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Stop the G.O.P.! The Rise of the Counter-Constitution

I’VE BEEN WATCHING THE HOUSE Foreign Affairs hearings on television and am struck with the much­ remarked Yogi Berra sense of “déja vu all over again.” For it’s not just that current happenings bring to mind the televised Watergate spec­taculars. Dimly I recall from earlier eons, as an infant sprawled at my mother’s feet, watching yet other congressional hearings illumined on the screen. Senators were put­ting questions to their colleague, Joseph R. McCarthy. And the thought occurs that in each of the Age of Television’s three great contests over the Con­stitution, the rogues’ gallery has never really changed. Those are proud and pa­triotic Republicans sitting over there.

Gerald Holton tells the following story. Sir Peter Medawar, the British scientist, applied for a visa to America, went to the consul, and was asked if he intended to overthrow the Constitution. Sir Peter re­plied: “I would certainly not overthrow it on purpose, and I can only hope I wouldn’t do so by mistake.” The best that can be said of modern Republicanism is that three times in a generation it has nearly done so by mistake.

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Each of the three modern scandals has derived from a mania for anticommun­ism. Exactly what loosed that mania in the McCarthy era hasn’t ever, in my view, been adequately explained, and can’t be, since it has to do with the irrational. But there’s no mystery regarding the causes of the more recent scandals. In Watergate and Irangate alike, the mania got out of hand because of the big dys­function in American political affairs, which is the crisis, by now endemic, in foreign policy.

Everyone describes that crisis differ­ently, but the people to listen to are the ones who evoke it with the despairing phrase “the country has become ungov­ernable.” They mean, of course, that poli­cies acceptable to themselves no longer command automatic consensus, hence can’t be put into effect without going to a lot of bother. In the old days, from the late 1940s to the Vietnam War, things were different. There was a national poli­cy, the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine quite properly declared commu­nism a tyranny and worried about its spread. It identified Soviet tanks and machinations as principally responsible for the expansion. It pledged a stalwart American resistance. And since the doc­trine was drawn with an eye toward East­ern Europe, where its analysis was accu­rate enough, most Americans approved and in regard to Europe generally still approve, and aren’t entirely wrong to, as the trade unionists of Poland will leap to instruct us.

Unfortunately, the Truman Doctrine, having been devised for Europe, was de­ployed planet-wide. A fatal mistake: to err is Truman, as they used to say. Like all superinstitutions, the Catholic church, for instance, communism has different meanings in different places. On the banks of the Vistula it was a spearhead of Russian imperialism, but in regions far from there, in countries of the Third World, it was a spearhead of anti­colonialism. It wasn’t necessarily any more decent or democratic in these re­moter regions. Most places where com­munism led the anticolonial revolt it proved a disaster, just as Islam, Hindu­ism, and Negritude proved disasters. But like these others, the disaster that was communism didn’t lack, in one region or another, for popular support and national legitimacy. This fact turned the Truman Doctrine upside down. The same policy that led us, in countries like Poland, to champion the rights of the ordinary Poles, led us, in countries like Vietnam, to outdo the communists themselves at exterminating the peasantry. It became a monstrosity, that policy.

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The old Truman consensus split into three. Some people wanted to guide American policy along lines of realpolitik and have done with costly crusades­ — these people were the pragmatic center. Others wanted to follow a compass of humanitarianism and sympathy for whatever was sympathizable in the global anti-colonial revolt — they were the liber­als and the left. And these defections from global Trumanism placed the third group, the hard-line ultras, in a difficult spot. The ultras wanted no retreat at all from the “containment” crusade, or wanted something even tougher — active aggressions against communist move­ments and states. They wanted the sort of policy that, since it touches on mortal­ity and fate, requires, in democratic soci­eties, a consensus. But they didn’t have a consensus.

What happens when such a movement gets into power? Richard Nixon is what happens. Nixon is recalled as a man ani­mated solely by mean motives, namely the desire to be reelected. That’s unfair. Nixon’s motives ran high as well as low. His hairline was their graph. In wreaking his havoc over Indochina, be was making the usual fight for Western ideals and values. He was resisting the ruthless worldwide enemy. But he was discover­ing, too, that America was “ungovern­able.” No country can prosecute a war when TV nightly alarms the public and students riot in the streets and the oppo­sition party runs a virtual pacifist for president.

So the Republican president faced a choice. Either bend with the political winds, which some might call democracy, and lose the war that was defending Western civilization … or, what? Tell himself that necessity creates legitimacy, that the people were with him willy-nilly, that constitutions can take care of them­selves. Then summon the FBI and CIA to their miserable duties. Set up some frisky little agencies of his own. Call in a bit of California ruthlessness. Enlist those high-spirited right-wing Cubans.

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It’s said on Nixon’s behalf, hence on behalf of modern Republicanism as a whole, that Nixon did nothing that wasn’t pioneered by Franklin Roosevelt or by Truman and other presidents who stepped beyond the law, cut legal corners, swelled the powers of their office, operat­ed unconstitutionally. Well, true. When Dean Acheson was acting secretary of the treasury, Roosevelt ordered him to take the country off the gold standard. Ach­eson refused. There were laws; the laws forbade it — to which Roosevelt thun­dered, “That will do!”, promptly accepted the acting secretary’s resignation, and the gold standard was gone with the wind. So the imperial presidency is not a GOP invention.

But this argument evades a rather large point about the great Republican scandals. All government outrages aren’t alike. Every breaking of a law causes two injuries: to law itself, and to the victims at hand. The victims at Roosevelt’s hand tended to be marginal groups, tiny minor­ities, splinter factions. To oppress these people, to persecute small ethnic commu­nities, to harass the Socialist Workers Party, to torment and destroy the politi­cal groupings that champion or are sus­pected of championing one or another foreign power — that is terrible, horren­dous. Government abuses of that sort subvert democracy.

But Joe McCarthy, it will be recalled, ultimately started in on the U.S. Army. Nixon, not content with persecuting the Socialist Workers, went after the Demo­crats. The obstacle that Reagan has found ways to get around isn’t just the pesky peace movement; it is the House and Senate. There is subversion, and there is subversion. Democracies, let’s say, are governments that trample minor­ities. Despotisms are governments that trample majorities. And if, in America, the trampling of minorities has in prac­tice turned out uglier than the trampling of majorities, that’s only because Ameri­can majorities eventually notice what’s going on, and reflect on their historic rights, and then the Constitution does take care of itself, and the gates of Allen­wood prison fly open.

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CALAMITIES LIKE THAT WEREN’T supposed to happen to Ronald Reagan. The Reagan Revolution was supposed to be the modern colossus in American politics, something almost geological, a new mountain range, “the realignment.” It was the right-wing New Deal and Reagan was the new FDR, impervious to the ups and downs of political life. And if the administration was truly in tune with the moment, if it represented that great a shift in American life, what damage could a few moronic escapades inflict? New Deals don’t slip on banana peels.

Yet here are the peels, there is the slipping, and suspicion dawns that Rea­gan’s relation to the public is not like FDR’s. It is, on the crucial issues, like Nixon’s, the famous personality notwith­standing: Nixon with a human face. We haven’t really needed obscure Lebanese newspapers and down-at-heels Wisconsin mercenaries to see this. It’s been plain in the entirely open and public debate over Nicaragua. For what happens when a Reagan Revolutionary stands up to ex­hort the public on this topic? He begins with honest sentiments. Call them Rhetoric A. Global struggle between incompatible systems, says the exhorter. Ruthlessness. Western values. Strategic catastrophe. The Truman Doctrine and its militant codicil, the Reagan Doc­trine — all of this offered in justification of the administration role in Central America. Until suddenly, aghast, the Rea­gan Revolutionary espies his audience. There are canny pragmatists out there, sneers upon their lips. There are de­ranged nuns, people who have never heard of Nicaragua, readers of The Vil­lage Voice, Vietnam War widows. It is the American population. It is ungovernable.

So the Reagan Revolutionary makes a mid-breath shift, the shift we’ve been watching for six years with fascinated horror. From the speaker’s platform pours an unexpected new language, strangely left-wing in origin, of Human Rights, Resistance Movements, Demo­cratic Revolutions, Founding Fathers. It is Rhetoric B, offered in the same cause. Rhetoric A was coherent and plausible, though it makes most people duck. But Rhetoric B is preposterous. You can’t lis­ten to three words without reaching for a mental blue pencil. Nicaragua, no democ­racy, you remind yourself, still is not the human rights hellhole that El Salvador and Guatemala surely are. Somocista thugs are not the legions of the Lord. No one honestly believes in Rhetoric B, no one has ever been convinced by it. Yet it drones in our ears, and for an obvious reason. Any clever government that wished to stuff a minority policy down a majority throat would drone on like that. Who can’t convince, confuses. Who can’t lead, manipulates.

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I pick up the summer issue of Irving Kristol’s foreign affairs quarterly, The National Interest — a sectarian journal named with the right-wing hubris that has brought the country to its present fix — and flip through various disagreeable but honest celebrations of the Tru­man Doctrine, until I come to pages by Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state, El Maniotico of the Managua press, who is instructed with applying that Doc­trine. The assistant secretary assures his fellow ultras that from 1984 to 1986 the contras received no armaments aid, as per the congressional ban: “Thanks to the Democratic leadership in Congress, our humanitarian aid program to the resistance forces in Nicaragua has expired, and for two years we have given them no military aid whatsoever.” This from con­tra aid’s “general strategist,” in an article published at the very moment the strate­gist is now reported to have been conspir­ing with the Sultan of Brunei for the $10 million that subsequently disappeared! And if the urge to confuse and manipu­late is at work so cynically in even the soberest journals of the right, what skul­lduggery and disinformation campaigns must have been launched in less friendly terrains?

