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Saturday, October 15, 2011

NIU: Background information for the issue of terror and Iran-Contra under the Reagan administration

Link in title to article.


Northern Illinois University

Background information for the issue of terror and Iran-Contra under the Reagan administration

Carter, Human Rights

o        Building on détente (arms reduction, aim to have peaceful coexistence with Soviet Union and China) strategy of Richard Nixon, Carter had denounced “inordinate fear of Communism,” initially advocated modest reduction in US military budget. This was backed by majority of public opinion, which backed decreased military spending
o        But by late 1970s, the media campaign for more military spending was intense, and virtually no pundit on TV was reinforcing these ideas. They were suggesting building up arms. By the end of Carter’s term, the hawks in the Democratic Party had joined him in moving toward 20% increase in military budget--this developed even before Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which usually is used to explain increase. But after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (see below) the sense that US was losing ground against Soviet menace grew, and majority public opinion viewed that invasion as threat that was result of U.S. military weakness; Détente fell apart in the late 1970s.
o        Carter’s early emphasis on US commitment to human rights—not only in Soviet states,  but also among US allies, helped to build US respectability in Europe and in some parts of the third world. That commitment to human rights proved troublesome,  as exposure of brutal regimes US supported, in South Africa, Iran, and Central America highlighted difference between pledge and reality
o        Meanwhile, US defeat in Vietnam continued to generate a wave of uprisings in regions where colonial or neocolonial regimes were in power.

Key events in late 1970s

Afghanistan -- a pro-Soviet faction had gained power, but their rule was tenuous at best, especially because its secular government was opposed by landlords and Islamic fundamentalists. Soviets airlifted thousands of troops to Kabul in December 1979. Carter called the invasion the “gravest threat to peace since 1945.” (The fact, now revealed, is that the Carter administration provoked the invasion by letting it be known US was involved in arming Muslim opponents of Afghan regime. Communist secularists had always felt that Muslim fundamentalists were key opponents).  More on this in future weeks, it’s the essential part of the background for the Taliban and 9/11.

Central America: leftist coalitions of peasants, intellectuals and urban workers fought brutal dictators who had exercised power with the support of the U.S. government. El Salvador and Nicaragua and Chile in particular had been bulwark of pro-US economic development, banking investment; with rebellions against these brutal regimes. Carter’s human rights policy seemed to promise a new day. But in the end, Carter administration and then, with greater vigor, the Reagan administration, sought to prevent leftist revolutions from succeeding, and painted them as Soviet insurgencies, a threat to US security (flip side of what we were doing in Afghanistan)



Somoza dynasty had kept power with the brutal National Guard. This elite family of aristocrats had ensured the population’s poverty but kept the US happy by allowing the country to be used a staging ground for US military actions in the region. FDR Roosevelt had quipped that Somoza may be “a son of a b____ but he’s our son of a b____”
·         Carter had pressed Somoza to change his image (known for brutal terror of civilians, including having soldiers rape and murder children, witnessed by Catholic priests and nuns) and reign in the national guard (NG) in return for US aid. But with less guard control, efforts to overthrow the regime increased, and Somoza clamped down even more brutally. When he murdered a popular newspaper publisher, revolution began.
·         Carter pressured by US global business operators and much of defense apparatus to keep Somoza, who was argued to be a beacon for capitalist development of the region; loans to S. approved, and Carter administration rejected attaching strings regarding NG, even when the brutality was known. Hope was to reform Somoza to prevent leftist overthrow and threat to US influence of the region
·         In 1979 guerrilla movement, taking its inspiration from the 1930s insurgency led by Augusto Sandino, toppled a longstanding dictatorship run by the wealthy pro American Somoza family. World sympathy turned to the Sandinistas when Somoza’s National Guard executed an ABC news cameraman who was documenting Guardsmen brutality
·         In 1979, Carter began setting the stage for a counterrevolution, with the CIA setting up operation under his Presidency, and US airlifting the national guardsmen who would become the base for the Contras (counterrevolutionaries)
·         Reaching out to both the US and Cuba for aid and assistance, the Sandinistas redistributed much rural land, nationalized leading industries, and aided leftist guerrillas in nearby El Salvador who were fighting another US-supported authoritarian regime. US did initially give some aid, but eventually blocked aid not only from the US but from other sources
·         Reagan quickly moved to restore full US support to former Somoza guardsmen (Contras), pointing to the prominent presence of Cuban advisers and personnel as evidence of Soviet influence in the hemisphere.

