Negroponte knows a lie when he hears one

March 02, 2003|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,PERSPECTIVE EDITOR

JOHN Dimitri Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been appearing a lot these days to accuse Saddam Hussein of hiding the truth and covering up the threat he poses to the world.

Whenever Negroponte speaks of lies and deceptions, I can't help thinking there's something wrong with this picture.

Not that Hussein isn't dangerous and lying about what he has and where it is. I'm sure he's lying and concealing and dangerous.

What's wrong with the picture is Negroponte, who has engaged in deception and covering up in his time. A veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, the British-born Negroponte's career seemed to have gone dry after three ambassadorships, but was miraculously revived after George W. Bush became president. Negroponte and a few others from the Reagan administration's cahoots with bad guys in Central America two decades ago have been restored to power.

One is Elliott Abrams, now serving on the National Security Council. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about a secret U.S. campaign to support the Nicaraguan contra rebels at a time that Congress had banned it. Bush's father pardoned him in 1992.

Another is Otto Reich, also on Bush's National Security Council, who was tied to the contra rebel scandal while he was in the Reagan administration.

Negroponte has been compared to Reich and Abrams as a hard-line ideologue. But he is different from them. They were so provocative that neither of them could get Senate confirmation, even in a Republican-controlled Senate, for jobs that require confirmation. Bush tried, but failed on both of them.

Negroponte was confirmed and sworn in Sept. 18, 2001, as the U.S. representative to the United Nations a week after the terrorist attacks. His rescue from the private sector, where he had gone after retiring in 1997, is the reward for loyalty and willingness to follow orders.

And follow them he did when he arrived in Honduras as a new ambassador from the Reagan administration in 1981.

Honduras was the staging ground for the Reagan administration's war against communism in the 1980s. When Negroponte arrived, he was handed a briefing book by the embassy staff telling him that Honduran government security forces were kidnapping, torturing and killing people to "control a perceived subversive threat."

Negroponte's predecessor, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter named Jack Binns, sent complaints to headquarters about human rights abuses by the government forces.

After Reagan took office, Binns was summoned to Washington and told to stop reporting these abuses through regular State Department channels. The Reagan administration needed the Honduran government. The CIA trained and equipped a security squad that kidnapped, tortured and executed suspected subversives. All this in the name of bringing freedom and democracy to Central America. There was no room for talk of how evil and brutal their methods were.

Sun reporters Ginger Thompson and Gary Cohn spent 14 months in 1994 and 1995 tracking down U.S. and Honduran officials and secret documents, and talking to Honduran victims and their families, - some of whom, to this day, are trying to find out what happened to relatives who "disappeared." Their articles were published in June 1995.

One of Negroponte's tasks, they found, was to make sure that what was happening in Honduras did not get to Congress. So the Honduras section of the annual State Department report on human rights was carefully crafted to make it seem as if people were not being kidnapped, tortured or killed.

The 1982 report, prepared under Negroponte's authority, quoted the head of the Honduran armed forces, Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, as denying that torture was used and noted that Alvarez put out an order forbidding it. Alvarez, The Sun said, was the founder of a CIA-trained and CIA-equipped squad that was torturing and killing people. It was impossible that Negroponte did not know this. Honduran officials, victims of the security forces and the local press confronted him with the evidence day in and day out.

In a letter to The Sun, Negroponte denied there had been a coverup or that the embassy had condoned or concealed human rights violations. The letter was as carefully crafted as the human rights reports. Perhaps someone was told what was happening, but no one who cared to do anything about it.

Rick Chidester, a former embassy staffer who worked on the 1982 human rights report, told The Sun reporters that his information about abuses was deleted. Chidester said the report was such a whitewash, that he joked, "What is this, the human rights report for Norway?"

The evidence is overwhelming that Negroponte knew exactly what was going on. The record shows that he denied it over and over, and that he made sure reports to Congress denied what was happening. As Thomas Enders, then assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs, confirmed telling Jack Binns, "whereas human rights abuses had been the single most important focus of the previous administration's policy in Latin America, the Reagan administration had broader interests."

Now these folks from the Reagan administration are back, with another place to direct their broader interests.

Negroponte was just doing his job, of course, back in the 1980s. He went on to become ambassador to Mexico and the Philippines. But this may be the best job for him. He knows a lie when he hears one.

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