ROBERT PARRY: With the US Meddling Again in Latin America, a Look Back at How Washington Promoted Genocide in Guatemala

As the U.S. declares a new government in Venezuela, we look back at how the Reagan administration promoted human rights violations in Guatemala, including genocide inflicted on Indian villages, as the late Robert Parry reported on Feb. 21, 2013.

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

Soon after taking office in 1981, President Ronald Reagan’s national security team agreed to supply military aid to the brutal right-wing regime in Guatemala to pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but their “civilian support mechanisms,” according to a newly disclosed document from the National Archives.

Over the next several years, the military assistance from the Reagan administration helped the Guatemalan army do just that, engaging in the slaughter of some 100,000 people, including what a truth commission deemed genocide against the Mayan Indians in the northern highlands.

Recently discovered documents at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, also reveal that Reagan’s White House was reaching out to Israel in a scheme to circumvent congressional restrictions on military equipment for the Guatemalan military.

In 1983, national security aide Oliver North (who later became a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal) reported in a memo that Reagan’s Deputy National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane (another key Iran-Contra figure) was approaching Israel over how to deliver 10 UH-1H helicopters to Guatemala to give the army greater mobility in its counterinsurgency war.

According to these documents that I found at the Reagan library and other records declassified in the late 1990s it’s also clear that Reagan and his administration were well aware of the butchery underway in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America.

The relaxed attitude toward the Guatemalan regime’s brutality took shape in spring 1981 as Reagan’s State Department “advised our Central American embassies that it has been studying ways to restore a closer, cooperative relationship with Guatemala,” according to a White House Situation Room Checklist dated April 8, 1981.

The document added: “State believes a number of changes have occurred which could make Guatemalan leaders more receptive to a new U.S. initiative: the Guatemalans view the new administration as more sympathetic to their problems [and] they are less suspect of the U.S. role in El Salvador,” where the Reagan administration was expanding support for another right-wing regime infamous for slaughtering its political opponents, including Catholic clergy.

“State has concluded that any attempt to reestablish a dialogue would require some initial, condition-free demonstration of our goodwill. However, this could not include military sales which would provoke serious U.S. public and congressional criticism. State will undertake a series of confidence building measures, free of preconditions, which minimize potential conflict with existing legislation,” which then barred military assistance to Guatemala because of its long record of human rights crimes.

The “checklist” added that the State Department “has also decided that the administration should engage the Guatemalan government at the highest level in a dialogue on our bilateral relations and the initiatives we can take together to improve them. Secretary [of State Alexander] Haig has designated [retired] General Vernon Walters as his personal emissary to initiate this process with President [Fernando Romeo] Lucas [Garcia].

“If Lucas is prepared to give assurances that he will take steps to halt government involvement in the indiscriminate killing of political opponents and to foster a climate conducive to a viable electoral process, the U.S. will be prepared to approve some military sales immediately.”

But the operative word in that paragraph was “indiscriminate.” The Reagan administration expressed no problem with killing civilians if they were considered supporters of the guerrillas who had been fighting against the country’s ruling oligarchs and generals since the 1950s when the CIA organized the overthrow of Guatemala’s reformist President Jacobo Arbenz.

Sparing the ‘Non Politicized’

The distinction was spelled out in Talking Points for Walters to deliver in a face-to-face meeting with General Lucas and his senior advisers. As edited inside the White House in April 1981, the “Talking Points” read:

“The President and Secretary Haig have designated me as [their] personal emissary to discuss bilateral relations on an urgent basis.

“Both the President and the Secretary recognize that your country is engaged in a war with Marxist guerrillas. We are deeply concerned about externally supported Marxist subversion in Guatemala and other countries in the region. As you are aware, we have already taken steps to assist Honduras and El Salvador resist this aggression.

“The Secretary has sent me here to see if we can work out a way to provide material assistance to your government. We have minimized negative public statements by US officials on the situation in Guatemala. We have arranged for the Commerce Department to take steps that will permit the sale of $3 million worth of military trucks and Jeeps to the Guatemalan army.

“With your concurrence, we propose to provide you and any officers you might designate an intelligence briefing on regional developments from our perspective. Our desire, however, is to go substantially beyond the steps I have just outlined. We wish to reestablish our traditional military supply and training relationship as soon as possible.

