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That 80s Show
Tim Francis-Wright

The Bush administration has recently accused a number of nations of sponsoring terrorism and has proclaimed its role as a foremost proponent of democracy. Yet the Bush administration has within its ranks two men whose actions to subvert democracy in Central America in the 1980s should have rendered them forever unfit for public service. In Washington, the 1980s are back with a vengeance.

Elliot Abrams is now senior director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations at the National Security Council. His position is obviously important: he is one of only fourteen persons mentioned by name on the council's website, but not important enough to require confirmation by the Senate. That last bit is important: Abrams got in some very hot water by lying to Congress about the private war that the White House was running.

In the Reagan administration, Abrams first made waves as Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. His most infamous task was to deny to all comers the slaughter of civilians by both the Salvadoran military and by paramilitary death squads. Starting in 1985, Abrams became the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs. In this job, he worked with Oliver North to solicit funds, often personally, from overseas donors for the contras. In 1991, he pleaded guilty to two charges of lying to Congress about illegal government support of the Nicaraguan contra rebels. He was sentenced in November 1991 to two years probation and 100 hours community service. However, George H.W. Bush pardoned him in December 1992, clearing Abrams's name and lightening the case load of one probation officer.

Admiral John Poindexter worked at the National Security Council from June 1981 to November 1986, first as a military assistant, then (in October 1983) as Deputy National Security Advisor, and finally (In December 1985) as National Security Advisor. Along with Oliver North, Poindexter was instrumental in the Reagan administration's plan to subvert a ban on aiding the Nicaraguan rebels. Under his direction, the National Security Council organized the sale of weapons to Iran to raise funds to buy other arms for the Nicaraguan contras. In essence, the heart of the national security establishment in Washington had become an arms bazaar.

Poindexter eventually stood trial and was found guilty of five felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of Congress, and lying to Congress. He was sentenced to six months in prison, but his conviction was overturned on appeal because his Congressional testimony in the Iran-Contra hearings could have influenced witnesses at trial.

Now Poindexter is director of the Information Awareness Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Besides having the creepiest logo in government, the IAO has a wide purview of technical programs to increase the amount and quality of data analyzed by government in its fight against terrorism. Poindexter may well be the highest-placed government official ever to start his post after being convicted of several felonies. Poindexter's current resume somehow ignores his court troubles and summarizes his experience with Iran and Nicaragua in oblique fashion:"support for the democratic resistance in Nicaragua, and an attempt to begin rationalization of U.S. relationship with strategically important Iran." Someone needs to remind him that the company line is that "strategically important Iran" is part of the Axis of Evil.

Poindexter and Abrams do not represent aberrations in the Bush administration. The Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs is Otto Reich, whom Bush named to the post during a Congressional recess to avoid a tough fight for confirmation. From 1983 to 1986, Reich ran the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Carribbean. In that office he was notorious for planting stories in the United States press about the contras, even to the extent of having his office ghostwrite newspaper opinion articles by contra leaders.

The current American ambassador to the United Nations is John Negroponte, whose jobs during the Reagan administration included being ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, then deputy national security advisor. During his stint in Honduras, the United States trained and supplied the Nicaragan contras who operated out of that country. Negroponte's role in overseeing the contras was better suited to a CIA station chief than a diplomat.

The Reagan administration effectively engaged in a private, undeclared war against the sovereign state of Nicaragua. Administration officials broke and subverted laws to get money and arms to the Nicaraguan rebels. They broke American and international laws by mining Managua harbor. They even dabbled in selling arms to Iran, then as now deemed a terrorist state by a Republican administration. And now, in a time when the Bush administration is trying to proclaim the moral high ground with respect to countries like Iraq and North Korea, it has brought two key members of that administration back into the fold. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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