Y'all can move off the edge of yer seats. Here is my promised backgrounder on John Negroponte.
Notwithstanding the improbability of Dubya uttering the word “incalculable” when he announced in February that John Negroponte was his nominee for the Director of National Intelligence post, President Bush stated that Negroponte’s experience as Ambassador to Iraq over the last several months was “an incalculable advantage for an intelligence chief” (1). Bush could have also cited credentials Negroponte earned in a shadowy past that included working as an obedient foreign service officer during the Vietnam War, and Ambassador to Honduras at a time of social upheaval and revolution in Central America.
Negroponte’s nomination comes at a time when the Pentagon is considering a “Salvador option” in Iraq (2). A Pentagon source suggested that by creating a climate of fear among Iraq’s Sunni population, the United States military might be able to make progress in defeating the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."
The “Salvador option” refers to the United States’ training, financing, and equipping of army elements in El Salvador, “allegedly” including death squads, which intimidated perceived “sympathizers” of El Salvador’s FMLN insurgents. The height of shame was the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which Salvadoran troops rounded up and slaughtered hundreds of poor campesinos. A majority of the victims were women, children, and the elderly (3).
As Salvadoran soldiers were lining up villagers to execute them in cold blood, John Negroponte was serving as the Ambassador to El Salvador’s neighbor, Honduras. When the previous ambassador, Jack Binns, refused to tone down reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by death squads in Honduras, Ronald Reagan fired him. Negroponte was sent to transform Honduras into a base for covert military operations against the Sandanista government of Nicaragua, and against the FMLN guerillas in El Salvador (4).
Ambassador Negroponte oversaw the establishment of two military bases in Honduras for U.S. troops, and for Contra terrorist units responsible for 50,000 Nicaraguan deaths and billions of dollars in damages to Nicaragua’s infrastructure (5). After the U.S. Congress placed limits on financing Contras, or Salvadoran soldiers in Honduras, Negroponte convinced the Honduran government to build a Regional Military Training Center on Honduran territory.
When Hondurans began to protest the presence of foreign military forces inside their borders, Ambassador Negroponte, at the very least, was guilty of concealing the human rights abuses committed by the Honduran death squads. Negroponte, and his CIA station chief, Donald Winter, worked closely with the chief architect of the Honduran death squads, General Gustavo Alvarez. Trained in torture and counter-insurgency at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, and having witnessed close up the use “Dirty War” tactics in Argentina in the 1970’s, Alvarez created a special intelligence unit of the armed forces, Battalion 3-16, to eliminate Honduran civilians opposed to the presence of the Contras and U.S. “yanqui” troops (6).
Hundreds of students, workers, human rights activists and others were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by Honduran death squads. Also disappeared were missionaries and an American Jesuit priest, Father James Carney (7).
Although Negroponte denies any personal knowledge of human rights abuses in Honduras, Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson conducted a 14-month investigation for the Baltimore Sun which demonstrated that Negroponte learned about the crimes committed by Battalion 3-16 from numerous sources (8).
Then a junior political officer for the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, Rick Chidester told the Sun that he was ordered to delete from the State Department’s 1982 annual human rights report most of his evidence of human rights abuses committed by the Honduran military. When the State Department’s report was finally released, Chidester joked that the report for Honduras looked like the human rights report for Norway (9).
John Negroponte deliberately misled Congress about death squad killings of dissidents in Honduras because the truth would have forced Congress to obey provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits military assistance to any government that “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” The result would have been a cessation of congressional funding of training, logistical, and tactical operations of the Contras, and of the Salvadoran Army, in Honduran territory.
If the State Department had not lied about human rights abuses in Honduras, and Central America generally, Senator Patrick Leahy said “billions of American tax dollars would have been saved, a large number of lives would have been saved, and the governments would have moved toward democracy quicker” (10).
Equally important, John Negroponte’s cleansing of Honduran human rights reports was a betrayal of the ideals of the American people, and of the democratic virtues which the American people so ardently defend. In the great global struggle of the United States against the Soviet Union, instead of standing for the greatest of United States democratic principles, John Negroponte represented the worst tendencies of a nation that turned its back on movements for justice. The United States stooped to the lowest vices of its enemy—ruthlessly crushing movements for self-determination and representative democracy, instead defending military dictatorships that crushed dissent utilizing the cruelest tactics of torture and murder.
That’s certainly no way to make friends in the world. And as we learned from the blowback of United States support for the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, which led to the formation of Al Qaeda, the hypocrisy of United States foreign policy can be a powerful argument for the recruitment of terrorists.
Now, rumors of a “Salvador option” for Iraq suggests that the United States may once again be contemplating adding kidnapping, torture, and murder of civilians to its “arsenal of democracy.” People outside the inner sanctum of the Pentagon might be justified in wondering whether Pentagon officials wouldn’t benefit from some Civics 101 lessons in the right to face your accusers in a court of law to defend yourself from charges made against you, or of being tried by a jury of your peers. More rational minds might question whether a policy of extra-judicial intimidation will dry up the swamp of insurgents and terrorists, or draw more recruits to their cause.
With plenty of experience in burying evidence of human rights abuses, the occasion of John Negroponte’s confirmation hearings for the Director of National Intelligence post might be a good time for a debate on the merits and legality of a “Salvador option” program for Iraq specifically, and more generally, to underscore the need to uphold democratic principles as a vital and integral strategy in the struggle against terrorism.
1) Mark Glassman, “Bush Names Iraq Envoy as Nation’s 1st Intelligence Chief,” New York Times, 17 February 2005.
2) Michael Hirsh and John Barry, “The Salvador Option,” MSNBC/Newsweek, 14 January 2005.
3) Mark Danner, “The Truth of El Mozote,” The New Yorker, 6 December 1993.
4) David Corn, “Negroponte’s Sins…On Film,” The Nation, 2 March 2005.
5) Miguel D’Escoto, “A Nicaraguan Priest Remembers the CIA's Contra War: Reagan was the Butcher of My People,” “Democracy Now!” syndicated radio/TV program, printed in CounterPunch.org, 9 June 2004.
6) Jim Lobe, “Congress Ignores ‘Dirty War’ Past of New Iraq Envoy”, Inter Press Service, 30 April 2004, printed in CommonDreams.org, 3 March 2005.
7) Toni Solo, “John Negroponte: Dorian Gray goes to Iraq,” Znet, 3 May 2004.
8) Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson, “A carefully crafted deception,” BaltimoreSun.com, 18 June 1995.