Iran, late in 1978, Shah, the bulwark of US influence in the Persian Gulf deposed after brutal campaign of repression failed. (see postwar order and legacy of Vietnam / Nixon doctrine outlines for background),
--had been installed by CIA; perceived as an instrument of U.S. imperialism, to keep cheap oil flowing; Shah’s economic policies were seen as instrument of U.S. investors
--Shah a major purchaser of US arms through oil revenues, policies helped to develop a pro-Western wealthy elite loyal to him, but rest of the country very poor, many of whom gravitated to fundamentalist religious order that had been less repressed than the secular radicals (CIA and US arms dealers who helped to build Shah’s military had effectively reduced the secular radicals)
·         United States and Great Britain were directly  responsible for the repression committed under the Shah’s regime – helped to create and guide the SAVAK secret police, formed in 1957, under the Shah’s command
·         SAVAK trained primarily  by Israel with significant British input.  Intense surveillance, torture, killings of universities, labor unions, peasant organizations;  Instructed in torture  techniques by the CIA--torture included “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weight to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.
·         A Federation of American Scientists report concluded: ” The extent of its terror of the indigenous population is clear from the fact that it  even had “at least 13 full-time case officers running a network of informers and infiltration covering 30,000 Iranian students on United States college campuses… The head of the SAVAK agents in the  United States operated under the cover of an attache at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, with the FBI, CIA, and State Department fully aware of these activities.”
·          America’s former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger referred to the Shah as “that rarest of leaders, an  unconditional ally” as “a pillar of stability in a turbulent and vital region”
·         At a ceremonial dinner  hosting the Shah in November 1973 President Jimmy Carter delivered a moving address in which he described the Iranian regime as “an island of stability in a turbulent corner of the world.”
·         In 1970s, as inflation mounted and 1 million unemployed, regime became more unpopular and more oppressive even as wealthy continued to develop more western tastes. 10,000 dissidents killed, estimates of up to 100,000 political prisoners in 1976
·          Things started to crumble when the Shah’s SAVAK opened fire into protestors in 1978, killing 70 students.
·         millions of Iranians rose up against him. In one large demonstration, 900 civilians were gunned down by SAVAK.
·         Carter, despite his reputation as human rights advocate, continued to show support for Shah throughout, angering Iranians further.
o        U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski  continually urged the Shah to employ military force to crush the  mounting popular opposition against his dictatorship. U.S. State Department sources show Brzezinski drafted a letter to the Shah “which unambiguously urged him to use force to put down the  demonstrations”, although State Department officials recognised that this would lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iranians.
o        U.S.  Ambassador William H. Sullivan objected when the Shah’s forces  lessened their human rights abuses against the Iranian people. He  found that “the Shah’s new directives to his security forces, such as  instructions to desist from torture... are disorienting”
o        U.S. General Robert Huyser, for instance, was dispatched to Tehran to urge Iranian generals “that the military should be pushed into action”, and should employ military force to capture the oil fields Carter allowed Shah to come to US for medical treatment; many Iranians took this as direct insult.
·         In protest against American support for Shah, who most Iranians viewed as a murderer, student radicals, encouragted by Ayatollah Khomeini, seized 53 Americans in December 1979  held them hostage in the American embassy
·         Secular radicals, who fought for constitutional democracy were, in the long revolution, overtaken by more anti-Western Islamic fundamentalists, who sought to impose an anti-western theocracy. The ayatollahs, led by Khomeini, came to power.
·         In 1979 Iranian revolution precipitated a second oil shock ,which tripled world prices and further strained the already weak American economy. This a response to US freezing of Iranian money in US banks
William Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: “Coming at the end of a decade that had witnessed American defeat in Vietnam, the constitutional crisis of Watergate, and the OPEC oil embargo, the hostage crisis reinforced and deepened America’s sense of having lost control.  Humiliated, embarrassed, and powerless to do anything about it, the United States seemed, in the eyes of many of its citizens, to have become second-rate and indecisive, a helpless pawn of external forces that treated the former “leader” of the free world with scornful contempt.”…”Carter felt, and acted, like a man under siege”
o        Reagan charged that Carter’s emphasis on human rights had brought these disasters. He sought a policy of “standing tall”, suggested US had “unilaterally disarmed” in the 1970s, and needed massive military buildup. Of course, this had already started under Carter., rhetoric and reality often diverged. This is particularly notable in Iran, where US strategic interests in oil brought disaster.
o        Carter’s attempt to rescue hostages in April 1980 resulted in disaster when rescue helicopters crashed, killing 8 servicemen, lending further credibility gap;
As the election neared, Carter’s camp was desperately attempting to negotiate the release and/or attempt another covert hostage rescue. When Iraq invaded Iran in September, the Iranians also sought to bring hostage situation to an end and made overtures, since Carter’s arms embargo of Iran prevented their defense against Iraq. Reagan had been arguing that it would take a get tough president to deal with the Iranians. With the possibility of a release, Reagan campaign operatives then sought to obstruct any possibility of an end to the crisis, fearing it would give Carter the election. Carter was negotiating to release frozen Iranian assets (deposited in US banks before the fall of Shah) and release arms that had already been purchased and paid for by Iran before the Shah was deposed. The US had refused to release the arms

