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Despite Anti-American 'Baiting' by NYT, Sanders Makes 'No Apologies' for Opposing Reagan-Backed Death Squads

"I plead guilty to, throughout my adult life, doing everything that I can to prevent war and destruction."

Democratic presidential candidate and independent Senator Bernie Sanders participates in a Fox News Town Hall in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on April 15. (Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

In response to what one observer described as "anti-American baiting" by a New York Times reporter over the weekend, Sen. Bernie Sanders refused to shy away from his record of opposition to Reagan-backed death squads and coup plotters in Nicaragua throughout the 1980s.

During an interview published in the print edition of the Times on Sunday, journalist Sydney Ember repeatedly asked Sanders about supposed anti-American chants that rang out during a rally he attended in Managua in 1985, when the Reagan administration was funneling arms and money to the right-wing Contras in support of their brutal and deadly effort to topple the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

"I strongly oppose U.S. policy, which overthrows governments, especially democratically elected governments, around the world."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

"The United States at that time—I don't know how much you know about this—was actively supporting the Contras to overthrow the government," Sanders told Ember, who co-authored a Times story last week detailing Sanders's foreign policy positions during his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vermont.

"Of course there was anti-American sentiment there," Sanders said. "This was a war being funded by the United States against the people of Nicaragua. People were being killed in that war."

When Ember continued the same line of questioning, asking Sanders whether he "would have stayed at the rally" had he heard the "anti-American" chants from the crowd, Sanders responded, "I think Sydney, with all due respect, you don't understand a word that I'm saying."

"I strongly oppose U.S. policy, which overthrows governments, especially democratically elected governments, around the world," said Sanders. "So this issue is not so much Nicaragua or the government of Nicaragua. The issue was, should the United States continue a policy of overthrowing governments in Latin America and Central America? I believed then that it was wrong, and I believe today it is wrong. That's why I do not believe the United States should overthrow the government of Venezuela."

"Let me just say this: I plead guilty to, throughout my adult life, doing everything that I can to prevent war and destruction," Sanders said. "That is my view, and I make no apologies for it."

(Read the exchange between Sanders and Ember below.)

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While some characterized Sanders's sharp responses as "rude" and unbecoming of a presidential candidate, others argued the Vermont senator's replies were perfectly appropriate given the severity of the issue under discussion and the quality of the questions.

"Reagan backed a vicious anti-Sandinista war that would leave ~60,000 dead. The CIA helped contras lay underwater mines in Nicaraguan ports. But Sanders is the rude one for objecting to 'anti-American' baiting?" tweeted Sarah Lazare, web editor for In These Times. "It is not right-wing or 'like Trump' to object to NYT's pro-war bias."

Author and climate activist Naomi Klein tweeted that while she thought Sanders "should have been more patient and polite," his angry responses were understandable.

"I certainly get why he had smoke coming out of his ears," Klein wrote. "My blood pressure soared just reading it."

 Read part of exchange from the Times:

Q. In the top of our story, we talk about the rally you attended in Managua and a wire report at the time said that there were anti-American chants from the crowd.

The United States at that time—I don't know how much you know about this—was actively supporting the Contras to overthrow the government. So that there’s anti-American sentiment? I remember that, I remember that event very clearly.

You do recall hearing those chants? I think the wire report has them saying, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.”

They were fighting against American——Huh huh——yes, what is your point?

I wanted to——

Are you shocked to learn that there was anti-American sentiment?

My point was I wanted to know if you had heard that.

I don't remember, no. Of course there was anti-American sentiment there. This was a war being funded by the United States against the people of Nicaragua. People were being killed in that war.

Do you think if you had heard that directly, you would have stayed at the rally?

I think Sydney, with all due respect, you don't understand a word that I'm saying.

Do you believe you had an accurate view of President Ortega at the time? I'm wondering if you're——

This was not about Ortega. Do you understand? I don't know if you do or not. Do you know that the United States overthrew the government of Chile way back? Do you happen to know that? Do you? I'm asking you a simple question.

What point do you want to make?

My point is that fascism developed in Chile as a result of that. The United States overthrew the government of Guatemala, a democratically elected government, overthrew the government of Brazil. I strongly oppose U.S. policy, which overthrows governments, especially democratically elected governments, around the world. So this issue is not so much Nicaragua or the government of Nicaragua.

The issue was, should the United States continue a policy of overthrowing governments in Latin America and Central America? I believed then that it was wrong, and I believe today it is wrong. That's why I do not believe the United States should overthrow the government of Venezuela.

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