With much fanfare, Bush announced on Thursday his nomination of John D. Negroponte as the director of national intelligence. “John’s nomination comes in an historic moment for our intelligence services,” Bush proclaimed ceremoniously. Intelligence, he said, is now “the first line of defense” in the war on terrorism.
Bush failed to mention that when Negroponte was United States ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s, he provided false intelligence to Congress about the Honduran “death squads.”
In those days, the Reagan administration was using Honduras as its base for covert military operations against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Negroponte oversaw the buildup of military positions and training of the anti-Sandinista Contra rebels inside the Honduran border.
As a gesture of appreciation for the use of its territory, the U.S. gave Honduras generous military aid. On Negroponte’s watch, that aid rose from $4 million to $77.4 million. In order to keep the aid coming, Congress required annual reassurances from the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa that Honduras was respecting the human rights of its people.
Negroponte’s embassy provided annual reports to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Those reports sugar-coated Honduras’s human rights record, which Negroponte knew to be atrocious.
The 1983 report, for example, said the “Honduran government neither condones nor knowingly permits killings of a political or nonpolitical nature” and reassured the Committee that there were “no political prisoners in Honduras.”
In fact, the Honduran government was “disappearing,” torturing, and killing hundreds of political opponents.
This was confirmed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the famous Velásquez Rodríguez Case. It concluded that “a practice of disappearances carried out or tolerated by Honduran officials existed between 1981 and 1984.” The court found, “The kidnappers blindfolded the victims, took them to secret, unofficial detention centers and moved them from one center to another. They interrogated the victims and subjected them to cruel and humiliating treatment and torture. Some were ultimately murdered and their bodies were buried in clandestine cemeteries.”
“It was public and notorious knowledge in Honduras,” added the court, “that the kidnappings were carried out by military personnel or the police, or persons acting under their orders.”
The Baltimore Sun conducted an 14-month investigation into the Honduran atrocities. The findings were published in a 1995 Pulitzer prize-winning series of articles by Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson. They wrote, “The Honduran press was full of reports about military abuses, including hundreds of newspaper stories in 1982. There were also direct pleas from Honduran officials to U.S. officials, including Negroponte.”
“Time and again during his tour of duty in Honduras from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was confronted with evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA, was stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives,” according to the Sun.
Jaime Rosenthal, former vice president of Honduras and owner of the newspaper El Tiempo, said, “There is no way United States officials in Honduras during the early 1980s can deny they knew about the disappearances. There were stories about it in our newspaper and most other newspapers almost every day.”
Negroponte’s predecessor, Ambassador Jack Binns, had been profoundly troubled by the actions of the Honduran military when he served as U.S. ambassador from 1980-1981. “I reported these abuses repeatedly, and urged that we take action to try and turn it around,” Binns said.
Binns warned in a 1981 cable, “I am deeply concerned at increasing evidence of officially sponsored/sanctioned assassinations of political and criminal targets, which clearly indicate [that Honduran government] repression has built up a head of steam much faster than we anticipated.”
How was Binns rewarded for his candor? He was summoned to Washington. “I was told to stop human rights reporting except in back channel. The fear was that if it came into the State Department, it will leak,” Binns told the Sun. “They wanted to keep assistance flowing. Increased violations by the Honduran military would prejudice that.”
Binns was replaced by John Negroponte, to manipulate the flow of information.
What did Negroponte, our newly nominated intelligence czar, do in response to reports of these atrocities in Honduras on his watch? He covered them up, and lied to Congress by sending it false intelligence.
A junior political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa was ordered to delete from the State Department’s annual human rights report to Congress substantial evidence of the abuses by the Honduran military in 1982, according to the Sun.
“Under my leadership,” Negroponte said disingenuously, “the embassy worked to promote the restoration and consolidation of democracy in Honduras, including the advancement of human rights.”
In 1982, former Honduran military intelligence chief Col. Leonidas Torres Arias told reporters at a news conference in Mexico City about a “death squad operating in Honduras led by armed forces chief General Gustavo Alvarez.” (Alvarez was trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas.) Negroponte wrote in an Oct. 16, 1982 article, “I have a lot of difficulty taking those kinds of accusations seriously.”
United States support of Honduran aid to the Contras violated the 1982 Boland amendment, which prohibited the use of U.S. funds for “military equipment, military training or advice, or other support for military activities, to any group or individual not part of a country’s armed forces, for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua or provoking a military exchange between Nicaragua and Honduras.”
In the now infamous Iran-Contra scandal, the Reagan administration illegally sold weapons to Iran in violation of an embargo on those sales. It also covertly and illegally transferred money, through Honduras, to the Contras in their efforts to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.
Not only did Negroponte’s embassy reports cover up the human rights violations being committed by the Honduran government; they also falsely stated that the Nicaraguan Sandinista government was committing myriad atrocities, in order to galvanize U.S. public opinion against the Sandinistas.
In fact, it was the U.S.-backed Contras who were wreaking terrorism. Former Contra PR official Edgar Chamorro wrote in a 1986 letter to the New York Times: “During my four years as a ‘contra’ director, it was premeditated policy to terrorize civilian noncombatants to prevent them from cooperating with the [Sandinista] government.” Chamorro admitted, “Hundreds of civilian murders, tortures and rapes were committed in pursuit of this policy, of which the contra leaders and their CIA superiors were well aware.”
The U.S. government, in the 1980s, supported vicious dictatorships in several Latin American countries which engaged in the disappearances, torture and murder of thousands of people who questioned their policies.
“I think it’s extremely important that the State Department be right on human rights,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said in an interview with the Sun. “If we told the truth about Honduras and the whole Central American policy, … billions of dollars 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.”
When Bush nominated Negroponte for intelligence director, the president noted, “He understands the power centers in Washington.” Indeed, Negroponte has been around for 40 years. He was political officer at the U.S. embassy in Vietnam from 1964-1968, during a period of extra-judicial executions and gross human rights abuses, including massacres by the notorious “Tiger Force” of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
After his stint in Honduras, Negroponte served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico, where he shepherded the signing of NAFTA. As a result, one million Mexican farmers have lost their land and livelihoods, and NAFTA has undermined labor and environmental protections in Mexico, the United States and Canada.
From September 2001 during the run-up to the Iraq war, Negroponte was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He avoided a withering interrogation at his confirmation hearing about his record in Honduras, in a Senate stunned by the 9/11 attacks. During his tenure, Negroponte lied to the UN about the justifications for the war, and successfully pressured Mexico and Chile to fire their UN ambassadors for not supporting the war.
Negroponte’s last stepping stone to intelligence czar was his appointment as U.S. ambassador to Iraq in June of last year, on the day “sovereignty” was transferred to the Iraqis. The last seven months have seen some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, as well as continued reports of torture of Iraqis by U.S. forces.
The position Negroponte will hold was created in response to intelligence failures perceived to have enabled the September 11 attacks. Negroponte’s sordid past does not inspire confidence in his qualifications for that post. In fact, Negroponte was likely chosen because he will tell Bush & Co. exactly what they want to hear. And that won’t make us any safer.
Former CIA official Melvin Goodman summed it up nicely: “I think of the Negroponte of the 1980s covering up human rights abuses, and then I think of the role of intelligence in telling truth to power, and it doesn’t fit.”