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President Bush’s appointment of Elliot Abrams, August 2001

The shocking news out of Washington recently is that U.S. President George W. Bush has chosen Elliott Abrams to be director of the National Security Council’s office for democracy, human rights and international operations. Talk about putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

Mr. Abrams, you may recall, headed the Latin American bureau for the State Department during the Reagan administration. He was forced to plead guilty to two counts of lying to the U.S. Congress about the administration’s Contra program. The charges occurred following events that began in October 1986 when Nicaragua downed a small plane piloted by three Americans. The three had been hired by the U.S. government to ferry weapons to the U.S.-backed anti-government contras – support expressly prohibited by Congress.

The two pilots were killed in the crash, but the third member, Eugene Hasenfus, parachuted out and was captured by the governing Sandinistas.

Initially, Mr. Abrams told reporters initially that no one connected to the U.S. government had been associated with the flights because “that would be illegal.”

Next, he lied to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee (SIC). In testimony before the SIC, Abrams embellished his role in raising millions for the contras from the Sultan of Brunei.

Although he told Senator Bill Bradley that “we’re not in the fund-raising business,” Abrams had actually flown to London himself under an assumed name and set-up the donation.

This lie also formed part of Abrams’ plea bargain and led Democratic Senator Thomas Eagleton to note, for the record, that Abrams excuses for lying made him “want to puke.”

Conveniently, Abrams’ appointment does not require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

The Iran-Contra scandal unquestionably contributed significantly to the 1992 defeat of President George Bush.

His son, George W., seems intent on erasing these events from public memory by appointing Abrams to a sensitive high-profile job. When the press secretary to President George W. Bush was questioned about the appointment, he said that Abrams’ crimes were “ a matter of the past.”

But, as NBC said:

“The same might be said of the activities of Timothy McVeigh or Slobodan Milosevic or just about anyone in human history. Everything that has ever happened is ‘a matter of the past.’”

But, the Iran-Contra scandal pales in comparison to the horrific massacre and murder in 1982 of 767 women and children by the US-backed military forces in El Salvador. Abrams sought to discredit reporters who wrote about the atrocities and implied that they were stooges of the communists. A decade later, the Salvadoran Truth Commission found the bodies.

I had my own beef with Elliot Abrams. I worked in Latin America in the late 1980’s as a project planner for the Canadian Labour Congress. With Ronald Reagan in the White House, the U.S. leadership believed that the Sandinistas of Nicaragua could do nothing right, while the El Salvadorean dictatorship of Jose Napoleon Duarte could do nothing wrong.

In 1987, I made my way to San Salvador to meet with Ernesto Anaya Sanabria, head of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission in El Salvador. The commission’s headquarters were heavily guarded by private security and my meeting took place in an office with a single desk lamp and the heavy black curtains drawn tight across the windows.

Mr. Anaya told me that he and his staff were regular recipients of anonymous death threats and that they took them seriously. At the end of our meeting, I gave him a cash donation that had come from Canadian working men and women to allow the commission to continue its important work.

Several months later, I read in a Mexico-City newspaper that a military-controlled death squad had assassinated Mr. Anaya. He had been gunned down as he was climbing back into his car after taking his five children to school.

I wrote Mr. Abrams on that occasion and ended it this way:

“I am under no illusion that this letter will have any impact. But, at the same time, I am not prepared to see a decent family man, working to protect the human rights of the people of El Salvador, go to his grave without writing to tell you how much that upsets me and to remind you what a bunch of sanctimonious hypocrites you really are.”

The hypocrites are back in charge.

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