The Irangate details, what we know of them so far — the role of stupidity, in par­ticular — testify further to the uncolossal quality of the Reagan Revolution. Wash­ington is full of brand-new right-wing in­stitutions reeking with intelligence, de­scribed by Sidney Blumenthal in his brilliant and witty book, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment. They are think tanks and foundations and they account for Reaganism’s heft and deft, the eco­nomic ideas (such as they’ve been), the strategic initiatives, the administration’s ability to find ideologically suitable staff­ers. If we mention Reaganism at all in the same breath as the New Deal, it’s because of these new institutions, which were never available to Nixon and Republicans of long ago. But the right-wing counter-establishment is strangely limited. On its own it could never have captured Wash­ington. Right-wing thought hardly domi­nates the 1980s the way left-wing thought dominated the 1930s. An ordinary right­-wing politician could never have led the new organizations to spectacular double landslide triumphs. The right-wing move­ment was able to conquer only one way: by attaching itself to a miracle candidate, a once-in-history vote-getter.

Something peculiar results. The new right-wing institutions offer Reaganism an extraordinary base of power; but these same institutions depend helplessly on the one irreplaceable man. Nothing in the literature of American politics describes what such an arrangement can be like. I turn therefore to Leon Trotsky, the ex­pert. In his History of the Russian Revo­lution, Trotsky analyzed strengths of the Czarist Regime. There were powerful in­stitutions of every sort, the army, the bureaucracy, the aristocracy, the big capi­talists, who counted among them many capable and decisive people. But by the nature of their system, these people wielded power only by gathering around the throne. The regime was therefore cru­cially compromised. It was no stronger than the czar who held it together, and nothing at all could guarantee that a giv­en czar would be anything more than a royal jerk.

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As it happened, Trotsky tells us, the czar in 1917 was the sort of man who, with revolution breaking out around him, wrote in his diary: ”Walked long and killed two crows. Drank tea by daylight.” He was “a jolly, sprightly fellow in a raspberry-colored shirt.” His own aides were perplexed. “‘What is this?’ asked one of his attendant generals, ‘a gigantic, almost unbelievable self-restraint, the product of breeding, of a belief in the divine predetermination of events? Or is it inadequate consciousness?’ ”

Really, Trotsky has the last word on the Age of Reagan. “The sole paper which Nicholas read for years, and from which he derived his ideas, was a weekly published on state revenue by Meshchersky, a vile, bribed journalist of the reactionary clique, despised even in his own circle … He felt at ease only among completely mediocre and brainless people, saintly fakers, holy men, to whom he did not have to look up … He selected his ministers on a principle of continual deterioration. Men of brain and character he summoned only in extreme situations when there was no other way out, just as we call in a surgeon to save our lives. The czar was might­ily under the influence of the czarina, an influence which increased with the years and the difficulties.” She in turn was un­der the influence of “our Friend,” Raspu­tin, and complained that the country didn’t appreciate the mad monk. And this czar was actually governing.

Thus the life of the vast Republican coalition. We always knew about Rea­gan’s brain; but bamboozled by the mythology of realignment and a right-wing New Deal, we never really thought the brain was making decisions. We thought the miracle candidate was a sort of dum­my put up by the real government, the way bubbleheaded newscasters read scripts written by the real journalists. We thought George Shultz and Caspar Wein­berger were the government and Reagan their newscaster, which was, of course, reassuring, since Shultz and Weinberger appear to be moderate mullahs among the medieval fanatics, to indulge a crazed distinction. But no: Shultz and Weinber­ger were the dummies, there to project the proper image. Reagan was ruling all along. The right-wing institutions pollulating along the Potomac, the national conservative alliance, the cabals of new capital and Sun Belt entrepreneurs that we took to be the powers-that-be — none of these counted in the end. They were strong, but without the miracle man they were nothing. The miracle man therefore held the power. This we learned at Reykjavik, when the jolly, sprightly fellow went into the room all alone with Gorbachev, and not even the American press doubts Gorbachev’s version of what next occurred.

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Events have followed, then, an intelligible course. The ultras are committed to policies like overthrowing the Sandinistas that can only be accomplished with broad consensus support. They get in office and learn there is no consensus. Their own philosophy obliges them to forge on nonetheless, meaning, to connive and manipulate. And since they hold power only because they made the cynical deci­sion to back a miracle candidate, the con­nivances and manipulations necessarily take no shrewder form than the miracle man is capable of providing. Power seeps into the hands of Oliver North, the mad monk. And the path proceeds thusly: In­competence (the blowing up of the Beirut Marines and CIA station), Panic (the ef­fort to ransom Agent William Buckley after he’s instantly captured trying to re­build the CIA), Sentimentality (the effort to ransom everyone). Next comes Cupid­ity (the discovery that the Ayatollah pays cash, good for undercutting congressional bans on contra support). And finally the decision was taken, probably the weirdest move ever made by an American presi­dent: the decision to sell off half the na­tion’s foreign policy under the table in order to subsidize the other half. The popular part of the nation’s policy, ad­mired worldwide, the policy, that is, of antiterrorism: sold! The unpopular part, terrorism of our own: bought! It was a moronic thing to do. It was an action that probably thousands of Republican office­holders could have accomplished with more finesse. But in its main lines, in its ruthlessness to battle what is imagined to be the Soviet foe, in its willingness to have done with the inconveniences of de­mocracy, in its sense that now is the moment of danger and all is permitted, no matter what Congress or the people may desire — in these ways it answered perfectly to what the right has wanted of its president.

Of the members of the Nixon adminis­tration and underground, 20 were con­victed in the aftermath of Watergate. In the present affair, the pile of broken stat­utes has already grown knee-high, even without knowing what happened to the Sultan’s $10 million and the profits from the Ayatollah. There’s no way to figure, of course, who exactly will be convicted. North, the half-late William Casey, John Poindexter, Felix Rodriguez (who wears Che Guevara’s plundered watch), Luis Posada (the mass murderer), Elliot Abrams (the essayist), Richard Secord, George Bush, Robert MacFarlane, Robert Owen, Colonels Mott and Broman — these have to appear on everyone’s list of possibilities. The trials, when they come, will center on specific offenses, such as violat­ing the Arms Export Control Act (pun­ishable by two years in jail or $100,000 or both). But as always in cases like these, the real offenses will have been the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of traditional English law, meaning crimes against the essence of the state.

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THE HEARINGS SHORTLY TO radi­ate anew from every television will spread gladness and delight, of course, and for weeks and months to come, oh joy; but they will spread nonsense, too. For there is a reigning ideology in affairs like this, shared by prosecutors and legislators of both parties and the lawyer class general­ly, according to which politics is nothing and procedure is all. If only Defense and State had been consulted, as correct pro­cedural rules mandate. If only the Na­tional Security Agency was kept to size and not allowed improperly to swell. If only Oliver North’s long-ago hospitalization for “an emotional illness” had not been covered up, thus keeping the ex­-patient’s hands off the national steering wheel. If only Senator Pat Moynihan and select colleagues had been brought into the secret, as by law ought to have oc­curred. If only, then surely …

Lists of new procedures will therefore be proposed for the purpose of “saving the presidency,” as variously interpreted by conservatives and liberals, to wit: the conservatives wish the presidency saved from the liberals, and the liberals wish it saved from itself. The conservatives will seek less restraints for White House may­hem, reasoning that what really caused the Nica-Persian fiasco was a meddling press and hypocritical liberals. The liber­als will seek congressional control, rea­soning that sanity and common sense vary inversely with the geographical spread of a politician’s electorate. The liberal proposals will be vastly preferable. But what will even the most liberal of procedural reforms accomplish in the end? It can be predicted.

The year is 1995. For six years there’s been a new president. It is Jack Kemp. Why shouldn’t he be? Looks like Bob Forehead. Never been accused of selling a nuclear weapon to the Ayatollah. Ex-star. Chairman of the House Republican Con­ference. And President Kemp, a sincere man, sets about enacting his program. This program is not a secret. He outlined it on the New York Times op-ed, Decem­ber 23, 1986, under the ominous title “Trust the President’s Foreign Policy.” Key points are: support for the South African-backed mercenaries in Angola (“freedom fighters”). Support for the So­mocista cocaine traders in Nicaragua (more “freedom fighters”). Opposition to the Contadora negotiations, in spite of State Department preference for diplo­macy. No SALT II. Opposition to any congressional attempts to restrain these extremist policies (the president “must draw the line, and, if necessary, veto any reduction in his authority to conduct for­eign policy”). Also, “immediate deploy­ment” — never mind r&d, those are for sissies — of star wars. The reason: only thus can “Western ideals and values” be defended against the “ruthless, dangerous enemy.” The source of legitimacy: the Truman Doctrine, or rather, “the Roose­velt-Truman-Kennedy tradition.”

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So Kemp acts, and since his program is war-ish and produces actual corpses at the hands of U.S. proxies, he stands in need of across-the-board political back­ing, the kind of backing that the Truman Doctrine enjoyed in its early years. A large Cold War consensus is what he needs.

But there is no consensus. The scien­tists balk at star wars, hardly anyone likes the Somocista drug runners, support for South African mercenaries is confined to three counties formerly under federal occupation in Alabama. Since Kemp’s forehead is, after all, hirsute, Congress votes halfway support. But halfway mili­tarism is no use. President Kemp there­fore faces a choice. He can bend with the wind, which some might call democracy, and abandon his ultra position … or, what? Tell himself that necessity creates legitimacy, that the people are with him willy-nilly, that constitutions can take care of themselves. Then set up some frisky little agencies of his own. Hold a meeting with some aging but ever-spry Cuban-Americans. Be decisive, by God.

