Elliot Abrams

Part 1

Elliot Abrams. It's Back!
by David Corn
The Nation magazine, July 2, 2001

"How would you feel if your wife and children were brutally raped before being hacked to death by soldiers during a military massacre of 800 civilians, and then two governments tried to cover up the killings?" It's a question that won't be asked of Elliott Abrams at a Senate confirmation hearing- because George W. Bush, according to press reports, may appoint Abrams to a National Security Council staff position that (conveniently!) does not require Senate approval. Moreover, this query is one of a host of rude, but warranted, questions that could be lobbed at Abrams, the Iran/contra player who was an assistant secretary of state during the Reagan years and a shaper of that Administration's controversial-and deadly-policies on Latin America and human rights. His designated spot in the new regime: NSC's senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations. (At press time, the White House and Abrams were neither confirming nor denying his return to government.)

Bush the Second has tapped a number of Reagan/Bush alums who were involved in Iran/contra business for plum jobs: Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Otto Reich and John Negroponte. But Abrams's appointment-should it come to pass-would mark the most generous of rehabilitations. Not only did Abrams plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of Iying to Congress about the Reagan Administration's contra program, he was also one of the fiercest ideological pugilists of the 1980s, a bad-boy diplomat wildly out of sync with Bush's gonna-change-the-tone rhetoric. Abrams, a Democrat turned Republican who married into the cranky Podhoretz neocon clan, billed himself as a "gladiator" for the Reagan Doctrine in Central America-which entailed assisting thuggish regimes and militaries in order to thwart leftist movements and dismissing the human rights violations of Washington's cold war partners.

One Abrams specialty was massacre denial. During a Nightline appearance in 1985, he was asked about reports that the US-funded Salvadoran military had slaughtered civilians at two sites the previous summer. Abrams maintained that no such events had occurred. And had the US Embassy and the State Department conducted an investigation? "My memory," he said, "is that we did, but I don't want to swear to it, because I'd have to go back and look at the cables." But there had been no State Department inquiry; Abrams, in his lawyerly fashion, was being disingenuous. Three years earlier, when two American journalists reported that an elite, US-trained military unit had massacred hundreds of villagers in El Mozote, Abrams told Congress that the story was commie propaganda, as he fought for more US aid to El Salvador's military. The massacre, as has since been confirmed, was real. And in 1993 after a UN truth commission, which examined 22,000 atrocities that occurred during the twelve-year civil war in El Salvador, attributed 85 percent of the abuses to the Reagan-assisted right-wing military and its death-squad allies, Abrams declared, "The Administration's record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement." Tell that to the survivors of El Mozote.

But it wasn't his lies about mass murder that got Abrams into trouble. After a contra resupply plane was shot down in 1986, Abrams, one of the coordinators of Reagan's pro-contra policy (along with the NSC's Oliver North and the CIA's Alan Fiers), appeared several times before Congressional committees and withheld information on the Administration's connection to the secret and private contra-support network. He also hid from Congress the fact that he had flown to London (using the name "Mr. Kenilworth") to solicit a $10 million contribution for the contras from the Sultan of Brunei. At a subsequent closed-door hearing, Democratic Senator Thomas Eagleton blasted Abrams for having misled legislators, noting that Abrams's misrepresentations could lead to "slammer time." Abrams disagreed, saying, "You've heard my testimony." Eagleton cut in: "I've heard it, and I want to puke." On another occasion, Republican Senator Dave Durenberger complained, "I wouldn't trust Elliott any further than

I could throw Ollie North." Even after Abrams copped a plea with Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh, he refused to concede that he'd done anything untoward. Abrams's Foggy Bottom services were not retained by the First Bush, but he did include Abrams in his lame-duck pardons of several Iran/contra wrongdoers.

