Saturday, February 19, 2005

Scott Shane's stuck mopping up after the Elite Fluff Patrol, we help him out by noting Democracy Now! and The Progressive's strong reporting

Scott Shane's on mop-patrol today, having to clean up the mess created by Elite Fluff Patrol members Elisabeth Bumiller and David E. Sanger on the reporting of John Negroponte.

I'll note that Shane's article may or may not have been a stronger article before it was printed.

The article is entitled "Intelligence Nominee Comes Under Renewed Scrutiny on Human Rights."

"Human rights advocates" have "repeated longstanding criticisms" "of John D. Negroponte."

Well imagine that?

It's no shock to anyone outside the Elite Fluff Patrol. It's no shock to some Catholics (in this country and abroad). But Shane's on mop-up duty after the high-gloss treatment the paper gave Negroponte earlier.

To deal with the article, let's note this comment by Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller (in defense of Negroponte presumably):

People grow and change over 20 years.

Do they? They may. That presumes of course that they are alive. Certainly the vicitims of the death squads haven't been able to grow and change over 20 years. That opportunity for change and growth was taken from them, wasn't it? As Rockefeller hurries over to the sunny side of the street, he apparently doesn't notice that he dropped his common sense along the way.

He was probably in too much of a rush to join the beckoning Democratic Senator Chris Dodd who, according to the Times, "issued a statement on Thursday praising him [Negroponte] and not mentioning Honduras."

From the article:

As the first director of national intelligence, Mr. Negroponte would oversee the C.I.A. and the other 14 agencies that are part of the nation's estimated $40 billion spying enterprise. . . . The C.I.A. and military are also under intense scrutiny because of evidence that detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have been tortured in questioning and in a few cases have died in custody. Questions have also been raised about whether the intelligence agency has handed over prisoners to third countries, where they might be tortured.

The last sentence? There's no question as to whether the intelligence agency has handed over prisoners to third countries. That's established (and admitted) fact, public record. If the Times wants to waffle (in the face of mounting evidence) that the ones turned over were then tortured (the sunny side of the street is always a popular berth for the Times) they can do so. But the sentence structure needs to be worked on because there's no question that we've turned over prisoners to third countries. (And "where they might be tortured" is a subclause of the sentence, the "questions" reflects, due to the sentence structure, on the turning over -- which again, is established fact, not questions.)

Repube Senator Pat Roberts, apparently going for the comic effect, says of Negroponte, "[he is] a person who has a great deal of credibility." Oh, Pat, you crack us up! As Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) once said to Rhoda (Valerie Harper) on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, "What a treat you must be to the other girls on your bowling team." (Note, paraphrase from memory. If you have the actual quote, e-mail it in and we'll note it in another entry.)

We learn that Jack R. Binns (an ambassador from 1980 to 1991) opposes "the confirmation because he believed that Negroponte had misled Congress in past testimony and because he might slant intelligence to suit administration policies."

Let's turn to Democracy Now!'s report yesterday:

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Battalion 316? What was its role in Honduras, and what did the U.S. government have to do with it?
PETER KORNBLUH: Battalion 316 was the Honduran military special forces elite unit. It certainly became a death squad, contrary to what Negroponte said. He must have been well aware that the C.I.A. was working extremely closely with this particular unit, and the U.S. special forces were providing extraordinary aid to this particular unit. The Human Rights Ombudsman in Honduras, Leo Valladares, did a major investigation of the atrocities of this unit and concluded it was mostly responsible for the murders of up to 184 people, one of them an American priest working in Honduras, Father Carney. And the C.I.A. worked very closely with this unit, both to fight the left in Honduras, and to sustain the Contra war. I should say that we have many declassified documents from the Iran-Contra scandal, which do show Negroponte's kind of odd role. He stepped out of being U.S. Ambassador and kind of put on the hat of a C.I.A. station chief in pushing for the Contras to get more arms, in lobbying and meeting with very high Honduran officials to facilitate U.S. support for the Contras and Honduran cooperation, even after the U.S. Congress terminated official support for the Contra war.
AMY GOODMAN: I was just watching the Senate Intelligence -- head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts. He was being asked about the confirmation hearings for John Negroponte and asked if he has enough intelligence background. He has diplomatic background, and he said, no, he has both, because as ambassador, he is in charge of the C.I.A. station chief, and so he always knows what's going on around intelligence in his embassy. Of course, I think he was talking about very much Iraq, but what about what Negroponte knew and when he knew it in Honduras?
PETER KORNBLUH: Well, you know, the interesting thing, Amy, is that throughout the years, Ambassadors and the State Department have complained that the C.I.A. has been the stronger force in these smaller countries particularly where major covert operations are going on, and that the Embassy head, the Ambassador, essentially gets cut out of the loop. But in the case of Honduras, it was just the reverse. In fact, the Ambassador was a major player not just in receiving information from the C.I.A. station, but in really being the mover and shaker on C.I.A. covert operations there. So, he was very much in the loop even though those are not the, I think, the official duties. He was in the loop and he was active in running this paramilitary war. I would say that his strongest qualifications for this post were the unofficial duties that he had as Ambassador in Honduras.