So it’s 1995, and the TV is on. Con­gress is holding hearings. Prosecutors prepare preliminaries. Much has gone wrong, the simplest laws have been vio­lated, and everyone is astonished. Shocked! Everybody agrees what caused this new fiasco. It was the violation of procedures; they need to be strengthened. No one will propose the other explana­tion: that political parties can go bad, traditions can turn rancid. Yet this has plainly happened to the GOP, once the party of the upright business aristocracy, now the party of plots and conspiracies, the gangster party in modem politics. ❖

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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Pardoning the National Security State

Pardoning the National Security State
January 12, 1993

As an ex-CIA officer who has twice battled the CIA all the way to the Supreme Court, I’ve learned some bitter lessons about how accountability does and doesn’t work in the national security community. But nothing I’ve learned quite prepared me for President Bush’s recent decision to par­don six Iran-contra figures. The action sends the worst possible signal to spy-bu­reaucrats, even as Congress and the courts work overtime to pamper them. It is not an auspicious coincidence.

Admittedly, none of Bush’s parolees es­capes unscathed; you don’t need a pardon if you’re guiltless. Still, the six former Rea­gan-Bush officials who benefited from his Christmas Eve proclamation clearing them of all Iran-contra charges are sure to claim exoneration, thus tempting others to believe they too can skirt the law and get away with it.

Bush seemed oblivious of this danger when he expressed hope in his statement that this would put Iran-contra behind us. Indeed, his very rationale for clemency invites further mischief. To judge from what he said, any hint of lawlessness can be redeemed if undertaken unselfishly for patriotic reasons. It’s an argument that would have warmed Nazi hearts at Nuremberg.

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HOLDING FEET TO THE FIRE

Though accountability remains, of course, the essence of American law, the Iran-contra prosecutions were never about this, at least not in any pure form. Because Con­gress immunized so many witnesses during its 1987 investigations, independent coun­sel Lawrence Walsh was never able to find enough “clean” evidence to prosecute the principal crimes, including violations of export law and congressional restrictions on contra aid. Even the lying and cover-up charges he pursued instead were bowdler­ized in court, leading to convictions for lesser crimes like “withholding information from Congress.”

Not that the offenses obscured by such shorthand or forgiven by Bush’s pen stroke were ever marginal. Robert McFarlane, while Reagan’s national security adviser in 1985, helped draft letters to Congress whitewashing Oliver North’s contra activi­ties. CIA officials Clair George, Alan Fiers, and Dewey Clarridge diddled Congress about their own Iran-contra roles, and for­mer assistant secretary of state Elliott Abrams lied about what he knew and didn’t.

Worst of all, Bush’s most prominent pa­rolee, former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger, denied under oath the exis­tence of 1700 diary notes, including one that seemingly implicates Bush in crucial Iran-contra decision making. Bush and other Republican fans have sought to trivialize Weinberger’s wrongdoing by citing his many years of public service. Will they of­fer the same apologia for Clark Clifford, the Democratic elder statesman who has been charged in the BCCI affair? Don’t count on it.

One of the most pernicious aspects of the pardons, in fact, is their aura of selective justice. Pity Richard Secord and Albert Ha­kim, North’s cohorts in crime who received not an honorable mention from Bush. Simi­larly shortchanged were many lesser vic­tims of the cover-up he now forgives. Few of us, for instance, have heard of Arif Dur­rani, a convicted gunrunner who argued throughout his 1987 trial and five-year pris­on term that the White House had been moving arms to Iran at the very moment he was accused of doing so. The government denied his claims, and denied any evidence to support them, and thus cinched his con­viction. Had Weinberger, McFarlane, or any of Bush’s other favorites come clean during Durrani’s trial and appeals, he might have walked.

And what of Jack Terrell, a self-styled mercenary who was hounded through the courts on neutrality violation charges for helping contras? The case against him was ultimately thrown out, but exoneration would have come faster if the evasions ex­cused by Bush had not been so effective. In his pardon statement Bush cast his beneficiaries as selfless souls who had sought no profit from their actions. But in fact, by staying mum to avoid justice, they profited quite nicely even as others paid dearly for the same misdeeds. There is scarcely any integrity in that.

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PATTERNS OF CALUMNY

In his pardon statement Bush cast his beneficiaries as selfless souls who had sought no profit from their actions. But in fact, by staying mum to avoid justice, they profited quite nicely even as others paid dearly for the same misdeeds. There is scarcely any integrity in that.

What makes the pardons most troubling, though, is the larger pattern they sanctify. Iran-contra was never merely an attempt to duck inconvenient legal restrictions on arms exports and contra aid; conceptually it was an elbowing aside of the very princi­ples of shared power and accountability en­shrined in the Constitution and reinforced through Congress’s investigations of the CIA in the mid ’70s.

Oliver North’s spiritual godfather, the late CIA director William Casey, deplored those investigations and the strictures born of them, in particular the injunction to share secrets, and hence power, with Con­gress. So it was that he and other Reagan­ites farmed out their most sensitive dirty work to private operatives, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council, all of them beyond the scrutiny of Congress. The subsequent excesses of Iran-contra were merely the offspring of this imperial dodge. In granting clemency to the half-dozen surviving ringleaders, Bush cannot help but embolden like-minded loyalists everywhere in Washington.

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This is not to say that he or other Reaganites are solely responsible for the loosening of Congress’s grip on the intelligence establishment. Congress itself has con­spired in the process. When the first com­prehensive intelligence oversight bill was passed in 1980, legislators included a loophole allowing the president to withhold the most sensitive operations from the full oversight committees. The president also was permitted to postpone disclosure of lesser activities as long as he “found” in writing that they were vital. Reagan turned this exemption into a license for excess, even writing a post-facto “finding” to give a patina of legality to the CIA’s first arms delivery to Iran.

Once this and other transgressions were discovered, Congress did little to recoup. In drafting a new oversight bill over a year ago legislators ruled out post-facto “findings” like Reagan’s, but agreed to let the presi­dent go on avoiding timely consultation with watchdog committees. Even more as­tonishingly, they formally approved use of oversight-proof private operatives or for­eign allies in intelligence operations.

Later, at the nomination hearings of CIA director-designate Robert Gates, the intelli­gence panels passed up a second chance to home in on Iran-contra. They seem no more inclined to open that door now. A House Judiciary subcommittee is mum­bling about holding hearings on the par­dons, but the incoming chief of the Senate intelligence panel, Democrat Dennis De­Concini, has urged leaving well enough alone. Ditto House Speaker Tom Foley, who rumor has it helped hasten the pardons by promising not to oppose them publicly. If this is the dawn of a new era in congressional assertiveness, there’s not much light on the horizon.

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JUDICIAL COP-OUT

Even more distressing is the growing pas­sivity of the only other force for account­ability in national security disputes, the federal judiciary. Long ago Gerald Ford tried to bring the courts actively into intel­ligence oversight. In 1976 he canceled a 22-year “gentleman’s agreement” between the CIA and the Justice Department that had allowed the agency to decide whether a crime committed by a U.S. intelligence offi­cer would be prosecuted.

More recently the independent prosecu­tor act took such decisions out of the hands of often politicized attorneys general. But in practice the law often played out like a latter-day gentleman’s agreement. While al­lowing the independent counsel to pursue cases on his own, for instance, it left the attorney general and the spooks free to determine which official secrets could be released for trial.

The Reagan administration used this es­cape hatch to deny evidence needed in the trial of Oliver North. As a result, Walsh was forced to drop charges arising out of the diversion of Iran arms profits to the con­tras. Never again did his prosecutions re­turn to his key issue. One CIA operative, Joe Fernandez, even had the case against him dropped because of the agency’s refus­al to release intelligence to his lawyers. So much for the principle of equal justice un­der law.

Had federal judges themselves been less taken with national security claims in re­cent years, such developments would be less troubling. But often, in intelligence matters, the judiciary has been more catho­lic than the pope. In 1980 I had the dubious distinction of provoking a U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped accelerate this trend.

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The case, brought by liberal Carterites, many of whom are now heading back to Washington, was designed to punish me for publishing a book without CIA clearance and censorship. But the larger issue was whether in the absence of express congres­sional authorization (a law) the president can wield broad powers (like censorship) that cut into constitutional rights. The Su­preme Court pronounced a resounding yes, thus buttressing an expansionist interpreta­tion of presidential power that some ex­perts believe led to Iran-contra.

At the same time, the court made clear in its ruling that the work of the intelligence community is too complex and important to be second-guessed. For any workaday federal judge, that’s a chastening thought, and sure enough, few federal magistrates have been willing in recent years to challenge the CIA on any intelligence issue. In simple Freedom of Information cases, the tide has run consistently against disclosure because judges refuse to question CIA ex­perts who warn against it. In the Noriega case (where I was an investigator for the defense), the judge chose repeatedly not to inconvenience the CIA with ticklish evidentiary demands.

Even when I went back to court four years ago to seek redress for a costly censorship abuse by the CIA, I got no sympathy. The trial judge declared portentously that the agency is too busy to be held to strict clearance deadlines, and the Supreme Court refused to intervene, thus proving again that there is little legal comfort for anyone trying to bring the intelligence community to heel.

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Some would say that this judgment is too harsh. But against the backdrop of the Bush pardons and Congress’s continued coddling of the spooks, any distortion of judicial impartiality in the same arena merits con­cern. If our lawmakers and law-enforcers won’t keep the scales balanced, who will?

How comforting it would be to conclude that the incoming Clinton team promises to remedy things. The president-elect himself did object to Bush’s apparent willingness to elevate certain individuals above the law. Still, Clinton’s candidate for defense secre­tary, Les Aspin, a man who earlier worried about presidential excesses, reportedly fa­vored the pardons. Is there something about being invited into Washington’s most privileged circle that makes even reason­able souls quiver with imperial zeal? If so, Iran-contra is not some piece of medieval history, but a metaphor for an inevitable way of doing business in Washington. ■

 

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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Iran-Contra: What Do We Know, and When Did We Know It?