Abrams was as nasty a policy warrior as Washington had seen in decades. He called foes "vipers." He said that lawmakers who blocked contra aid would have "blood on their hands"-while he defended US support for a human-rights-abusing government in Guatemala. When Oliver North was campaigning for the Senate in 1994 and was accused of having ignored contra ties to drug dealers, Abrams backed North and claimed "all of us who ran that program...were absolutely dedicated to keeping it completely clean and free of any involvement by drug traffickers." Yet in 1998 the CIA's own inspector general issued a thick report noting that the Reagan Administration had collaborated-with suspected drug traffickers while managing the secret contra war.

So Bush the Compassionate may hand the White House portfolio on human rights to the guy who lied and wheedled to aid and protect human-rights abusers. As Adm. William Crowe Jr. said of Abrams in 1989, "This snake's hard to kill."


Part 2

Public Serpent
Iran-contra villain Elliott Abrams is back in action
by Terry J. Allen
In These Times magazine, August 2001

A nursing home aide earning minimum wage caring for Alzheimer's patients is an unskilled laborer. A grade school teacher pulling down $25,000 a year in a crumbling inner-city school is barely a professional. But a politician reaping power, pay, perks and retirement packages is a public servant.

Calling George W. Bush and Jesse Helms "public servants" is like calling Iran-contra criminal Elliott Abrams an "outstanding diplomat"-which is precisely what White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer did when he announced Abrams' appointment as senior director of the National Security Council's Office for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operaations. Fleischer conveyed Bush's faith-based assertion that Abrams is "the best person to do the job," which, happily for the appointee, does not require Senate confirmation.

For those who don't remember, Abrams was one of the most odious participants in a particularly shameful chapter of U.S. history. In the '80s, he was Ronald Reagan's assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs and later the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs. In that post, Abrams, in his own words, "supervised U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean."

That policy included backing the contras-a surrogate army dedicated to overthrowing the democratically elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua. It also involved funding the military thugocracy of El Salvador and supervising its war against a popular leftist rebellion. In his role as public servant, Abrams found time to cover up the genocidal policies of the Guatemalan government and embrace the government of Honduras while it perpetrated serial human rights abuses through Battalion 3-16, a U.S.-trained "intelligence unit" turned death squad.

Thick as thieves with Oliver North, Abrams helped evade congressional restrictions on aid to the contras. When Congress-spurred on by protests and embarrassing press disclosures-grew wary of the Central American wars, the Reaganites sought other avenues for funding them. Ever eager to serve, Abrams flew to London under the alias "Mr. Kenilworth" to solicit a $10 million contribution from the Sultan of Brunei.

In the congressional investigations that followed disclosure of the Iran-contra conspiracies, Abrams was never held accountable for the human rights violations backed, hidden and funded by the Reagan administration. Instead Abrams was accused of withholding information from Congress, a Washington euphemism for bald-face Iying. In 1991, he copped to two counts of withholding information from Congress (and was granted a Christmas Eve pardon a year later by President George Bush).

Abrams was none too pleased, even with this slap on the wrist. According to a May 30, 1994 article in Legal Times, he called his prosecutors "filthy bastards," the proceedings against him "Kafkaesque," and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee "pious clowns" whose raison d'etre was to ask him "abysmally stupid" questions. (In the spirit of full disclosure: Abrams once called me a "rotten bitch" after I tactlessly noted that much of the world considers him a war criminal.)

Abrams' own "full biography," posted on the Web site of the Ethics and Public Policy Center-an oxymoronic think tank where he wiled away much of the Democratic interregnum awaiting the collective amnesia of the American public-omits his unpleasantness with Congress. In any case, as Fleischer said of Abrams' transgressions, "the president thinks that's a matter of the past and was dealt with at the time."

Loved ones of the thousand unarmed Salvadoran peasants, including 139 children, killed by U.S.-trained contra troops in the 1981 El Mozote massacre may be less inclined to let bygones be bygones. Abrams has been a consistent massacre denier, even calling Washington's policy in El Salvador a "fabulous achievement." He told Congress that the reports carried in the New York; Times and Washington Post a month after El Mozote were Communist propaganda.

