Amazingly, John Negroponte seems to be sailing through his confirmation hearings as head of U.S. intelligence. Senators don't seem to care about his disgraceful role as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, even as some more damning information has come out about how he defended the brutal Honduran military and how he circumvented laws passed by Congress to halt aid to the contras.
According to a raft of recently declassified documents that can be found at the National Security Archive website, Negroponte frequently met with the head of the Honduran military, General Gustavo Alvarez. It was General Alvarez who oversaw the work of the notorious Battalion 316, which kidnapped and tortured hundreds of Hondurans and murdered at least 184, according to a prizewinning series by the Baltimore Sun in 1995.
In an October 13, 1983, cable, Negroponte wrote about an airplane trip he had just taken with General Alvarez, whose "commitment to constitutional government" Negroponte saluted. "Alvarez's dedication to democracy is frequently questioned by critics of our policies here," Negroponte wrote. "The critics are motivated either by a stereotype of political life in Honduras as unduly influenced by the military, in disregard of the facts, or out of sheer ignorance of the fact that Alvarez on repeated pubic occasions has pledged his complete loyalty to constitutional rule."
To put Alvarez's "dedication to democracy" in perspective, let's return to the Baltimore Sun's piece on Battalion 316.
"The battalion was organized by Colonel Gustav Alvarez Martinez, commander of the Honduran military, and remained under his authority after he became head of the Honduran armed forces in 1982 with the rank of general," the Sun reported. "Execution orders came down to the battalion from Alvarez" and a subordinate.
One member of Battalion 316, Florencio Caballero, told the Sun about the killing of a 35-year-old teacher and political activist. "By order of Alvarez, to be sure that no one would ever find his body, they took him from Tegucigalpa and stabbed him to death," Caballero said. "Then they cut his body to pieces with a machete and buried the pieces in different places along the road."
Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive notes that Negroponte's own cables and memos do not reflect any concern about these human rights abuses.
"Conspicuously absent from the cable traffic," writes Kornbluh, "is reporting on human rights atrocities that were committed by the Honduran military and its secret police unit known as Battalion 316. . . . Negroponte's cables reflect no protest, or even discussion of these issues during his many meetings with General Alvarez, his deputies, and Honduran President Robert Suazo. Nor do the released cables contain any reporting to Washington on the human rights abuses that were taking place."
There's a reason for that, as the Baltimore Sun noted. Had Negroponte reported on these abuses, aid to Honduras could have been cut off. So Negroponte insisted that the embassy reports to Congress not include any mention of the human rights abuses.
"Of more than 400 cables released from the Negroponte" file, writes Kornbluh, there is "only one that deals at length with allegations of human rights atrocities committed by the Honduran military and contra forces."
That one is dated February 8, 1985, and is entitled, "Meeting with General Lopez Afternoon of Feb. 6: Alleged Anti-Sandinista Human Rights Violations." (Lopez is Walter Lopez, who replaced Alvarez as head of the Honduran military.)
The whole intent of this cable is to minimize the charges against the contras, who were using Honduras as a staging area for the CIA's war on the Nicaraguan government. "Lopez agreed with Ambassador (Negroponte himself) that press has created an exaggerated and distorted picture at a time when Honduras's own human rights record is greatly improved," Negroponte wrote. He categorically denied that death squads were operating in Honduras, and he said the Honduran government "has provided us nothing which would substantiate claims in some newspaper articles to the effect that anti-Sandinistas are engaged in gross and consistent human rights abuses."
He expressed a worry about the impact such stories "might have on the international image of the anti-Sandinista movement." And he said that "we can only assume that the propagandists and disinformation specialists in Havana and Managua are having a field day" with such stories.
The contras regularly engaged in torture and assassination, and their war against the Nicaraguan government cost the lives of some 30,000 people.
Given that torture and assassination didn't seem to bother Negroponte, it's hardly surprising that he felt little compunction about a little thing like going behind the backs of Congress.
"The day after the House voted to halt all aid to rebels fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras John D. Negroponte urged the President's national security adviser and the CIA director to hang tough," Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post wrote on April 12, breaking the story. "Hondurans believe special project is as important as ever," Negroponte wrote, as Dobbs noted.
"Special project" was Negroponte's code phrase for arming the contras.
The declassified cables show Negroponte repeatedly urging the State Department to whitewash any references to the contras operating in Honduras. They also show him leaning on Honduran President Suazo to "not rpt not do anything to deprive FDN (a main contra group) of their Honduran support base."
For his dirty work in Honduras, as well as his stints in Vietnam, Baghdad, and the United Nations, Negroponte is being promoted to head U.S. intelligence.
But he hardly seems to be the one who will put an end to the torture scandal that is so pockmarking the face of the United States around the world.
He has a scandal all his own to account for.
© 2005 The Progressive