“The Iran-Contra Scandal Ends In a Whimper”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Unlike Watergate, in which the resigna­tion of the president created an ending of sorts, there is no suc­cessful conclusion to the Iran-contra scandal that tore the government to pieces during the mid-1980s. The release last week of the report of the independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, marks a frustrat­ing anticlimax to what clearly is a continuing crisis of American gov­ernment, based not in the execu­tive branch, but in Congress, which has been steadily under­mining its own ability to govern.

In their own investigation and subsequent report, the congressio­nal committees investigating the affair blamed the Reagan admin­istration, but never said a word about Congress’s own complicity, instead making it into a victim of the Reagan plot when in fact it was an accomplice.

There was never any official recognition of the Iran-contra scandal until November 25, 1986, when then-attorney general Edwin Meese made his “discovery” of the so-called diversion memo that for the first time officially ac­knowledged the funneling of mon­ey from the sale of arms to Iran to the rebels in Nicaragua.

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U.S. backing for the rebels was well known in Washington and co­piously reported in newspapers and on television from at least 1984 on. The National Security Archive, the independent, nonprofit watchdog outfit in Washington, which has led the way in investigating the Iran-­contra scandal, has compiled de­tailed chronologies of how the scan­dal unfolded. A simplified version, along with key documents, is con­tained in Iran Contra Scandal: A Declassified History, which should be taken as a reader’s guide to the Walsh report.

Here are a few of the events that everybody in Washington during that period of time knew about: On April 9, 1984, The Wall Street Journal revealed the CIA had se­cretly mined Nicaraguan harbors. The next month, contra rebel lead­er Eden Pastora held a press con­ference in the Nicaraguan jungle to denounce the CIA’s pressure to align his followers on the southern front with the Nicaraguan Democratic Force operating out of Hon­duras. In the midst of the confer­ence, a bomb exploded, killing eight journalists and wounding 17 others. The assassin escaped.

In April 1985, five members of the Civilian Military Assistance team, a U.S.-based mercenary operation, were arrested in Costa Rica. In prison interviews, they began to spell out details of the National Security Council’s sup­port of a southern front operation run by John Hull along the Nicaragua border. In August 1985, The New York Times ran a front-page story on the National Security Council’s role in supporting the contras. On June 25, 1986, the CBS program West 57th Street aired a documentary on the contra resupply mis­sion, identifying Robert Owen as “the bagman for Ollie North” and John Hull as the key American working for the NSC in Costa Rica. Within a year, the Associat­ed Press, Miami Herald, and CBS News had chipped away, exposing the basic outlines of the National Security Council-run enterprise.

Even though some of these re­ports caused an outcry on Capitol Hill, they had little lasting impact. Indeed, the House, in June 1985, passed legislation authorizing hu­manitarian assistance to the contras, which was well understood at the time as a way to build up the military infrastructure.

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In August 1985, Michael Barnes, then chairman of the House western hemisphere affairs subcommittee, and Lee Hamilton, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote Robert McFarlane, Rea­gan’s national security adviser, demanding an explanation of press reports that North was en­gaged in activities that violated the ban on contra aid. Together with North, McFarlane drew up a reply, stating that “at no time did I or any member of the National Security Council staff violate the letter or spirit” of congressional restrictions. That was that. Con­gress accepted this bald lie on its face.

A year later, in June, Represen­tative Ron Coleman from Texas introduced a Resolution of Inqui­ry directing the president to pro­vide documentation relating to the National Security Council contacts and support for the con­tras. By way of response, Vice-Admiral John Poindexter agreed to allow North to talk in secret to Hamilton’s intelligence commit­tee. At that meeting, on Aµgust 6, 1986, in the White House Situa­tion Room, North was all charm, denying any intention to violate the spirit, principle, or legal re­quirements of the Boland amend­ment. According to administra­tion notes of that meeting, the committee members seemed more concerned at the threats North and his family were receiving because of the newspaper exposes about his job.

Far from concerning itself about how the executive branch had methodically violated the laws it passed, in June 1986, the House passed President Reagan’s request for military and nonmili­tary support for the contras.

Three months later, on October 5, 1986, a planeload of arms was shot down over Nicaragua, and when the lone survivor, Eugene Hasenfus, was captured by the Sandinistas, the CIA station chief in Costa Rica cabled Washington that the situation requires we do necessary damage control.” Administration officials issued cate­gorical denials to three congressio­nal committees that sought answers about the flight. Elliott Abrams, in an appearance before the House intelligence committee, was asked by Hamilton: “Just to be clear, the United States govern­ment has not done anything to facilitate these private groups, is that a fair statement?” Abrams replied, “Yes, to the extent of my knowledge that I feel to be com­plete, other than the general pub­slic encouragement that we like this kind of activity.”

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The fact is that the congressional committees that are supposed to provide oversight over intelligence generally are boosters for both spooks and covert action. The intelligence committees are supposed to sort out and stop what Senator Patrick Leahy has called the intelligence community’s more “cockamamy ideas” be­fore they happen. They should have stopped Iran-contra before it happened.

But these committees sat by as the CIA mined Nicaragua’s har­bors and wrote up a murder man­ual for the contras. They watched passively as the CIA bungled a plan to assassinate a Lebanese radical religious sheikh with a car bomb that instead killed 80 by­standers. As Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive has observed, “the senators and con­gressmen who sit on the intelli­gence committees effectively become members of the covert club of government, the select clique of men and women privy to the se­crets of state. The intoxication of this privilege has transformed the committees into advocates as op­posed to counterweights.”

Michael Harrington, the former congressman who was censured in 1975 for revealing classified CIA testimony on the destabilization of Chile, said the oversight system is a “seductive game of shared secrets,” adding, “It starts with the pleasant feeling of being privy to things unknown to the ordinary citizen, but it works very much like blackmail. The more you know about dubious secret opera­tions, the more you are responsi­ble for hiding, and the more you hide, the tighter the grip of the State Department, or the CIA, or the Pentagon.”

The spooks hand-feed the com­mittees, telling them what they want to hear. And the committees can’t do anything about the spooks even if they wanted to. The CIA contingency fund allows the agency to finance whatever operation it desires until legisla­tion is passed specifically banning that operation.

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On April 26, 1984, the Senate intelligence committee put out a press release claiming Casey and the committee “have agreed on the need for more thorough and effective oversight procedures,” and that the CIA “pledged its full cooperation in this effort.” But as Congress’s subsequent investiga­tions revealed, at the same time Casey was feeding this line to the intelligence committees, he was collaborating with the National Security Council, soliciting funds from the Saudis, and meeting with retired general Richard Secord — all part of the administration’s ef­forts to get around congressional restrictions on aid to the contras.

What happened in Congress be­fore the Iran-contra scandal broke is bad enough, but the behavior by Congress after that is hard to believe. It was Congress that placidly doled out waivers of immunity to the leading participants, which everyone knew at the time would make any future criminal prosecution next to impossible.

Walsh’s report puts it in the most polite terms: “Immunity is ordinarily given by a prosecutor to a witness who will incriminate someone more important than himself. Congress gave immunity to North and Poindexter, who in­criminated only themselves and who largely exculpated those responsible for the initiation, supervision, arid support of their activi­ties. This delayed and infinitely complicated the effort to prosecute North and Poindexter.”

George Bush himself did as much as anyone could to ham­string the Walsh inquiry. In De­cember 1992, after he lost the election, Bush belatedly discov­ered notes for a political diary he had been keeping, which showed he knew about the Iran-contra arms deal from the get-go. Under an agreement with the Reagan White House, Walsh had first re­quested such documents back in 1987. And in one of his final acts as president, on Christmas eve, 1992, Bush pardoned former sec­retary of defense Casper Weinber­ger, 12 days before Weinberger was to go on trial, along with five other principal defendants. It was the first time a president ever par­doned someone in whose trial he might be called as a witness.

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During the Iran-contra hearings, Oliver North argued that the American people “ought not to be led to believe, as a consequence of these hearings, that this nation cannot or should not conduct covert operations.” And having heard the testimony, the congres­sional committee seems to have agreed: “Covert operations are a necessary component of our Na­tion’s foreign policy,” the congressional report says, and maintains that ”history reflects that the prospects for peaceful settlement [of international conflict] are greater if this country has … the means to influence developments abroad.”

A decade earlier, the Church committee had inquired into the intelligence scandals of the 1960s and 1970s, considered proposing a ban on all forms of covert action, and declared that “covert action must be seen as an exceptional act, to be undertaken only when the national security requires it  and when overt means will not suffice.”

By the time the congressional committees on Iran-contra took up the issue, such a principle nev­er occurred to the members. There never has been the hint of legislation aimed at curbing the use of covert action. And under the current administration the structures of the national security state remain in place.

It is certainly not for poor Walsh to sort out this mess. He can only gesture toward it in frus­tration: “The underlying facts of Iran-contra are that, regardless of criminality, President Reagan, the secretary or state, the secretary of defense, and the director of cen­tral intelligence and their necessary assistants skirted … the law, some of them broke the law, and almost all of them tried to cover up the President’s willful activities.

“What protection do the people of the United States have against such a concerted action by such powerful officers? … [I]n the give and take of political community, congressional oversight is often overtaken and subordinated by the need to keep government functioning, by the need to antici­pate the future, and by the ever­-present requirement of maintain­ing consensus among the elected officials who are the Government.”