In 1993, members of a Salvadoran Truth commission testified about the massacre in a congressional hearing of the House Western Hemisphere subcommittee. Chairman Robert G. Torricelli (D-New Jersey) vowed to review for possible perjury "every word uttered by every Reagan administration official" in congressional testimony on El Salvador. Abrams denounced Torricelli's words as "McCarthyite crap."

Eventually documentation emerged proving that the Reagan administration had known about El Mozote and other human rights violations all along. Abrams, however, carefully denied knowledge of the assassination m of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, committed shortly after the cleric denounced government terror. "Anybody who thinks you're going to find a cable that says that Roberto d'Aubuisson murdered the archbishop is a fool," Abrams was quoted in a March 21, 1993 article in the Washington Post.

In fact, the Post notes, the U.S. embassy in San Salvador sent at least two such cables to Washington nailing d'Aubuisson, the right-wing politician who was the chief architect of the plot against Romero. The December 21, 1981 cable notes: "A meeting, chaired by Maj. Roberto d'Aubuisson, during which the murder of Archbishop Romero was planned. During the meeting, some of the participants drew lots for the privilege of killing the archbishop."

Now Bush II has given Abrams a post that rewards his special experience. In the proud ranks of America's public servants, he will join other Iran-contra vets: Secretary of State Colin Powell; Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs; and presumably John Negroponte, awaiting confirmation as U.N. ambassador.

And who says you can't get help like you used to?


Contributing editor Terry J. Allen's work has appeared in Harper's, The Nation, New Scientist and other publications. She can be reached at tallen@igc.org.


Part 3
Robbing Us Blind
(book) - Steve Brouwer

Elliot Abrams

In the Reagan and Bush I administrations, Elliot Abrams served as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs and later as assistant secretary of state for interAmerican affairs, supervising U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean. In that capacity he constantly covered up the realities of Iran/Contra, oversaw much of the conspiracy, and lied about it to the press and Congress. Jim Lobe, of Foreign Policy in Focus, writes that "he clashed frequently and angrily with mainstream church groups and human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who often accused him of covering up horrendous abuses committed by U.S.backed governments."

Journalist and film-maker Saul Landau reports that: "In his testimony to Congress, the scrappy Abrams made witness history when he declared: 'I never said I had no idea about most of the things you said I had no idea about.' The now 54 year old Abrams also explained in his autobiography that he had to inform his young children about the headline announcing his indictment, so he told them he had 'to lie to Congress to protect the national interest." He did not tell Congress about the horrific massacre in El Mazote, El Salvador, that he covered up for the Reagan administration by denigrating the work of very accurate reporters. Nor did he explain that U.S.-trained death squads had carried out 85% of the 22,000 "extra legal" killings in the country. Instead, Abrams defiantly told Congress how proud he was of the United States record in El Salvador: "The Administration's record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement."

During his forced absence from government, Abrams resided within the right-wing Ethics and Public Policy Center where he devoted a great deal of this energy to bolstering the arguments and political connections that kept elevating the right-wing, militarist agenda of Likud and its allies in Israel and the United States. Jim Lobe reported that "In Present Dangers, a book produced by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in 2000, Abrams outlined a new U.S. Mideast policy that called for 'regime change' in Iraq and for cracking down on the Palestinian Authority. Foreshadowing the current U.S. policy based on superior military power, Abrams recommended that in the Middle East 'our military strength and willingness to use it' should be the 'key factor in our ability to promote peace." Elliot Abrams was rehired by Bush Gang II in 2001 as National Security Council senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations, and then, in the first week of December 2002, he was transferred within the NSC to the position of director of Middle Eastern affairs. Given his extremely aggressive posture in all his foreign policy dealings, this can be seen as a preparation for tenacious warfare, expediting the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, threatening Syria and Iran, and reassuring Israel about its superior position vis a vis the Muslim countries that surround it.

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