What do President Ronald Reagan, President George Herbert Walker Bush, Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, and Cardinal Bernard Law have in common? When given the opportunity to tell the truth during criminal, civil, or congressional investigations they all swore: "I know nothing." In other words, they lied.
Sergeant Schultz, a character from Hogan's Heroes, the television comedy of the sixties and seventies, made famous the phrase "I know nothing." Schultz was an affable German soldier guarding American and Allied soldiers at a fictional prisoner-of-war camp. The stalag's commandant, Colonel Klink, was a self-promoting stooge, and Schultz was an overweight buffoon. The show's leading character, an American colonel named Hogan, constantly outwitted them. He and his men used the camp as a base for their covert operations. The premise for the show, comedy about the Nazis, may be the most ill-advised of any television production that I have ever encountered. The only allusions to the evil of the Nazi regime were in the show's SS characters. While watching Hogan's Heroes as a child, little did I know that Schultz would become a model for two American presidents, the CEO of one of America's largest corporations, and America's most powerful cardinal. I take that back. The Schultz character had more integrity than these men showed under oath.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan convinced voters that it was "Morning in America." His policies led to mourning in Latin America. The arrogance of the Reagan presidency led to the Iran-Contra scandal. The Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran. Profits from these sales were used to fund the Nicaragua Contras, anti-Communists who were trying to overthrow the democratically-elected Sandinista government headed by Daniel Ortega. The actions of the Reagan administration broke both American law and Reagan's own pledge never to provide arms to terrorist nations. Several Reagan administration officials were indicted and sentenced to jail. Reagan avoided prosecution and removal from office by claiming "I know nothing."
Reagan's vice president, George Herbert Walker Bush, testified to being "out of the loop" when it was revealed that the administration sold arms to Iran and directed the profits to the Contras. The contemporaneous diaries of Casper Weinberger contradicted Bush's testimony. Bush, a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, avoided prosecution and removal from office by claiming "I know nothing." As president, he would later pardon Weinberger for crimes alleged by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.
In February of this year, a House committee concluded that Enron insiders profited at the expense of shareholders and workers by concealing losses and inflating company earnings. Former Enron Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey K. Skilling, testifying under oath one week later, claimed that he believed the company was in strong financial condition when he left it just five months earlier. The self-described control freak denied any knowledge or responsibility for the fraud and misbehavior, claiming "I know nothing."
The word is out. Sexual molestation of young children by Roman Catholic priests within the Archdiocese of Boston has been rampant for years. The Church responded, not by taking action to protect the children, but by taking legal action to protect itself. Cardinal Bernard Law, deposed by the attorney for one of the plaintiffs, testified that he relied on doctors and subordinates in cases of pedophilia. Defense of civil liability claims often utilize the defense that responsible parties relied on third-party experts as a shield against monetary damages for negligence. Law's testimony was a textbook defense. Law, another self-professed control freak, went on to claim that he could not recall reviewing a 1984 letter from a parent asserting that Father John Geoghan, the priest at the center of the current civil action, was a pedophile. Facts in evidence indicate Law had marked the letter "urgent." The "I know nothing" defense lives in the new millennium.
Love doesn't mean never having to say you are sorry. That is reserved for the most powerful men in America.
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