He goes on: “Time and again this Independent Counsel found himself at the mercy of political decisions of the Congress and the Executive branch … Despite ex­traordinary efforts to shield the OIC from exposure to immunized testimony, the North and Poin­dexter convictions were overturned on appeal on the immunity issue…

“Congressional action that pre­cludes, or makes it impossible to sustain, a prosecution has more serious consequences than simply one less conviction. There is a sig­nificant inequity when more peripheral players are convicted while central figures in a criminal enterprise escape punishment. And perhaps more fundamentally, the failure to punish governmen­tal law breakers feeds the percep­tion that public officials are not wholly accountable for their actions.”

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Although it is seldom seen as such, the United States has main­tained since the early part of the century what amounts to a centralized, federal police that has operated in numerous occasions as a political force lodged in the FBI, beginning with efforts aimed at expelling dissenters — at first, anarchists and commu­nists — then, from the ’50s on, used to spy on black civil rights activists including Martin Luther King, and during the ’60s to spy on student leftists and radicals.

During the 1980s, the govern­ment spied on and harassed those who dissented from the war in Central America, and when that dissent became mainstream and Congress outlawed aid to the contras in the Boland amendment, the White House entered into a conspiracy against Congress, and employed what amounts to a counterinsurgency operation against it.

Not only did the Reagan administration secretly deploy a well-heeled publicity campaign to overturn the amendment, but it built a private, sub rosa foreign policy in the basement of the White House with Oliver North as the point man. In its guide to the scandal, the National Security Ar­chive dug up and printed State Department documents describ­ing how the Reagan White House used members of the army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group to organize PR, including among other activities funneling phony wire service stories to “people like Newt Gingrich to read on C-Span during the open orders and enter into the Congressional Record.”

So the techniques of covert ac­tion designed to pacify and win guerrilla war in the Third World — those parts of the world then perceived to be on the periphery of the Soviet empire — were employed within the United States against the citizenry through a mostly unsuspecting and seemingly disinterested Congress.

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If ever there was an assault on the Constitution, this was it. But Congress, itself so caught up in the process of covert action, seems not to have recognized the challenge to its own authority, let alone to have much cared. Now everyone is willing to let bygones be bygones. With Reagan and Bush gone from government, the argument is, government will once more right itself.

But Clinton himself is now en­gaged in a crime bill that effec­tively employs the same techniques of counterinsurgency against the inner cities of America. ­

And Congress? Within a weak and vestigially corrupt executive, Congress is the most important bulwark of democracy. Yet it swings aimlessly, verging as time goes on towards the irrelevant. Af­ter the lengthy fight over NAFTA, which held out the prospects of being resolved — one way or another — on the basis of actual na­tional debate, the president just stepped in and bought the votes.

This sort of erosion of credibil­ity and democracy can be sus­tained for years, but in the end it will come to a head in a pointed crisis of the state. The anarchy that grips Europe may not be so far away. ■

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Operation Ivy League: On Vampire Weekend’s Vastly Bewildering Contra

The key to enjoying Contra, Vampire Weekend’s second collection of blissfully erudite yacht-punk, is to associate the album title not only with Nicaragua and Ollie North, but also the best two-player cooperative Nintendo game of all time. Global strife and home entertainment; an AK-47 and the Spread Gun; the real-life War on Terror and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Midway through “Holiday,” a brisk, peppy third-wave ska ditty with ever-so-slightly distorted guitars, VW frontman Ezra Koenig drops his yelping voice to a serious murmur and purrs a brief tribute to a relative who stopped eating meat after the onset of the (current) Iraq War: “A vegetarian since the invasion/She’d never seen the word ‘bombs’/She’d never seen the word ‘bombs’ blown up to 96-point Futura.” May you live in interesting times, and may you document your reactions in interesting fonts.

This band drives people nuts. The simple, nonchalant “Holiday” is your soundest lifeline to Vampire Weekend’s self-titled 2008 debut, rife with relentlessly delightful Anglo-Saxon Afro-pop and bizarre extra-musical talking points: their land of origin (Columbia, with a “u”), their preferred attire (unironic sweaters), their lyrical preoccupations (punctuation, Cape Cod, girls named Bryn). Their idea of a ghetto is Hyannis Port; their idea of a romantic overture “Walk to class/In front of ya/Spill Kefir on your keffiyeh.” They discuss “the semiotics of preppy clothes,” at length, in last week’s New Yorker.

And now, they bring us Contra—not just way, way better, but also busier, fancier, more expensive, and greatly expanded in scope, weaponry, geography. A publicist-supplied track-by-track breakdown drops a host of new genres (dancehall, baile funk, Bollywood, prog) and inspirational artists (Buddy Holly, Lil Wayne, Kate Bush, Miami Sound Machine)—handy new references and comparison points to replace, y’know, the old ones. Reggaeton beats and harpsichords, classical flourishes and Auto-Tune. “Horchata” begins with Koening cooing one of the most maddeningly ornery album-opening lines in recent memory—”In December, drinking horchata/I’d look psychotic in a balaclava”—amid luxurious reverb and sweetly plinking thumb piano, a woozy reverie broken by an onslaught of concussive drums and chanting legato voices. It’d make a great theme song to Survivor: Upper West Side; it sounds more like a Very Best (or Konono No. 1) (or Deep Forest) remix than something the jovial clowns behind earlier, simpler three-car-garage jams like “A-Punk” or “Oxford Comma” whipped up on their own.

The nine tunes that follow are usually more recognizable, but not by much. “California English” reassuringly contrasts its frantic, galloping beat with Koenig’s blithe chronicles of high-tax-bracket leisure (“ski in the Alps” rhymed with “sunburn his scalp,” etc.), but now his joyful yelps have a T-Pain robo-sheen, and he’s just as apt to reel off a few lines of appealingly evocative nonsense: “Sweet carob rice cakes/You don’t care how the sweets taste/Fake Philly cheesesteak/But you use real toothpaste.” He’s disinclined to say anything too emotionally direct, though he comes awful close amid the sweet, calm, minimal hum of “Taxi Cab,” double bass and candlelight-dinner strings and prim piano-recital arpeggios swirling about as he intones, “You’re not a victim/But neither am I/Nostalgic for garbage/Desperate for time.” The switch from piano to harpsichord feels poignant, somehow.

It’s also possible, of course, to drop the ethnomusicology and class-warfare chatter altogether, the better to regard these instead as pure, untroubled, tremendously likable pop songs: to marinate in the elegant, soothing, slowly unwinding chorus of “Giving Up the Gun” or thrill to the fantastic double-time polka mania of “Cousins,” which jams Squeeze’s entire catalog into a couple breathless, nonsensical minutes and concludes with what sounds like a thrash-punk band struggling to be heard over an avalanche of church bells. But then again, there’s also the mini-epic “Diplomat’s Son,” which straight-up samples M.I.A., an epochal-feeling act of political subversion, a bunch of dudes oversimplified as Polo-draped tourists hijacking a scatting breakbeat from a woman oversimplified as a righteous firebrand freedom-fighter, all in service of an ambitious (more strings, more piano, more drum-circle loops, more warbling voices) ambassadorial rewrite of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

True, all of this can occasionally remind you of that motormouth travelogue montage in The Rules of Attraction, various countries and landmarks and cultures crassly reduced to mere backdrop for standard-issue sordid collegiate antics. Except there’s nothing even remotely sordid about Vampire Weekend, a buttoned-up enterprise in multiple senses, appropriating like mad but doing so openly, politely, and, most of all, expertly. We conclude with “I Think U R A Contra,” another dreamy, minimal ballad, those frantic guitars now playing softly at the margins, that piano now low-voiced and underwater-sounding, Koenig now offering his version of a lovelorn serenade: “You wanted good schools/And friends with pools/You’re not a contra.” He does not sound surprised, or disappointed. Neither should you.

Vampire Weekend play United Palace Theater January 17, Webster Hall January 18, and Bowery Ballroom January 19

rharvilla@villagevoice.com

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Living NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Unanswerable Questions for Mike Ledeen

Several websites have featured Michael Ledeen, the neocon just about every liberal learned to hate during Iran-Contra because of his supposed behind-the-scenes dealing with Oliver North. Last week, Raw Story (rawstory.com) questioned whether Ledeen might have been involved in the forged papers that suggested Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger. Ledeen, it turns out, once wrote for the Italian magazine Panorama, whose reporter first got the papers. The bogus documents somehow found their way to the U.S. and into the White House, where they were included in the president’s 2003 State of the Union speech.

Last week, we caught up with Ledeen:

How long were you a columnist for Panorama? One year or two years? Eight to 10 months.

Do you remember what years? No.

You don’t remember what years? Not at all.

Did you receive editorial instruction, or did you have a free hand to write whatever you wanted? I’m 64 years old. I write what I want to write.

What was the emphasis of your writing for Panorama? I wrote on whatever I wanted to write about, about foreign policy, about U.S. politics, cultural politics, whatever politics.

Why did your relationship with the magazine end when editor Carlo Rosella left the magazine? He hired me. Are there any serious questions here? Clearly, when he left, the people who came after him didn’t want to retain me.

Have you ever done any kind of work for the vice president’s office? Not simply discussions, but actual consulting and special advising? Never. I have not been a consultant for this administration ever, not any agency, office, or person. Paid or unpaid.


Additional reporting: Colin Gustafson, Michael Roston

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CULTURE ARCHIVES Living Media MUSIC ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Black Eagle Swoops Into Sudan

When you call Joe Madison’s number at the station that originates his widely popular syndicated radio show, the message says, “You’ve reached the extension of Madison, the Black Eagle.” That’s how he’s known to his listeners and friends.

Madison has become a pivotal figure in the rising abolitionist movement to free slaves in Sudan. In missions to southern Sudan, he and others have helped to liberate 7366 slaves.

