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How the 'Ethical' Administration Lies About Contra War
Published on Tuesday, July 10, 2001 in Newsday
How the 'Ethical' Administration Lies About Contra War
by Marie Cocco
 
JOSEPH Towle recites the death toll from memory.

In El Salvador, 60,000 or 70,000. In Guatemala, 200,000. "Some of them, my parishioners," the priest said.

And of course, some 40,000 to 50,000 in Nicaragua, the epicenter.

Towle spent a quarter-century as a missionary in Latin America, some of it during the time when the United States closed its eyes to the murders of nuns and priests and even bishops, and the rivers ran with blood. It was the policy of the United States in the 1980s to support any government that lined up against Communists and leftists of all stripes, even if those governments were profoundly murderous. And especially if they helped the United States stage its secret wars and sundry anti-Communist plots.

This they obligingly did, in return for the usual emoluments: dollars and benign blindness toward such unpleasantness as mass graves and murdered clergy.

Towle is not obviously angry when he recalls this time. He has the gentle way of a religious man.

He seems, more than anything, baffled by President George W. Bush's decision to resurrect these ghosts by nominating to positions of rank and prestige - and, yes, high honor - people who helped perpetrate the bloody deceit.

"I don't think they have much imagination," said Towle of the current president and his men.

Democrats on Capitol Hill relish hearings on the nominations of Otto Reich, nominated to be assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and John Negroponte to be United Nations ambassador. Each was present at the creation - that is, they were posted in key diplomatic jobs and participated, more or less, in that breathtakingly corrupt enterprise that was the U.S.-backed war against Nicaragua's leftist government. The bill of particulars reads like a Graham Greene novel. The Democrats will doubtless serialize it.

More revealing, though, is the appointment of a man who will not be required to raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth for the cameras.

Elliott Abrams, who was Oliver North's colleague and co-conspirator in the the Reagan administration's illegal contra war, is back at the White House.

He works at the National Security Council, where his job is to promote democracy and human rights worldwide. The appointment was made with a straight face.

The post does not require Senate approval. All it takes is a president willing to appoint a convicted criminal and unrepentant liar to high public office.

The point is to perpetuate the myth that the whole Iran-contra scandal was not scandalous at all but merely a partisan skirmish at the twilight of the Cold War in which the forces of virtue - that is, the Reaganites - stood against the nettlesome nagging of lefty Democrats.

In fact, the contra effort entangled the U.S. government with international gun-runners, drug traffickers and money launderers. It involved illegal activity on three continents. Abrams helped secretly raise money from rich and friendly foreigners. He was a key figure in the cover-up, lying repeatedly to Congress.

He eventually satisfied felony charges with pleas to two misdemeanors and was pardoned by the first President Bush just before he left office.

There are pardons, and there are pardons. The president this latest Bush replaced is still under investigation even for pardons he refused to grant.

But the new president Bush is busy restoring honor and dignity to the White House. The Restoration Administration has as its ethical premise that anything done by the good men and women who it knows to be good men and women (that is, loyal to the Bush family) obviously have unquestionable credentials and unassailable virtue.

"The best person for the job," is how several Bush spokesmen described the president's reason for restoring Abrams.

In truth, the return of the rogues is a sharp stick in the eye of everyone - political opponents, foreign diplomats, scholars, even nuns and priests - who saw the Central America of the 1980s and discerned neither moral triumph nor political success. It is an attempt to rewrite history. Like all such conceits, it eventually will fail.

Copyright © Newsday, Inc.

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