. . .
SISTER LAETITIA BORDES: Yes, I went to Honduras in May of 1982 on a fact-finding delegation. As you know, Archbishop Romero had been assassinated in El Salvador in 1980, and there were quite a few members of Christian-based communities who were being picked up and disappearing in El Salvador. So, a group of 32 women -- by the way, these were not nuns. They were lay women, but they were members of Christian-based communities who had been followers of Archbishop Romero, had gone to Honduras to seek refuge from the repression that was taking place in El Salvador at that time. These 32 women -- also included were four children, by the way, in that group -- disappeared in Honduras, and there were witnesses to their disappearance. Vans pulled up in front of the safe house where they were staying, and they were taken and never heard from again. And so, this was -- this happened in April of 1981, and I went to Honduras in May of 1982 and met with John Negroponte to find out what had happened to these 32 women. And John Negroponte said very clearly that the embassy in El Salvador did not know what happened to those women, that we would need to talk to the Honduran government to find out about their fate. We went back. We did speak with the Honduran government. We had meetings there, and they referred us very clearly to our American embassy and sent us back to the American embassy and told us we would need to go through them to find out what had happened to the women. We had two meetings with John Negroponte. The first, and then we went to the Honduran government, and then returned to John Negroponte with the information that we had been given from the Honduran government, and again, he denied clearly the whereabouts of these women. He was very specific in saying that the embassy in Honduras did not interfere in Honduran affairs. That was very, very clear. At the same time, we were talking to different people in Honduras, and it was clear from the people with whom we spoke that John Negroponte was working closely with General Alvarez, who was Chief of the Armed Forces in Honduras at that time. And he was facilitating, really, the training of Honduran soldiers and psychological warfare and sabotage, and many types of human rights violations. And by the way, the co-founder -- the founder and commander of battalion 316, who was General Discua, had been trained at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, which is very interesting. So, we see the close connections that there was there between what was going on in Honduras and the American government.
. . .
ANDRES CONTRERIS: Amy it's really good to be with you, and I'm glad that you're really focusing on this very, very important issue. I not only disrupted Negroponte last year in April, but also in September of 2001 when he was having his hearing to become Ambassador to the United Nations. The reason that I stood up on both of those occasions is because I was trying to be a voice for the voiceless in Honduras. The sister of Manfredo Velazquez whose name is Venaida Velazquez, she was the founder of the Committee of the Family Members of the Disappeared in Honduras. She asked me to go to the hearing when Negroponte was to be confirmed to be Ambassador to the United Nations, and to be a presence there on his behalf. I did not plan to do anything at that time, but when Negroponte said in sworn testimony that he had never even heard of Battalion 316 until years after he left the post in Honduras, I couldn't believe this incredible lie that he was committing, which is a crime, and I decided to risk arrest by standing up and telling him that the people of Honduras consider him to be a state terrorist. This was two days after September 11. I was whisked out of the room at that time. Then last year in April, when he was being -- in the hearing to be confirmed to be Ambassador to Iraq, I also returned at that time because it just seems incredible that this man, who we consider to be a promoter of torture, knowing that that's what was going on in Honduras and Central America, this is the man who just before the Abu Ghraib scandal was breaking -- he was being -- he was under testimony then in the Senate, and he clearly went to Iraq having had the experience of covering up U.S. involvement in torture in Central America. So, this is a state terrorist that needs to be confronted. He needs to be accused of war crimes. He needs to be taken to trial.
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, National Security Archive, can you elaborate on what Andres is saying?
PETER KORNBLUH: I think Andres is absolutely correct that John Negroponte misled the Senate in his confirmation hearings about his knowledge of Battalion 316 about his knowledge of death squad activity. The C.I.A. did report to him on various atrocities that took place. There is some evidence in partially declassified C.I.A. Inspector General's report about the Battalion and its atrocities and about the reporting out of the embassy by both the C.I.A. officers and diplomatic attaches there that seems to imply that Negroponte preferred not to see honest, hard reporting going back to Washington on atrocities being committed by our very strong allies in Honduras. People have to remember, and certainly your listeners remember better than anybody, that they -- your audience and many others in this country -- made Reagan's policy in Central America controversial and managed to get Congress -- push Congress to cut off aid to the Contras. So, any negative reporting on our main allies' activities in Honduras would have given further ammunition to the critics of Negroponte's policies, Reagan's policies, et cetera. That's why there are strong indications that he squashed this reporting. He certainly was critical to the Contra war effort. What he had told the sister about not interfering in Honduran affairs is quite frankly laughable, because he was named essentially the Proconsul. He essentially was a fallback to the age of gunboat diplomacy when the U.S. Ambassador ran a Central American country. In the early 1980's, he was in that position in Honduras. I'm holding a declassified White House document which is from 1983, and it's a memo to the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. It begins, “Ambassador Negroponte, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, has recommended that we increase the number of weapons issued to the F.D.N. forces.” The F.D.N., of course, was the leading contra force and the one most strongly associated with massive human rights violations of civilians in Nicaragua. And in his memo, Negroponte has apparently recommended that the United States send 3,000 additional rifles to the F.D.N. forces, and his recommendation is approved by the President. There are two little R.R.'s, Ronald Reagan, and a yes box under the recommendation in his options memo. So, you get a sense from these declassified records of how important Negroponte was and the type of odd role he played, stepping out of his position as ambassador, a diplomat, and essentially putting on the hat of the C.I.A. station chief and pushing forward the Contra war.