Because of his long, active record in the American civil rights movement, the reach of his radio program, and his forceful personality, Madison has a lot of credibility in black communities around the country—as well as among members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

It is largely because of Madison that Jesse Jackson has finally broken his long silence on Sudan. On April 20, Jackson said, “Our continued ignorance [of slavery in Sudan] is immoral, and our government must stop paying lip service to this crisis and instead take realistic and meaningful action to end the human suffering.” George W. Bush’s condemnation of Sudan is also partly due to Madison’s momentum.

Madison started using the sobriquet “Black Eagle” when he cohosted a program with Ollie North, a conservative whose views are hardly consonant with Madison’s. North proclaimed himself “Colonel North”; since the eagle is a formidable American symbol, Madison added it to his ID.

He later found out that there was once a black American aviator known as “the Black Eagle”—Colonel Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, who was much admired during the Harlem Renaissance. Julian was a soldier of fortune who flew with Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopian air force and was renowned for his remarkable daring in the air.

Then a listener to Madison’s radio show told him that an artist had just finished a portrait of an actual black eagle, a recently identified species that lives in Africa and is one of the largest eagles in the world.

Madison started flying early as a paladin of civil rights. When he was only 24, he was named the executive director of the Detroit NAACP; later, for 14 years, he was on the NAACP’s national board.

On April 13 of this year, Madison, the Reverend Walter E. Fauntroy, and Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute were arrested in Washington after they handcuffed themselves to the front of the Sudanese embassy.

Madison had told me weeks before that he was going to organize the kinds of civil disobedience that finally forced the U.S. to impose sanctions against the apartheid government of South Africa.

Afterward, Joe Madison told me that he and the others arrested would not ask for a dismissal of the civil disobedience charge. “We want a trial,” he said, “and we have a new ‘Dream Team’ of lawyers representing us—Johnnie Cochran and Ken Starr. I want to put slavery in Sudan on the record.”

In his statement at the Sudanese embassy, Madison spoke of his most recent trip to Sudan, on which he was accompanied by Reverend Fauntroy and Charles Jacobs, the head of the American Anti-Slavery Group. Madison said:

“[The redeemed slaves] had trekked through mud, heat, flies, mosquitoes [on the long route from the north]. It was a scene that could have been staged for the movie Roots, except it was real. It was as if someone had placed me in a time machine and sent me back 400 years to an African slave trade, and I was witnessing the slavery of my ancestors. It was surreal.”

Amid “the soft murmurs of the voices” of the rescued slaves, Madison listened to what they had gone through:

“A 13-year-old boy, Yak Kenyang Adelu, had been a slave since he was eight. He had all his fingers on his right hand cut off because he refused to clean a goat pen. And Arek Kiir had her throat cut and her breast burned because she refused to give up her baby to a slave master.

“These stories and the faces of thousands of slaves in Sudan will be with me for the rest of my life. I promised . . . them I would return to the United States and encourage African Americans in particular, and all Americans in general, to use our power to end slavery in Sudan.

“When we were in southern Sudan, the slaves and their families didn’t ask us if we were conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, Muslim or Christian. They simply asked for help to end slavery, unite their families, and end the terrorism and torture throughout their land.”

The American Anti-Slavery Group’s Charles Jacobs was one of the first to alert Americans, including me, to genocide and slavery in Sudan. Jacobs spoke to some of the liberated slaves. He told them, “I am a Jew. My people too once were slaves—in Egypt.” The Jews became free, and this will happen in Sudan, he said.

Before he chained himself to the front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, Joe Madison quoted Frederick Douglass: “The slave is part of the human family. Slavery is a system of such gigantic evil that no one nation is equal to its removal. It requires the humanity of all of us and the morality of the world to produce [the end of slavery].”

But the nations of the world have been silent, as has Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations—the man who could have stopped the holocaust in Rwanda in 1994, but was also silent then. The New York Times heartily endorses the desire of this “calmly elegant” man—the Times‘ description—for a second five-year term. And how much actual reporting has the Times done about slavery in Sudan?

No, neither “the morality of the world” nor The New York Times will free the slaves. It’s up to us.

Sudan has just been named to the UN’s Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, a recently liberated slave tells of how her baby’s throat was cut by one of the Arab raiders, and after being gang raped, she was forced to carry the child’s head en route to the north. At one point, she was ordered to throw the baby’s head onto a fire.

The United Nations is of no use to the blacks still enslaved.

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

What the Iran-Contra Report Leaves Out

The Right’s Stuff: What the Iran-Contra Report Leaves Out
December 1, 1987

When the Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair was released last week, the presidential spokesmen shrugged. They knew that the debate would not stray beyond a certain boundary: did the Reagan administration merely make mistakes, or did it commit crimes? To confine itself to this question, as the Report does, is to elucidate the scandal’s parts while leaving the whole incomprehensible.

What is missing, perhaps inevitably in a bipartisan congressional investigation, is any serious attempt to situate the dense description of events in history and politics. But because the Report offers such rich detail, a deeper understanding may be drawn from its 690 pages. Set in the ideological climate of the Reagan White House, the Report chronicles the pursuit of rightist obsessions by officials contemptuous of democracy and law­ — and how they almost got away with it.

Like the hearings that preceded it, the report omits much important back­ground. The interlocking careers of such figures as William Casey, John K. Singlaub, and Richard Secord, for example, are barely mentioned. The history of U.S. covert action — and the place of these people in that history — is absent.

HOLY ROLLBACK

In other words, the Enterprise’s his­torical roots are not explored, its bu­reaucratic implications — such as the conflict between the covert operators and the Pentagon brass — are not mentioned, and the political bombshell of the right’s effort to scrap the Constitu­tion remains unexploded.

While acidly criticizing the disdain for democratic checks evident among the chief actors, the Report shies away from admitting that the “scandal” amounted to a temporarily successful coup d’état. The authors make some worthy recom­mendations for avoiding certain specific abuses in the future, but most are simply ways to enhance congressional power. The underlying premises of covert action are not questioned but affirmed, as is the need for a democratic nation to engage in secret operations — just as long as the appropriate committee chairmen are duly and promptly informed.

Unlike the Watergate investigation, there will be no dramatic denouement; unlike the Church committee probe of the intelligence community, there will be no major reform or reassessment. With Casey dead and Reagan immune from impeachment, all that may be left is the indictment of the foot soldiers. A series of successful prosecutions by Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh might have a deterrent effect, but even that’s not like­ly — especially given the possibility of a presidential pardon before Reagan leaves office.

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Congress is unable to prevent another Iran-contra affair, the report asserts, be­cause it “cannot legislate good judgment, honesty, or fidelity to law.” But the re­port never confronts the motivating force behind the criminality, influencing every­thing but hidden in plain sight: rightist ideology. Indeed, the “minority report” appended by the conservative Republi­cans, dismisses the White House’s gross abuses as a few “mistakes.”

The right’s scorn for governmental process is fundamentally an ideological impulse, rooted in the old McCarthyite notion that agencies like the State Department obstruct the holy rollback of Communism. Without examining that impulse, it is impossible to see why the affair’s principals blithely resorted to lying, illegal secrecy, misuse of government assets and, finally, obstruction of justice to achieve their ends. And that is why the president himself, governed by the same perspective, still sees nothing to de­nounce in the conduct of his faithful friends. As the report demonstrates with­out explicitly saying, an extreme devotion to the so-called “Reagan Doctrine” even­tually corrupted nearly every federal agency whose top officers were aligned with the New Right.

This pattern of wretched excess extended into the White House, where Oliver North, Faith Whittlesey, and Patrick Buchanan held sway; into the CIA, where William Casey struggled to make the bureaucracy serve his ends; into the State Department, in the persons of Assistant Secretary Elliott Abrams and Ambassador Lewis Tambs; into the Senate, which made little effort to restrict covert adventures until last year, when the Democrats won control; and of course into the Jus­tice Department, headed by Ed Meese and his aides, which consistently placed political considerations above the law.

What was the Enterprise created by Casey and his surrogates, and what was its purpose? The ideological engine of the Enterprise was “rollback,” the right’s long-standing dream of turning back So­viet influence on the edges of the Evil Empire. Because the existing institutions of government were inadequate to that task, and because the policy itself lacked broad popular support, the U.S. required, in Casey’s words, a “freestanding entity” financed independently of the Congress, that could wage covert guerrilla warfare across the globe.

Their aspirations for worldwide “low-­intensity conflict” could only be achieved, the devout Reaganites eventually real­ized, outside the realm of public debate and congressional oversight. The Reagan platform had pledged to revitalize the CIA and expand covert operations, but this wasn’t accomplished by repealing the restrictive laws of the 1970s. Instead, the covert operators simply turned the CIA into a branch of their private, “off-the-­shelf” spy network, beyond the reach of post-Watergate reforms.

The headlines the day after the report’s release proclaimed what had been obvi­ous for many months: that while Ronald Reagan was oblivious when it came to the most sensitive matters, what he did know he repeatedly lied about. But Reagan’s terrible shortcomings as president, only recently understood by most Americans, are yesterday’s news.

THE MAN WHO GOT AWAY

But while the press, and the Con­gress, focused attention on the al­ready wounded Reagan, one man at the center of events got away unscathed. At this writing, George Bush is likely to be our next president, and it is significant that for such typical Enterprise operators as North and Rodri­guez, the vice president (and former CIA director) was and is the preferred candidate.

Despite the evidence presented in pub­lic testimony, newly discovered docu­ments, and depositions regarding Bush’s role in both the Iran arms deals and the contra operations, the Report essentially ignores the vice president. His key advis­ers never testified in public. His own role was never probed; his cloak of political protection never withdrawn. The com­mittees’ repeatedly stated position is that no one could ever remember what Bush thought or said about the Iran-contra af­fair, an assertion not supported by the facts they developed.

