Questionable recordApril 16,2005
o one should expect the director of intelligence to be a choirboy, but the record of President Bush's nominee raises questions about the administration's loudly trumpeted dedication to democracy and human rights.
Bush has named John Negroponte as the new chief of all the government's intelligence agencies, overseeing the CIA and the array of military agencies that have drawn wide criticism for their failure to prevent the attacks of Sept. 11. Negroponte is a tested diplomat who most recently served as ambassador to Iraq.
It is Negroponte's earlier service that has raised questions. He was ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, helping to carry out the illegal counterinsurgency mounted by President Reagan against the government of Nicaragua. It was a period when the United States disgraced itself through its alliance with ruthless governments and insurgents that were responsible for assassination, rape and violence on a large scale. Negroponte was in the middle of it.
There is little question that the nation needs an intelligence chief with the stomach for ruthless activity. The war against al-Qaida is a real war, carried out, in part, by intelligence operatives who, we presume, are engaged in dangerous covert activities. The killing of al-Qaida personnel has been on the to-do list of the intelligence services since the Clinton administration.
That's why it's important to have leadership that understands the meaning of human rights. The military rampages that occurred in Guatemala and El Salvador with the blessing of the United States showed that in the 1980s officials of the Reagan administration were willing to countenance inexcusable abuses in the name of something they called democracy. The refugees that streamed to the United States from the wars of Central America even reached Vermont. It's not easy to forget the way that Alexander Haig, secretary of state for Reagan, tried to make excuses for the rape and murder of American nuns in El Salvador.
It has been reported that the U.S. military and the government of Iraq are considering the "Salvador option" for Iraq, which would resemble the Saddam Hussein option: massacre droves of innocent civilians in order to secure power. It is important that the head of intelligence in the U.S. government be willing to resist policies that destroy human rights in order to preserve them.
It is doubtful that the Bush administration has learned the lessons of Central America. Important figures responsible for Reagan's bungled policies have been elevated to positions of prominence by the younger Bush. It may be that Bush views Reagan's disastrous interventions in Central America as an early version of pre-emptive warfare, carried out to halt communist insurgencies. The tens of thousands of innocent civilian victims who fell victim to massacres by military forces and death squads were the result of the same mistaken policy that led to U.S. support of Saddam Hussein. It was a policy of arming dictators and thugs to oppose perceived enemies.
It didn't work for the United States to buddy up to Saddam, and it didn't work to wink at death squad massacres in Central America. Building democracy requires more than handing over a load of guns to one's most ruthless friends.MORE IN NewsPORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Full Story
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