That's called news, that's called reporting. (Watch, listen or read that segment, please.) The Times puts Scott Shane on mop-up duty and the article that is printed is filled with waffles and qualifiers. (It's also buried inside the paper.)

Domnick: Does the Times just hate Catholics?

That's from Dominick's morning e-mail. Where he noted that the IRA story seemed less reporting and more editorializing and he also noted the minimizing of Negroponte's "serious role in the deaths of priests, nuns and others in Honduras."

Does the Times hate Catholics? I don't know. I would hope they don't. But the Times (which will have a new nickname starting Sunday) doesn't want to break news. God forbid they lose out on their access (which allows them those TV Guide blurbs passed off as "scoops") by actually addressing the public record.

Oscar Reyes is quoted in the Times:

Oscar Reyes, whom the Honduran military seized in 1982 and tortured along with his wife, Gloria, said he was dismayed to learn of Negroponte's nomination.
"He'll say, 'I didn't know,'" said Mr. Reyes, 69, who now publishes a Spanish-language newspaper in Washington. "But the U.S. embassy knew everything that was going on."

We cited Matthew Rothschild's strong editorial against Negroponte's confirmation yesterday. In that "This Just In," Rothschild provided a link to an article on torture that featured comments from, among others, Reyes:

"I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras," Negroponte testified before Congress in 2001.Oscar Reyes begs to differ. He was living in Honduras at the time. "On July 8, 1982, some military people went to our home, ransacked it, detained us, and brought us to the torture house," he told me last year. "There were a lot of people being tortured that night. You could hear the screaming. They used electrical shock on my body and my genitals, and they hanged me by my hands and were hitting me almost all night long. Then they put me in front of a tree and gave me a fake execution. . . . On my wife, they used electrical shock in her vagina. It was so bad that she had permanent damage to her ovaries, and she had to have a hysterectomy." (See “America’s Amnesia,” The Progressive, July 2004.)

From that article (I'm having trouble pulling up the PDF version but I probably just need to do the Adobe Acrobat update I keep getting reminders on -- I'm working from the print copy in the July magazine):

The United States also was actively involved in torture and assination in Honduras in the early 1980s. The CIA organized, trained, and financed an army unit called Battalion 316, The Baltimore Sun reported in 1995. It kidnapped, tortured, and killed hundreds of Hondurans. It "used shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in umarked graves," the paper said.
The U.S. embassy in Honduras, led at the time by Ambassador John Negroponte, knew about the human rights abuses but covered it up. "Determined to avoid questions in Congress, U.S. officials in Honduras concealed evidence of human rights abuses," the Sun reported. Negroponte has denied involvement, and during his confirmation hearing before the Senate for his post as U.N. ambassador, he testified, "I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras."

Please note, the article's worth reading. Upgrade your Adobe if you need to (I apparently do, in the time it took me to hunt down my copy of the July 2004 issue of The Progressive, re-read the article and then type up the section above, the pdf file still hasn't loaded). But make a point to read the article because it details U.S. involvement (historically) with torture.

I want to note the new archive feature of The Progressive before we close this entry. Those who visit the magazine's web site are aware that you can access Ruth Connif's new blog, Amitabh Pal's blog, "Daily Doses of Durst" (Will Durst), Matthew Rothschild's "This Just In," "McCarthyism Watch," his two-minute daily broadcasts (audio only) and radio interviews he conducts once a week (again, audio only). People who visit the site are also aware that highlights from the current and past issues are also available. The Best of the Progressive archive, however, is pdf files of articles not previously available online. Currently there are eleven articles in the archive so please check it out and use it as a resource.