“As we are both aware, this has not yet been feasible because of our internal political and legal constraints relating to the use by some elements of your security forces of deliberate and indiscriminate killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanisms. I am not referring here to the regrettable but inevitable death of innocents though error in combat situations, but to what appears to us a calculated use of terror to immobilize non politicized people or potential opponents.

“If you could give me your assurance that you will take steps to halt official involvement in the killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanism we would be in a much stronger position to defend successfully with the Congress a decision to begin to resume our military supply relationship with your government.”

In other words, though the “talking points” were framed as an appeal to reduce the “indiscriminate” slaughter of “non politicized people,” they amounted to an acceptance of scorched-earth tactics against people involved with the guerrillas and “their civilian support mechanism.” The way that played out in Guatemala as in nearby El Salvador was the massacring of peasants in regions considered sympathetic to leftist insurgents.

Cables on Killings

As reflected in the “Talking Points” and as confirmed by other U.S. government documents from that time period, the Reagan administration was well aware that the Guatemalan military was engaged in mass killings of Guatemalan civilians.

According to one “secret” cable also from April 1981, and declassified in the 1990s, the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres even as Reagan was moving to loosen the military aid ban. On April 17, 1981, a CIA cable described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas.

A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.” The CIA cable added that “the Guatemalan authorities admitted that ‘many civilians’ were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants.” [Many of the Guatemalan documents declassified in the 1990s can be found at the National Security Archive’s Web site.]

In May 1981, despite these ongoing atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that former President Jimmy Carter and Congress had imposed.

In essence, Walters was giving a green light to Guatemala to continue the practice of slaughtering guerrillas and their civilian supporters, a counterinsurgency strategy that was practiced during some of the darkest days of the Vietnam War in such infamous incidents as the My Lai massacre.

The “Talking Points” also put the Reagan administration in line with the fiercely anti-communist regimes elsewhere in Latin America, where right-wing “death squads” operated with impunity liquidating not only armed guerrillas but civilians who were judged sympathetic to left-wing causes like demanding greater economic equality and social justice.

In the 1970s, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and other South American countries even banded together in a cross-border assassination program that hunted down leftist and other political opponents around the world, including inside the United States.

Called “Operation Condor,” the wave of assassinations reached Washington D.C. on Sept. 21, 1976, when Chilean intelligence assets exploded a car bomb killing former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and American co-worker Ronni Moffitt as they drove down Massachusetts Avenue through an area known as Embassy Row.

The original cover story for the assassination plot had been a meeting at the CIA with Vernon Walters, who was then deputy CIA director under CIA Director George H.W. Bush. Walters also had served as U.S. military attache to Brazil at the time of a right-wing military coup in 1964.

Reagan again turned to Walters in 1981 to serve as the President’s ambassador-at-large. One of his key roles was coordinating with right-wing governments across Latin America in their escalating wars against leftist insurgencies.

Right-Wing Butchery

Despite his aw shucks style, Reagan found virtually every anticommunist action justified, no matter how brutal. From his eight years in the White House, there is no historical indication that he was morally troubled by the bloodbath and even genocide that occurred in Central America while he was shipping hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to the implicated forces.

The death toll was staggering, an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador, possibly 20,000 slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political “disappearances” in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala. The one consistent element in these slaughters was the overarching Cold War rationalization, emanating in large part from Ronald Reagan’s White House.

Despite their frequent claims to the contrary, the evidence is now overwhelming that Reagan and his advisers had a clear understanding of the extraordinary brutality going on in Guatemala and elsewhere, based on their own internal documents. As they prepared to ship military equipment to Guatemala, White House officials knew that the Guatemalan military was engaged in massacres of the Mayans and other perceived enemies.

According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, when Guatemalan leaders met again with Walters, they left no doubt about their plans. The cable said Gen. Lucas “made clear that his government will continue as before, that the repression will continue. He reiterated his belief that the repression is working and that the guerrilla threat will be successfully routed.”

Human rights groups saw the same picture. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for “thousands of illegal executions.” [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]

But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the ugly scene. A State Department “white paper,” released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist “extremist groups” and their “terrorist methods” prompted and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

What the documents from the Reagan library now make clear is that the administration was not simply struggling ineffectively to rein in these massacres as the U.S. press corps typically reported but was fully onboard with the slaughter of people who were part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”

More Massacres

U.S. intelligence agencies continued to pick up evidence of these government-sponsored massacres. One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province.

“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” the report said. “Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed.”

The CIA report explained the army’s modus operandi: “When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.” When the army encountered an empty village, it was “assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to.

