There is a law in politics almost as old as the business itself. When one lays claim to the moral high ground, goes the saying, one should be “as Caesar’s wife: above reproach.” The Bush Administration inattention to that piece of wisdom is likely to cause it no end of trouble as it tries to cobble together an international coalition against terrorism.
When the US’s new United Nations Ambassador John Negroponte rose to praise that body’s Sept. 28 resolution on terrorism, reminding delegates that the action “obligates all member states to deny financing, support, and safe haven for terrorists,” his remarks were greeted with studied silence by Latin American delegates. It is hard to cheer when you’re gritting your teeth.
Twenty years ago, Negroponte was financing and supporting terrorist death squads in Honduras and providing “safe haven” for the Contras, who used sabotage and murder in their efforts to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
When Negroponte took over as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras in 1981, the outgoing Carter Administration appointee, Jack Binns, warned him that human rights abuses were on the rise. Negroponte not only ignored him, he oversaw a jump in U.S. military aid from $3.9 million in 1981 to $77.4 million in 1984. At the time, Honduras had no internal or external enemies, but was serving as the major launch pad for the U.S. backed Contra attacks. Locals dubbed the country the “USS Honduras.”
At the time Negroponte was denying human rights violations in Honduras, the military’s notorious Battalion 3-16, a secret unit trained by the CIA, and headed by Gen. Gustavo Alverez Martinez, a graduate of the U.S.’s School of the Americas, was kidnapping and murdering opponents of the government. Some 184 murders have been documented by human rights organizations, including American Jesuit priest Joseph Carney. According to a 1995 series in the Baltimore Sun exposing the U.S. role in training the Battalion, the unit used electric shock and suffocation as its favored interrogation technique, murdering prisoners afterwards.
Honduran Congressman Efrain Diaz Aarrivillaga told the Sun he took up the issue of Battalion 3-16 with Negroponte, but said the Ambassador’s attitude was one of “tolerance and silence.” Diaz told the Sun, “They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.”
Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of Human Rights Watch/America, calls Negroponte the “ostrich ambassador,” who “never saw anything wrong. He never heard about any serious rights violations. It was like he was living in another country.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had these reports before it when it approved Negroponte’s nomination Sept.14, but in the stampede to stand with the President, it chose not to pursue them. It is a decision the Senate may come to regret.
When the new UN Ambassador thunders about the damages inflicted on Americans by the New York and Washington attacks, the Nicaraguans and Salvadorans may remind him that the International Court of Justice in the Hague found the U.S. liable for $17 billion of damage inflicted on both countries during the Reagan Administration’s jihad in Central America.
When Negroponte points to the 6,000 plus deaths caused by the Sept. 11 terrorism, Central Americans may sit quietly, but it is doubtful they will forget the 200,000 lives lost during their U.S. sponsored civil wars or the two million refugees those conflicts engendered.
If Negroponte is a potential headache for the White House, Elliot Abrams, the newly appointed senior director for the National Security Council’s office for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations is a major migraine. Abrams was a key actor in the Iran-Contra business and convicted of lying about it to Congress in 1986. What he was never charged with was covering up mass murder, murder most foul.
In December, 1981, the U.S. trained Atlacalt Battalion rounded up the 900 residents of El Mazote in El Salvador and systemically murdered all but a few who escaped. They shot them with American M-16s, cut their throats, burned them alive, and machine gunned and macheted scores of children. The massacre was exposed by Ray Bonner of the New York Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post.
But their reports never received widespread circulation because Elliot Abrams covered up the atrocity. He lied, he spun, he whispered that Bonner and Guillermoprieto were rebel symps, and tossed out just enough smoke and intimidation that a timid press backed off the story. In the end it all came out when the UN Truth Commission carried out a painstaking reconstruction of the massacre in 1993. For the full story look at Mark Danner’s “The Truth About El Mazote” in the Dec. 6 New Yorker magazine
Abrams’ response to the Commission’s findings on El Mazote and that 85 percent of the 22,000 extra-legal murders in El Salvador were carried out by U.S. sponsored death squads in alliance with the Salvadoran military? “The (Reagan) Administration’s record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement.” And this is the man whom the world should listen to on democracy and human rights?
There are other terrorists whom the Bush Administration has unearthed and brought back into the fold as well. Keep an eye out for Otto Reich, the nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. As the former head of the State Department’s Latin America Office, he helped plant stories and opinion pieces praising the Contras in U.S. newspapers. It wasn’t just the stories that were phony, so were the authors. Reich’ office wrote them all. He also helped spring terrorist Orlando Bosch from a Venezuelan prison in 1987. Bosch was jailed for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban commercial airplane that killed 73 people.
This is the caliber of people making speeches about fighting terrorism these days. It’s enough to make the angels weep.