October Surprise?
o        Much evidence, though it remains disputed, suggests that William Casey, Reagan campaign director and later Reagan’s head of the CIA, made contacts through Israel and arms dealers to ensure that hostages wouldn’t be released in return for promise of better deals on arms sales to Iran; hostages were released 5 minutes into Reagan’s inaugural address, to great fanfare. To the American public and the outside world, it appeared that the Iranians were backing down in fear of Reagan. In reality, the weapons pipeline to Iran began to gush after Reagan took office, a great contrast to the limited deals Carter was willing to negotiate with America’s “#1 enemy”; through Israel, US started to funnel massive amount of arms to Iran in 1980, the origins of the Iran-Contra affair.  This is a replay of the now well-known attempts by Nixon administration to sabotage peace talks in 1968 thru envoys who suggested to the Thieu administration in South Vietnam that they would get a better deal by not buckling to Johnson administration pressures to negotiate.



Reagan Strategy toward Iran: support of Iraqi war/terrorism

o                    Background: In 1968, the CIA helped to overthrow a populist and anti-western Iraqi government led by General Abden Karim Kassem. The CIA prepared lists for the coup leaders of people it thought should be targeted, and these were among the 1000s tortured and murdered. One of the most enthusiastic killers was a young man called Saddam Hussein.
·         During the early 1980s, the U.S. sided with Saddam Hussein, now the leader of the government, in his war with Iran (1980-1988) in the belief that Ayatollah Khomeini’s attempts to export his Islamic revolution and strong anti-Americanism to the rest of the Persian Gulf represented the greater threat to U.S. interests. Israel had urged the idea of keeping 2 enemies at war with eachother. U.S. refused sanctions when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and when it used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians. In 1982 the US took Iraq off its list of terrorist-supporting nations so that it could support Iraq’s weapons upgrading and the war.  The war, funded by more than $5 billion in U.S. support, caused 1 million deaths. The U.S. Navy intervened in the Persian Gulf against Iran in 1987, further bolstering the Iraqi war effort. The Reagan and Bush administrations dismissed concerns about human rights abuses by Saddam’s totalitarian regime.
A former U.S. intelligence official familiar with the American role admitted U.S. awareness that Iraq “used chemicals in any major campaign… Although we publicly opposed the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world we knew the intelligence we gave the Iraqis would be used to develop their own operational plans for chemical weapons.”
Another administration official stated: “They [the Americans] built this guy up and let him do whatever it took to win. And that included the use of chemical weapons and ballistic missiles.” U.S. intelligence sources went so far as to provide data to Iraq on Iran’s equipment and troop strength.
Former intelligence officials have stated clearly that Washington was well aware that Iraq began using chemical weapons in 1983 and intensified their use in 1986. By 1988, Iraq’s use of gases had also repeatedly been documented by UN specialists