Bush has adamantly denied knowledge of and participation in the contra resup­ply policy. As the contra operation broke apart last year, there was considerable scrutiny of the relationship between the vice president’s office and Felix Rodriguez, a Cuban émigré and ex-CIA em­ployee. The Bay of Pigs veteran knew Bush’s national security assistant Donald Gregg, a former CIA official, from the days when both served in Vietnam.

In late 1985 Rodriguez went to El Sal­vador to help the Salvadoran air force with his personal specialty — “long range reconnaissance patrols” against the leftist guerrillas. While in El Salvador, Rodri­guez was approached by North to help set up the air resupply operation run by Gen­eral Secord; by the spring of 1986, he had become indispensable.

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During this crucial period Rodriguez met with the vice president at least twice, and maintained close contact with Gregg. On one occasion Gregg’s assistant, Colo­nel Sam Watson, visited El Salvador to discuss counterinsurgency operations. Rodriguez did not like Secord or his sub­ordinates, and he had several confronta­tions with North. During the summer, he became so angry about how the Enter­prise was run that he went directly to the vice president’s office to seek help.

Bush acknowledges meeting Rodriguez, but says he knew nothing of the contra resupply operation. Gregg has said, “Members of my staff and I maintained periodic contact with Felix Rodriguez, but we were never involved in directing, coordinating, or approving military aid to the contras in Nicaragua. Nor did I or members of my office know of the diver­sion of funds to the contras.” Gregg first denied ever discussing contra operations with Rodriguez, then corrected himself, admitting that on August 8, 1986, Rodri­guez had “shared his personal concern with me regarding the informal contra supply organization he had observed [italics added] in El Salvador.”

This version of events had to be changed again when, during the course of the congressional hearings, the commit­tees unearthed a document that raised more questions about the vice president’s role. In a scheduling proposal dated April 16, 1986, Gregg requested a “meeting with Felix Rodriguez, a counterinsur­gency expert visiting from El Salvador.” The purpose was “to brief the Vice Presi­dent on the status of the war in El Salva­dor and resupply of the contras [italics added].” Under “Background,” the pro­posal said, “The Vice President has met previously with Mr. Rodriguez during his visits to Washington and will be interest­ed in the current information he will be able to provide.”

Bush denied discussing contra aid with Rodriguez, and both Gregg and his depu­ty Watson discount the schedule propos­al’s telltale reference to contra resupply — which was retained through several drafts and found its way into a final memoran­dum given to the vice president. But Phyllis M. Byrne, an assistant to Gregg, told the committee in a sworn deposition that “the purpose of the meeting was given to me by Colonel Watson.” She added, “I don’t believe that he gave me those precise words, but he did tell me —­ the resupply of the contras was the phrase that he provided me.” It is hardly credible that Byrne just added the contra reference to the memo by herself.

The denials of both Gregg and Bush are now further eroded by the committee report, which reveals for the first time that in 1982 Gregg, as head of the NSC’s Intelligence Directorate, was deeply in­volved in organizing early contra opera­tions. Gregg was also the author of a never-signed presidential finding that would have provided CIA paramilitary support to forces inside Nicaragua.

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Bush has also sought to extricate him­self from the Iranian quicksand that en­gulfed the White House. Last December, in an interview with Time, he said, “The problem on all this, of course, is the per­ception that arms were traded for hos­tages. The President is absolutely, totally convinced in his mind that that isn’t what happened. I know him, I know what his feeling is on this. I have heard what he said, and I accept it.” In an August 1987 Washington Post interview, Bush lamely explained that he did not know that Shultz and Weinberger had objected to the arms sales.

“If I’d have sat there and heard George Shultz and Cap [Weinberger] express it strongly, maybe I would have had a stronger view. But when you don’t know something, it’s hard to react.… We were not in the loop.”

But the Report cites a “White House log” showing that Bush attended the Au­gust 6, 1985, meeting about the Iran arms sale with the president, Weinberger, Shultz, Robert McFarlane (who was then national security adviser), and Donald Regan, then White House chief of staff. At that meeting, Shultz told the presi­dent the Iran deal was a “very bad idea,” and that despite talk of better relations, “we were just falling into the arms-for-hostages business and we shouldn’t do it.” Weinberger, at the same meeting, also opposed the sale. He and Shultz argued that it would contradict U.S. policy that aimed to persuade other nations to ob­serve an arms embargo against Iran. None of the witnesses could recall the vice president’s position.

There is other evidence that contra­dicts Bush’s public statements on his involvement in the Iran arms sales. In the same Time interview, the vice president explained, “What we in this administra­tion have tried to do is reach out to moderate elements in Iran. Now the dilemma we’re in is that in the hearts of the American people is a hatred and a detes­tation of everything that the Ayatollah Khomeini stands for. I feel that way myself.”

On February 8, 1987, two months after he made this statement, the Washington Post published the transcript of a memo­randum by Craig L. Fuller, Bush’s chief of staff, along with the details of a secret meeting at the vice president’s hotel suite in Jerusalem between Bush and Amiram Nir, a top Israeli official involved in the arms deals. Nir told Bush, “We are deal­ing with the most radical elements” in Iran because “we’ve learned they can de­liver and the moderates can’t.” In his top secret memo of this encounter Fuller wrote, “Mr. Nir indicated that he had briefed Prime Minister Peres and had been asked to brief the VP by his White House contacts [italics added].” Nir’s White House contacts were at the Na­tional Security Council. Bush’s only known response to Nir’s report that the U.S. was dealing with radicals, not moderates, was to send a copy of Fuller’s memo to Oliver North at the NSC.

A Report footnote also suggests that Bush knew more than he says. In 1976, CIA deputy director of operations Ted Shackley attempted to recruit Albert Ha­kim as an intelligence source, using Se­cord as an intermediary. Shackley’s friend Bush was then the director of the CIA.

THE IRAN VACUUM

The confusion over “radicals” versus “moderates,” like the entire arms­-for-hostages deal, arose in the absence of any consistent U.S. policy toward Iran. That vacuum was eas­ily filled by a group of Iranian exiles with their own special interests, whose machi­nations were assisted by the Israeli intel­ligence services.

The story begins with the arms mer­chant Manucher Ghorbanifar. Before the 1979 revolution, Ghorbanifar had been managing director of an Israeli-connected shipping firm in Iran. He is rumored to have maintained connections with both SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and Israeli intelligence — although according to the Report neither of these relation­ships has ever been confirmed. Members of Ghorbanifar’s family were involved in an unsuccessful coup against Khomeini in 1980, and thereafter he sought repeatedly to curry favor with U.S. intelligence agencies. By 1981 the CIA had dropped Ghorbanifar as an informant, on the grounds that he was solely interested in promoting his own financial enrichment. He persistently importuned American agents, becoming so obnoxious by 1984 that the CIA put out a “burn notice” warning the intelligence community that Ghorbanifar “should be regarded as an intelligence fabricator and a nuisance.”

Ghorbanifar sought to enlist former CIA official Theodore Shackley as a con­duit for an arms-for-hostage trade, but when the State Department turned down that offer as a “scam,” he fastened onto Roy Furmark, an American businessman associated with Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and a former law client of CIA director Casey. Furmark introduced Ghorbanifar to Khashoggi, who sent Ghorbanifar to meet several times with a group of Israelis that included Al Schwimmer, an adviser to Prime Minis­ter Shimon Peres, and Ya’accov Nimrodi, an Israeli businessman with previous ser­vice in the government. In April 1985 Ghorbanifar proposed that he be permit­ted to purchase TOW antitank missiles for Iran from Israel, and in return, he would obtain the release of William Buckley, the CIA station chief held hos­tage in Beirut.

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It was also in the spring of 1985 that Michael Ledeen, a self-styled terrorism expert, attempted to persuade national security adviser McFarlane to employ him as an informal liaison for Israeli in­telligence about Iran. The NSC staff was hesitant about using Ledeen but im­pressed by his access to Peres, and he was eventually authorized by McFarlane to make contact with the Israeli prime minister.

In May 1985 Ledeen met in Israel with Peres. Ledeen says the hostages were not discussed, but the Report notes that an Israeli official “recalls Ledeen telling him about offers by various Iranians to help get the hostages released.”

According to Ledeen, Peres asked him to tell McFarlane that the Israelis wanted to sell artillery equipment to the Irani­ans, but would only do so with U.S. con­sent. McFarlane gave Ledeen approval for a single arms sale, “but just that and nothing else.” According to the Report: “One of the Israeli participants reported to another Israeli participant, however, that the authorization conveyed by Le­deen from McFarlane was for a transfer of TOW missiles” — a far more sophisti­cated and dangerous weapon.

While aiming to gain credit in the White House, Israel also pursued its own interests by manipulating the muddled captains of the Enterprise. The Report’s chronology makes clear that while the Israelis pushed hard for weapons sales, they were simultaneously negotiating with North for cooperative intelligence ventures with the U.S. This must have been especially tempting since the Israeli intelligence services are hampered by few of the democratic restrictions in place here. The Report shows that the Ameri­cans considered a diversion of Iranian arms sale profits from the beginning and that the Israelis proposed to spend some of their own take from the arms sales on joint covert operations.

THE URGE TO DIVERT

The uproar over the “diversion” last year, and the subsequent focus upon it by the press and Congress, suggested this was a novelty. Yet if the switching of funds from arms sales to covert operations was “a neat idea,” in North’s juvenile idiom, it was probably not a new one. What better method could there be to raise millions for secret projects — or to conceal them from the prying of both Congress and the intelligence bureaucracy?

