I Remember Negroponte
by William Rivers Pitt
"The principle office of history I take to be this: to prevent virtuous actions from being forgotten, and that evil words and deeds should fear an infamous reputation with posterity."
July 27, 2001 (APJP) -- A wise friend recently offered the reminder that the best weapon anyone can bring to bear upon that which they oppose is a long memory.
I was fifteen years old in 1987, working behind the snack bar of a public golf course. A battered old television was propped up in the corner, and it was on all the time during the Iran-Contra hearings. I pulled sodas and served coffee and shot the breeze with the regulars, and I watched every damned minute of those hearings.
It is then, I think, that the first true stirrings of my current political ideology rose up and peered with furrowed eyebrows at Lt. Colonel Oliver North. I was young, and not able to understand fully the scope and magnitude of what was happening. Despite that, it was clear to me, and from what I could tell it was likewise clear to the nation, that something had gone fundamentally wrong in the White House.
And then, of course, the wheels came off. The hearings degenerated into long, lazy afternoons filled with softball questions tossed up to North and his lawyers. Hunter Thompson best described the scene in 'Generation of Swine':
"By the end of the Thursday session, North had been fed so many home run balls that he and his lawyer were laughing out loud and slapping each other on the back every time Nields asked a question - and then North would give another 20 minute speech about how much he loved his wife and his children and his uniform and, above all, his commander-in-chief, The President."
North was a hero, the hearings went seemingly nowhere, Reagan served out his term, and later on a number of the leading lights within the scandal were given Presidential pardons by George Herbert Walker Bush. I finished out the summer at the course and proceeded to grow up, a bit wiser for having watched it all unfold.
That boy has grown into a man who happens to have become a teacher of history. It is my job to recall with alacrity the details and individuals that have coursed through our national events. Simply put, I get paid to have that long memory. I remember Iran-Contra.
I remember the Walsh Report, and have read it many times. It can be found here:
The Walsh Report describes the whole sordid deal rather succinctly in its Executive Summary, which reads in part below:
"The Iran/contra affair concerned two secret Reagan Administration policies whose operations were coordinated by National Security Council staff. The Iran operation involved efforts in 1985 and 1986 to obtain the release of Americans held hostage in the Middle East through the sale of U.S. weapons to Iran, despite an embargo on such sales. The contra operations from 1984 through most of 1986 involved the secret governmental support of contra military and paramilitary activities in Nicaragua, despite congressional prohibition of this support.
"The Iran and contra operations were merged when funds generated from the sale of weapons to Iran were diverted to support the contra effort in Nicaragua. Although this 'diversion' may be the most dramatic aspect of Iran/contra, it is important to emphasize that both the Iran and contra operations, separately, violated United States policy and law. The ignorance of the 'diversion' asserted by President Reagan and his Cabinet officers on the National Security Council in no way absolves them of responsibility for the underlying Iran and contra operations."
So much good reading here for an historian! So much to remember. What the Walsh Report does not speak to, what it glosses over, are the wretched facts of our involvement in Central America during this time. This omission is pressing today, because the ghosts of Iran-Contra have come back to haunt us.
John Dimitri Negroponte stands today as the nominee to represent the United States at the U.N. Negroponte is currently the Executive Vice President for Global Markets at McGraw Hill Companies, Inc., and served for 37 years with the United States Department of State as a career diplomat.
One of his diplomatic postings was as the American Ambassador to Honduras. He served there from 1981 to 1985, at the height of the Iran-Contra actions taking place in Central America. If nominated, Negroponte will join Elliot Abrams in the governmental service. Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress for his role in covering up the operation for the President and Vice President.
Eyewitness accounts have allowed us, with the passage of time, to understand the horrors that occurred in Honduras because of the direct actions of the Reagan administration. Eyewitness accounts tell us what Negroponte and Abrams surely knew at the time.
One such eyewitness is Sister Laetitia Bordes, a nun who worked in Central America during the 1980s and the 1990s. She has written a book entitled 'Our Hearts Were Broken.' Sister Bordes describes Honduras and Ambassador Negroponte in words we all need to hear:
"My mind went back to May 1982 and I saw myself facing Negroponte in his office at the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa. I had gone to Honduras on a fact-finding delegation. We were looking for answers. Thirty-two women had fled the death squads of El Salvador after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 to take refuge in Honduras. One of them had been Romero's secretary.
"Some months after their arrival, these women were forcibly taken from their living quarters in Tegucigalpa, pushed into a van and disappeared. Our delegation was in Honduras to find out what had happened to these women. John Negroponte listened to us as we exposed the facts. There had been eyewitnesses to the capture and we were well read on the documentation that previous delegations had gathered.
"Negroponte denied any knowledge of the whereabouts of these women. He insisted that the US Embassy did not interfere in the affairs of the Honduran government and it would be to our advantage to discuss the matter with the latter.
"Facts, however, reveal quite the contrary. During Negroponte's tenure, US military aid to Honduras grew from $4 million to $77.4 million; the US launched a covert war against Nicaragua and mined its harbors, and the US trained Honduran military to support the Contras.
"John Negroponte worked closely with General Alvarez, Chief of the Armed Forces in Honduras, to enable the training of Honduran soldiers in psychological warfare, sabotage, and many types of human rights violations, including torture and kidnapping. Honduran and Salvadoran military were sent to the School of the Americas to receive training in counter-insurgency directed against people of their own country.
"The CIA created the infamous Honduran Intelligence Battalion 3-16 that was responsible for the murder of many Sandinistas. General Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, a graduate of the School of the Americas, was a founder and commander of Battalion 3-16. In 1982, the US negotiated access to airfields in Honduras and established a regional military training center for Central American forces, principally directed at improving fighting forces of the Salvadoran military.
"In 1994, the Honduran Human Rights Commission outlined the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political opponents. It also specifically accused John Negroponte of a number of human rights violations. Yet, back in his office that day in 1982, John Negroponte assured us that he had no idea what had happened to the women we were looking for.
"I had to wait 13 years to find out. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun in 1996, Jack Binns, Negroponte's predecessor as US ambassador in Honduras, told how a group of Salvadorans, among whom were the women we had been looking for, were captured on April 22, 1981, and savagely tortured by the DNI, the Honduran Secret Police, before being placed in helicopters of the Salvadoran military. After take off from the airport in Tegucigalpa, the victims were thrown out of the helicopters. Four children had been captured with the women.
"They were turned over to the Salvadoran military and their whereabouts are unknown. Binns told the Baltimore Sun that the North American authorities were well aware of what had happened and that it was a grave violation of human rights. But it was seen as part of Ronald Reagan's counterinsurgency policy."
There are still many threads from Iran-Contra waving in the wind. To be sure, a vital area of interest is the sudden and irreversible incapacitation of CIA Head William Casey. Casey knew where the bodies were buried, and who knew what, and when. But Casey was delivered insensate to his Maker without ever having The Questions put to him under oath.
Someday, perhaps, we will know the whole ugly truth. We will finally understand what Reagan meant to America.
In the meantime, we must rise up as one voice and denounce in the strongest terms the nomination of John Negroponte to be our Ambassador to the United Nations. Such a man, with such a bloody history, can not be allowed to represent this nation before a body that stands for the protection of human rights.
Our reputation on the world stage is tarnished enough as it is. We rush pell-mell towards the status of full-fledged pariah. At the very least, the nomination of Negroponte would further sully our flag. At worst, the nomination of Negroponte would wipe away some of the darkest crimes ever committed by any American administration in all of our history.
It cannot happen. Call your Senators, your Congressional representatives. Call the head of the Democratic Party in your state.
Call them, and tell them: I remember John Negroponte.