Strategy toward Nicaragua, I: support for terrorists by renaming them counterterrorists
The Reagan Administration's Contra Policy
President Reagan sought to overthrow the Sandinista regime.   Reagan embraced former Somoza generals who headed the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance or ``contras.''  (Spanish for counter, short for counter-terrorists as Reagan defined them, counter-revolutionaries if you look at Nicaraguan definitions). It was a clever play on words, but historical evidence suggests that the CIA’s funding of contras created the terror in that region. Contras were recruited, armed, paid by the CIA and its eventual spin-off under Oliver North.  Contras waged war not so much against the Nicaraguan army as against "soft targets:" teachers, health care workers, elected officials  (a CIA-prepared manual actually advocated their assassination) who supported the revolution,  They blew up bridges and health clinics, and with help from a US trade embargo beginning in 1985, destroyed the economy of Nicaragua. In 1984 the CIA blew up the Nicaraguan harbors. In 1990s there were still 90,000 landmines in a country with a population the size of Indianapolis.
·         In fact, before this US-led activity, the Sandinistas, (who were a mix of Marxists, romantic reformers and social democrats)  had rejected violence, called for forgiveness, imposed maximum sentences of 30 years for those guardsmen who had been the most vicious
o        (this due to church affiliation of many of the revolutionaries— Liberation Theology, new movement in Latin American Catholic Church in the 1980s, was particularly strong in Latin America, and many priests, nuns and laymen in the predominantly Catholic Latin America had sought to actively side with the poor. These became key targets. A turning point for many was when El Salvadoran officials murdered Archbishop Romero after he had called on national guardsmen in that country to stop the murders of dissenters
·         The Sandinistas took the United States to the World Court  for its terrorist actions -- the same Court where the US had won a judgment against Iran just a few years earlier, for the taking of American hostages. The Court ruled in favor of Nicaragua, ordering reparations estimated at $17 billion. The US refused to recognize the Court's decision.
·         In 1984 there were elections in Nicaragua. Over 400 observers from 40 countries, including the Latin American Studies Association of scholars from the United States, found that the election was basically free and fair. Reagan administration drew up a propaganda campaign (see NSA website) to dub the elections rigged, and most US media reported that they were
Broad opposition to the idea of funding the Contras had developed in Congress. Between 1982-1984, the  ``Boland Amendments'' prohibited the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the principal conduit of covert American support to the contras, from spending any money ``for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.''

The propaganda activities to tarnish the Sandinistas included spreading fabricated stories about Nicaragua drug smuggling so that Reagan could announced that the Sandinistas were “exporting drugs to poison our youth” during the “Just Say No” drug campaign of the 1980s (quite ironic in light of the real story of Contra drug dealing which the US was actively aware of, if not actively complicit in)

The Reagan Administration pushed hard for more money for the contras,  while House Democrats threatened to cut off such support altogether. In early December 1983, a compromise was reached: Contra funding for FY 1984 was capped at $24 million -- an amount significantly lower than what the Administration had wanted -- with the possibility that the Administration could approach the Congress for supplemental funds later. '' In 1986, Reagan warned the American people that Nicaragua put Communists 3 day drive to Harlingen, Texas. He won some money, but by 1986, illegal sources of money were put into play.

Strategy toward Nicaragua, II: Clandestine sources of aid after Congress prohibits aiding Contra terror
The December 1983 cap on contra aid caused the administration to escalate efforts to manipulate ties to other regimes as a means of overcoming Congressional prohibition of aid.
  • February 1984, Reagan's national security adviser, Robert C. McFarlane and CIA Director William J. Casey hatched scheme to get other countries to help.
  •  By May 1984, McFarlane convinced US client state Saudi Arabia to contribute $1 million per month to the contra cause, and set up a secret bank account controlled by Lt. Col. Oliver North, to move funds into Contra hands.

The Saudi contributions came just as it was clear that Congress would not increase direct American support for the contras.
  • Disclosures that the CIA had secretly mined Nicaraguan harbors wrecked the Administration's chances to persuade the Congress to lift its $24 million contra-aid cap, as this mining was seen as terrorism by European allies (and of course, by Nicaraguans).
    • Eventually the US would be brought before the UN’s International Criminal Court for this “terror”. However, the US ignored the ruling and the appeal of Nicaragua, and
  •  According to McFarlane, an undaunted President Reagan instructed McFarlane -- who in turn told North -- that the NSC staff had to keep the contras alive ``body and soul. Secretary of Shultz warned that any approach to a third country could be viewed as an ``impeachable offense,

Oliver North's role in assisting the contras grew as Congress inched closer toward cutting all assistance to the contras. The last Boland Amendment passed clearest restrictions on contra aid yet: no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose or which would have the effect of supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group,
organization, movement, or individual.

To comply with the law, both the CIA and the Defense Department withdrew large numbers of personnel from Central America -- leaving a void that North was to fill. Set up so North could have plausible denial

Strategy toward Nicaragua, III: clandestinely trade arms to Iran (ostensibly US enemy) and sell weapons and drugs to get money to buy arms to fight Nicaragua:
o        In 1985, despite a strict official policy of refusing to cut deals with terrorists, the Reagan administration illegally aided Iranian fundamentalists, trading arms for American hostages held by pro-Iranian terrorist group in Lebanon..
o        While Iran used these arms in its war with Iraq, money from the sales funded U.S. support for the Contras in their war against Nicaragua’s revolutionary government. Such aid was specifically prohibited by Congress in the 1984 Boland Amendment.
o        Began spring 1985 –used Israel as conduit—Israel would provide Aemrican arms to Iran and US would then replace the Israeli arms. Soon US was selling arms directly to a nation on its leading list of “terrorist” nations.

