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
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
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."
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
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.
And who says you can't get help like you
Contributing editor Terry J. Allen's work
has appeared in Harper's, The Nation, New Scientist and other
publications. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Robbing Us Blind (book) - Steve Brouwer
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
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
International War Crimes