” after influencing the media to favorably cover the Reagan Administration’s position. That office is now defunct. He also helped terrorist Orlando Bosch gain entry into the U.S. after being imprisoned in Venezuela for bombing a Cuban airliner, killing its 73 passengers. Bosch spent time in a U.S. prison for attacking a Polish merchant vessel bound for Cuba. Thirty countries have refused Bosch asylum because of his criminality.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR TERRY ALLEN: It seemed like a good news story to me and my editors, Joel Bleifuss and Jim Naureckas: No sooner did Bush take office than he breathed new life into the corpse of the us-versus-them, good-versus-evil world view that had thrived during the Cold War. The resurrection was embodied in three Reagan-era retreads. These veterans of the U.S. “dirty” war against Central America were complicit in crimes against humanity, democracy, or both. It also seemed like news that Congress was rolling over and bleating weak objections, while most of the media regurgitated snippets of old news.
Bush nominees Otto Reich and Elliot Abrams had been convicted by Congress for relatively trivial aspects of policies that killed thousands and devastated the civil and political life of Central America; John Negroponte had lied about U.S. knowledge and sponsorship of grave human rights abuses in Honduras, and gotten away with it. In writing the story, I relied on extensive Lexis-Nexis research, interviews, and my experience covering the Iran-Contra scandals and reporting from Central America during the wars. I cited all my sources in the pieces.
The articles, tucked away in small-circulation, independent outlets did not a wit of good in preventing Reich’s appointment as the State Department’s leader on Latin America, Abrams’ appointment as a National Security Council director, or Negroponte’s assumption of the post of U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
Nor did the stories prevent Bush II from taking up where Bush I and Reagan left off. The coup in Venezuela against Hugo Chavez sports the sticky fingerprints of all three men and the modus operandi of a long line of U.S. led Cold War interventions.
But if these covert ops were tragedy, the Chavez plot was farce. The rapid unraveling of the coup suggested that the Venezuelan plotters would have done better seeking advice from Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist rather than from Reich. It soon became public that Bush officials maintained a web of connections with the conspirators and appeared to have foreknowledge of the plot. using the same conduit Reagan used to fund the Contras, the National Endowment for Democracy, the administration had funneled money to Venezuelan opposition.
According to British media, Abrams gave a nod to the plotters; Otto Reich, a former ambassador to Venezuela, met repeatedly with Pedro Carmona and other coup leaders. The day Carmona seized the presidency, Reich summoned ambassadors from Latin America and the Caribbean to his office and endorsed the new government.
Meanwhile, Negroponte was hard at work at the U.N. enforcing the U.S. unilateralist ultimata. He attempted to undermine the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court to try people accused of genocide and war crimes. Given his history, it’s easy to understand his squeamishness at the thought of accountability. Soon after the U.S. “unsigned” the ICC treaty, Negroponte threatened Security Council members with pulling U.S. observers and police from the U.N.’s peace-keeping operations in East Timor-unless U.N. (and therefore, U.S.) personnel were excluded from possible prosecution. The move failed.
Otto Reich is also back to his old tricks and cozying up to hard-right Latin American leaders. In an unusual move for such a high-ranking State Department official, he met with Alvaro Uribe less than a week after his election as president of Colombia. The hardliner and the U.S. are in sync in supporting a military solution to that nation’s long-standing counterinsurgency.
An anti-Castro ideologue, Reich was quick to accuse Cuba of developing a biological warfare capacity. Before you could ask “Where’s the evidence?” his own State Department published a sweeping 177-page report on global terrorism. The Miami Herald wrote that Reich “appeared initially confused when asked why the report made no mention of Cuba’s bio-weapons research.”
“Is it an oversight?” asked Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND).
“I do not know who publishes that particular document,” said Reich.
“It’s your department that publishes it,” said Dorgan. “This is a State Department publication.”
It’s deja vu all over again, and while the plot and dialogue are farce, the toll in lost liberties and lives is tragic. Again.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR DUNCAN CAMPBELL: There have been a number of interesting developments since this story appeared. In April, there was a military coup in Venezuela that resulted in the removal from office of President Hugo Chavez, albeit only for two days. What was interesting about the coup was that it was immediately condemned by the Organization of American States and, very forcefully, by President Fox of Mexico. In contrast, the initial U.S. response was ambiguous. There was no outright condemnation of the removal of a democratically-elected president. In fact, the impression given was that the removal of Chavez, who is a close ally of Fidel Castro, was to be welcomed. It was only after the OAS’s condemnation of the coup and the return of Chavez that the U.S. stated its opposition to removing elected leaders by force. The person responsible at the State Department was Otto Reich, whose appointment as assistant secretary we had suggested sent an unfortunate and dangerous message to Latin America. We did not realize that his inability to see beyond his very narrow political agenda would have such damaging consequences so soon.