Iran Contra scandal
Ultimately, a secret cabal of operatives that came together within the CIA framework, but acted outside of its authority (a CIA outside the CIA). Discovered when a plane associated with drug dealing shot down and revealed it cache of arms for Contras-1987
o        Used web of arms-dealers-see other assigned article; clear that drug-dealers came to play significant role in clandestine operation (see recommended website)
o        Human-rights abuses by Contras continued, now clandestinely funded. Honduras, US client state, became staging and training ground for Contras; Honduras and other nations extract deals clandestinely for compliance with this secret operation. Honduras becomes 8th largest recipient of US aid as a result of its agreement to use its country as Contra staging base
o        Because the full extent of the criminality and Constitutional violations was delayed through Congressional and Presidential delays and subterfuge (see Parry article) not one reform to prevent this from happening was ever enacted.

Some Iran-Contra actors in current Bush administration

Otto Reich, an inside player in the 1980s Iran-contra conspiracy, is currently secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. (highest ranking U.S. administration official overseeing North and South America.) Reich ran Operation White Propaganda during the Contra war, where he fabricated newspaper stories as cover for Contra activities
See for documents which show how proud Reich was of propaganda that was based on lies (Interestingly, this was done with the assistance of White House Communications Director Pat Buchanon, who it might be recalled had planted untrue stories about Martin Luther King for the FBI in an earlier era. See recommended article on website for an excellent summary of Reich 

John  Negroponte is currently US ambassador to the UN; was U.S. ambassador to Honduras (1981-1985), where he helped prosecute the contra war against Nicaragua and helped strengthen the military dictatorship in Honduras.(which became the new base of US hemispheric military actions). He is widely recognized as having been complicit in the Honduran Death Squads, openly appreciative of their role) The Honduran army, especially the U.S.-trained Battalion 316, engaged in widespread human rights abuses, including kidnapping, torture and assassination. Negroponte worked closely with the perpetrators and covered up their crimes, according to Ambassador Jack Binns, his predecessor in the post

Richard Armitage , currently Deputy Secretary of State; as Assistant Secretary of Defense during Reagan administration.  Armitage is linked to the illegal arms transfers and CIA-drug-running operations). Armitage had been party to the meetings with General Richard Secord and Oliver North--activities Armitage denied. These meetings drew up some of the inner details of the operation

Elliott Abrams,  assistant secretary of state under Reagan, coordinator of Reagan’s Contra policy along with Oliver North and CIA’s Alan Fiers) pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding evidence (lying) from Congress  over his role in the Iran-Contra affair, lies that withheld information about the Administrations connection to the secret and private contra-support network. He was also involved in the secret arms transfers and admitted to receiving $10 million for the contras from the Sultan of Brunei. Probably the most hideous of all the Iran-Contra operatives, anti-democratic in perspective. Pardoned by Bush I. George W. Bush  has appointed him to the National Security Council as director of its office for democracy, human rights and international operations. In charge of presenting policy papers and options for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice,
John Poindexter –National Security Advisor for Reagan, convicted of conspiracy (obstruction of inquiries and proceesings, false statements, falsification, destruction and removal of documents; two counts of obstruction of Congress, etc. He now heads the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness system, which seeks to gather intelligence thru electronic sources like internet phone, fax and to develop new technologies for spying
There was no "scandal" when key figures, John Negroponte (complicit in the Honduran Death Squads), Richard Armitage (linked to illegal arms transfers and CIA drug-running operations), Otto Reich (propaganda operative), John Poindexter (convicted of conspiracy {obstruction of inquiries and proceedings, false statements, falsification, destruction and removal of documents}; two counts of obstruction of Congress and two counts of false statements) of the Iran-Contra Affair have re-appeared in official governmental positions by appointment by George Walker Bush, the sitting Republican President, the son of the former Republican President, George Herbert Walker Bush, for whom these men worked.

Oliver North – not in administration, but passed himself off as a news reporter in Iraq War for Fox News  (Fox is run by a major political operative in the Republican Party, Roger Ailes, who has advised President Bush on war media strategy

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