Tantalizing reference to a similar scheme, involving several Iran-contra fig­ures, is made in Manhunt, Peter Maas’s book about the Edwin Wilson case. Maas provides an important, if briefly noted, clue that was apparently missed by the congressional investigators. In the early days of the Reagan administration, ac­cording to Maas, Michael Ledeen told a federal prosecutor investigating billing abuses in arms sales to Egypt that the missing funds “might have gone for a covert operation.” Ledeen was attempting to protect his friend Ted Shackley, and Shackley’s associate Tom Clines, from indictment in the scandal surrounding the Egyptian-American Transport Services Corporation, better known as EATSCO. Perhaps there was something to Ledeen’s story, since the EATSCO case was settled with a fine and no crimi­nal prosecutions.

The Report does show that some type of diversion had been discussed within the White House as early as 1985. General Singlaub proposed a diversion scheme to both North and Casey in a memo prepared by his associate Barbara Studley.

Weapons dealer Studley framed her 1985 proposal using Reagan Doctrine buzz words. Her “objective” was “to create a conduit for maintaining a continu­ous flow of Soviet weapons and technology, to be utilized by the United States in support of Freedom Fighters in Nicara­gua, Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, etc.” Soviet bloc matériel was compatible with weapons and ammuni­tion captured by the “freedom fighters.”

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Though the Studley scheme was never implemented, Israel was already involved in a similar plan to use arms sales to finance covert operations. According to the Israelis, North proposed in early Oc­tober 1985 that excess funds from the TOW missile sales be used to support “pragmatists” in Iran. By the end of November, the Enterprise had received a portion of the arms sales proceeds. At North’s request the Israeli intermediaries paid Secord’s Lake Resources account $1 million from the proceeds of its August­-September TOW shipments.

North and Secord both said the money was to cover the Enterprise’s expenses in arranging five shipments of HAWKs to Iran. But when the deliveries were stopped after one shipment, the Enter­prise held $800,000 in unexpended funds. North then received Israeli permission to use the $800,000 for “whatever purpose we wanted,” and he told Secord to spend the money for the contras.

According to the notes of an Israeli Defense Ministry official who met with North on December 6, 1985, the NSC aide said he needed money and intended to divert profits from future Iranian transactions to Nicaragua. Three days later North recommended to his boss John Poindexter that the U.S. take con­trol of arms sales from Israel, and use “Secord as our conduit to control Ghor­banifar and the delivery operation.” This mechanism was adopted in the intelli­gence finding signed by the president on January 17, 1986.

THE ACCOUNTING

Among the Report’s accomplish­ments is its painstaking audit of the Enterprise’s finances. Its authors understood that the unseen movement of money made the En­terprise a scandal and a threat to demo­cratic order.

North testified that as early as 1984, CIA director Casey wanted to set up “an overseas entity that was capable of con­ducting operations or activities of assis­tance to U.S. foreign policy goals that was… self-financing, independent of appro­priated monies,” and thus beyond con­gressional oversight. The Enterprise was in fact a maze of different companies, created at the direction of North, Hakim, and Secord by William Zucker, a former IRS lawyer living in Switzerland who had worked for Hakim for two decades.

The operation was made up of three kinds of firms. First were the disposable “collecting” companies that received funds for the overall operation. When a collecting company became too visible, it could be jettisoned and replaced. The col­lecting company fed money into a series of “treasury” companies, each one as­signed to a different part of the world. These regional accounts would then fi­nance the activities of “operating” com­panies: for example the Udall Corpora­tion, which built the secret airstrip in Costa Rica and owned the aircraft used in the contra resupply effort; or Toyco, which bought and sold weapons for the contras.

In 1985 and 1986, revenues of the En­terprise totaled nearly $48 million. They poured in from the wealthy American contributors recruited by Carl “Spitz” Channell, from countries like Saudi Ara­bia and South Korea, from arms sales not only to Iran but to the contras, and even from sales of weapons to the CIA.

And while the secret effort to resupply the contras on the southern front — the major stated purpose of the Enterprise — never materialized, the “owners” were be­coming wealthy. In its two-year history, the Enterprise’s income exceeded expen­ditures by $12.2 million, out of which Secord, Hakim, and Clines dealt them­selves “commissions” amounting to $4.4 million.

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Hakim and Secord took an additional $2.2 million for personal business ventures and expenses. Another $4.2 million was held as “Reserves” for future projects, and $1.2 million remained as undistributed cash at the end of 1986 when the scandal was exposed. Had the contribution from Brunei solicited by Abrams not been misplaced, the Enter­prise would have been $10 million richer.

But in addition to profiting from the Enterprise, Secord and Hakim had their own business agenda. They wanted to manufacture submachine guns through a partnership called Tri-American Arms. In its initial phase, this project was to manufacture 4000 guns for the contras. The projected investment cost was $3 million; the projected profit, $4.2 million. The partners also planned to purchase timberlands in the American Northwest, with a loan collateralized against Enter­prise accounts. They discussed invest­ments in biotechnology, and in the “bulk manufacturing of opium alkaloids.”

In addition, the partners wanted to buy into Forways, a military spare-parts firm in which Zucker already was a 25 per cent owner. At the same time negotiations for the Iran arms sales were going forward, Hakim gave a set of Forways catalogues to the negotiators with an optimistic remark: “Once things get going then we will be able to sell directly from Forways.”

MEESE’S ‘MISTAKES’

To Secord and Hakim, the Enter­prise meant money and, in Se­cord’s case, a chance to revive his career in special operations. But for their sponsors in government — North, Casey, Poindexter, and perhaps the president — the Enterprise represent­ed something much larger: an unaccount­able mechanism for working their will outside the strictures of public opinion and congressional sanction.

The Democratic majority’s anger about this secret government is reflected when the Report says that it “violated cardinal principles of the Constitution.… The Constitution contemplates that the Gov­ernment will conduct its affairs only with funds appropriated by Congress. By re­sorting to funds not appropriated by Congress — indeed funds denied to the ex­ecutive branch by Congress — Administration officials committed a transgres­sion far more basic than a violation of the Boland Amendment.”

Yet the committees demand no sanc­tion against Ronald Reagan for the abuses committed under his authority. And when administration officials first deceived Congress about secret activities in Nicaragua back in 1985, the congres­sional response was feeble. The only re­maining barrier to the Enterprise’s as­sault on the law was the Justice Department, which the Report makes plain was utterly compromised under the direction of Attorney General Meese.

Meese was a poor constitutional watch­dog even before the Enterprise got under way. The Report examines in some detail his response to Oliver North’s ludicrous scheme to ransom the Beirut hostages using two Drug Enforcement Administra­tion agents and unappropriated private funds. After the CIA and the DEA re­fused to cooperate, North turned to Meese for help. On June 10, 1985, he prepared a memorandum for the attorney general explaining how a private dona­tion of $2 million would be deposited in a secret account “to bribe those in control of the hostages.” Meese complied with North’s request that the two DEA agents be detailed directly to the National Secu­rity Council. “No notice of any kind was provided to Congress about this opera­tion,” concludes the Report, “and no de­cision was ever made by the President that prior notice should be withheld or delayed. Thus, the failure to notify Con­gress of the DEA covert operation violat­ed the law.”

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But this tale, as Chapter Five of the Report explains, was only prologue to the Justice Department’s mishandling of sev­en other investigations that, “if pursued, would [have] expose[d] the NSC staff’s covert operations.” Among those stymied cases was the probe of contra gunrunning and mercenary recruitment by the U.S. Attorney in Miami, the subject of exten­sive coverage by the Voice, whose key details are largely confirmed in the Re­port. As a result of intervention by North and Poindexter, all seven investigations were to some degree hampered or de­layed. Inexplicably, the committees let Meese and his subordinates off lightly, laying the blame for obstructions of jus­tice on North and the NSC staff, and adding, “We do not mean to impugn the integrity of the law enforcement officials involved.”

Although the Report offers a devastat­ing, step-by-step chapter about Meese’s bungling — or coverup — of the early inves­tigation of the Iran-contra diversion a year ago, the sharpest criticism of the attorney general is to be found in addi­tional comments signed by House Judi­ciary Committee chairman Peter Rodino and three other Democrats. “As the chief law enforcement officer of our country,” they note, the attorney general “bears a special responsibility — not only to uphold and defend the Constitution, but also to assist the President in seeing that our laws are faithfully executed.… Yet, when one reviews the Attorney General’s conduct during the Iran-Contra episode, it is impossible to avoid questions about his actions.”

Even Rodino and his colleagues refrain from joining the recent chorus of calls for Meese to resign. Instead, they confine themselves to recommending a series of new congressional investigations of the Justice Department. At least one such probe is already under way in Rodino’s own committee, where crime subcommit­tee chairman William Hughes has been taking testimony about the Miami gunrunning case.

The Report’s flaccid handling of Meese reflects a wider passivity among congres­sional Democrats that, in some ways, is the unmentioned culprit of the Iran-con­tra affair. Fearful of being red-baited, and checked by the gag rules of its own intelligence committees, the Democratic ma­jority in the House allowed Oliver North to run amok long after his activities in Central America had been exposed by the media. The Republican minority claims in its dissent from the Report that leaks of classified information should be the chief future concern of lawmakers. But if future intelligence abuses are to be checked, both Democrats and Republi­cans committed to constitutional pro­cesses will have to worry less about Capi­tol Hill leaks, and more about White House lies.

The ideologues and operatives of the New Right have lost a few friends, but they have by no means abandoned their covert methods or bloody aspirations. They merely await a more hospitable cli­mate, perhaps in the next administration. The committees’ investigation and the Report itself leave a critical question un­answered: Will anyone in Congress be prepared to restrain a government head­ed by George Bush? ■

Research: Jeff Nason, Frédérique Press­mann, William Hollister, Jason Moody