“The army high command is highly pleased with the initial results of the sweep operation, and believes that it will be successful in destroying the major EGP support area and will be able to drive the EGP out of the Ixil Triangle.  The well documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike.”

On Feb. 2, 1982, Richard Childress, another of Reagan’s national security aides, wrote a “secret” memo to his colleagues summing up this reality on the ground:

“As we move ahead on our approach to Latin America, we need to consciously address the unique problems posed by Guatemala. Possessed of some of the worst human rights records in the region, it presents a policy dilemma for us. The abysmal human rights record makes it, in its present form, unworthy of USG [U.S. government] support.

“Beset by a continuous insurgency for at least 15 years, the current leadership is completely committed to a ruthless and unyielding program of suppression. Hardly a soldier could be found that has not killed a ‘guerrilla.’”

The Rise of Rios Montt

However, Reagan remained committed to supplying military hardware to Guatemala’s brutal regime. So, the administration welcomed Gen. Efrain Rios Montt’s March 1982 overthrow of the thoroughly bloodstained Gen. Lucas.

An avowed fundamentalist Christian, Rios Montt impressed Official Washington where the Reagan administration immediately revved up its propaganda machinery to hype the new dictator’s “born-again” status as proof of his deep respect for human life. Reagan hailed him as “a man of great personal integrity.”

By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his “rifles and beans” policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get “beans,” while all others could expect to be the target of army “rifles.” In October, Rios Montt secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations. Based at the Presidential Palace, the “Archivos” masterminded many of Guatemala’s most notorious assassinations.

The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting Indian massacres. On Oct, 21, 1982, one cable described how three embassy officers tried to check out some of these reports but ran into bad weather and canceled the inspection. Still, the cable put the best possible spin on the situation. Though unable to check out the massacre reports, the embassy officials did “reach the conclusion that the army is completely up front about allowing us to check alleged massacre sites and to speak with whomever we wish.”

The next day, the embassy fired off its analysis (which the Reagan administration knew to be contradicted by the facts) that the Guatemalan government was the victim of a communist-inspired “disinformation campaign.” Dated Oct. 22, 1982, the analysis concluded “that a concerted disinformation campaign is being waged in the U.S. against the Guatemalan government by groups supporting the communist insurgency in Guatemala.”

The Reagan administration’s disingenuous report claimed that “conscientious human rights and church organizations,” including Amnesty International, had been duped by the communists and “may not fully appreciate that they are being utilized.  The campaign’s object is simple: to deny the Guatemalan army the weapons and equipment needed from the U.S. to defeat the guerrillas.

“If those promoting such disinformation can convince the Congress, through the usual opinion-makers, the media, church and human rights groups, that the present GOG [government of Guatemala] is guilty of gross human rights violations they know that the Congress will refuse Guatemala the military assistance it needs. Those backing the communist insurgency are betting on an application, or rather misapplication, of human rights policy so as to damage the GOG and assist themselves.”

Hailing the Dictator

Reagan personally joined this P.R. campaign seeking to discredit human rights investigators and others who were reporting accurately on human rights crimes that the administration knew, all too well, were true. On Dec. 4, 1982, after meeting with Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as “totally dedicated to democracy” and added that Rios Montt’s government had been “getting a bum rap” on human rights. Reagan discounted the mounting reports of hundreds of Maya villages being eradicated.

On Jan. 6, 1983, Rios Montt was informed that the United States would resume military sales to Guatemala. The dictator expressed his thanks, according to a cable from the U.S. Embassy, “saying that he had been convinced that the USG had never abandoned Guatemala. He commented that the guerrillas in country and its propaganda machine abroad would now launch concerted attacks on both governments.”

On Jan. 7, 1983, Reagan formally lifted the ban on military aid to Guatemala and authorized the sale of $6 million in military hardware. Approval covered spare parts for UH-1H helicopters and A-37 aircraft used in counterinsurgency operations. Radios, batteries and battery charges were also in the package.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s cover-up of the Guatemalan bloodshed continued. State Department spokesman John Hughes said political violence in Guatemalan cities had “declined dramatically” and that rural conditions had improved too.

In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in “suspect right-wing violence” with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt’s order to the “Archivos” in October to “apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit.”

Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. “The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year” 1982, the report stated.

A different picture, far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government, was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.

New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out “virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents.”

Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said, adding that children were “thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed.” [AP, March 17, 1983]

Involving Israel

Publicly, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face. In June 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised “positive changes” in Rios Montt’s government, and Rios Montt pressed the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters and six naval patrol boats, all the better to hunt guerrillas and their sympathizers.

Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan’s national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment that would give the Guatemalan army greater access to mountainous areas where guerrillas and their civilian supporters were hiding.

On Aug. 1, 1983, National Security Council aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert “Bud” McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala. [For more on McFarlanes’s Israeli channels, see Consortium NewsHow Neocons Messed Up the Mideast.“]

“With regard to the loan of ten helicopters, it is [our] understanding that Bud will take this up with the Israelis,” wrote North and Sapia-Bosch. “There are expectations that they would be forthcoming. Another possibility is to have an exercise with the Guatemalans. We would then use US mechanics and Guatemalan parts to bring their helicopters up to snuff.”

However, more political changes were afoot in Guatemala. Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism had hurtled so out of control, even by Guatemalan standards, that Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores seized power in another coup on Aug. 8, 1983.

Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to murder with impunity, finally going so far that even the U.S. Embassy objected. When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even mild pressure for human rights.

In late November, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts anyway. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.

By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who was all for increased military assistance to Guatemala. In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan’s State Department “is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala’s image than in improving its human rights.”

According to now declassified U.S. records, the Guatemalan reality included torture out of the Middle Ages. A Defense Intelligence Agency cable reported that the Guatemalan military used an air base in Retalhuleu during the mid-1980s as a center for coordinating the counterinsurgency campaign in southwest Guatemala.

At the base, pits were filled with water to hold captured suspects. “Reportedly there were cages over the pits and the water level was such that the individuals held within them were forced to hold on to the bars in order to keep their heads above water and avoid drowning,” the DIA report stated. Later, the pits were filled with concrete to eliminate the evidence.

The Guatemalan military used the Pacific Ocean as another dumping spot for political victims, according to the DIA report. Bodies of insurgents tortured to death and of live prisoners marked for “disappearance” were loaded on planes that flown out over the ocean where the soldiers would shove the victims into the water.

Regional Slaughter

Guatemala, of course, was not the only Central American country where Reagan and his administration supported brutal counterinsurgency operations, and then sought to cover up the bloody facts.

Reagan’s attempted falsification of the historical record was a hallmark of the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua as well. In one case, Reagan personally lashed out at an individual human rights investigator named Reed Brody, a New York lawyer who had collected affidavits from more than 100 witnesses to atrocities carried out by the U.S.-supported Contra rebels in Nicaragua fighting to overthrow the country’s leftist Sandinista government.

Angered by the revelations about his pet “freedom-fighters,” Reagan denounced Brody in a speech on April 15, 1985. The President called Brody “one of dictator [Daniel] Ortega’s supporters, a sympathizer who has openly embraced Sandinismo.”

Privately, Reagan had a far more accurate understanding of the true nature of the Contras. At one point in the Contra war, Reagan turned to CIA official Duane Clarridge and demanded that the Contras be used to destroy some Soviet-supplied helicopters that had arrived in Nicaragua. In his memoir, Clarridge recalled that “President Reagan pulled me aside and asked, ‘Dewey, can’t you get those vandals of yours to do this job.’” [See Clarridge’s A Spy for All Seasons.]

It was not until 1999, a decade after Ronald Reagan left office, that the shocking scope of the grisly reality about the atrocities in Guatemala was revealed by a truth commission that drew heavily on documents that President Bill Clinton had ordered declassified.

On Feb. 25, 1999, the Historical Clarification Commission estimated that the 34-year civil war had claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. The panel estimated that the army was responsible for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.

The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. “The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala’s history,” the commission concluded.

The army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops,” the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter “genocide.” [Washington Post, Feb. 26, 1999]

Besides carrying out murder and “disappearances,” the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. “The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice” by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.

American Blame

The report added that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations.” The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed “acts of genocide” against the Mayans.

“Believing that the ends justified everything, the military and the state security forces blindly pursued the anticommunist struggle, without respect for any legal principles or the most elemental ethical and religious values, and in this way, completely lost any semblance of human morals,” said the commission chairman, Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist.

“Within the framework of the counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, in certain regions of the country agents of the Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against groups of the Mayan people,” Tomuschat added. [NYT, Feb. 26, 1999]

The report did not single out culpable individuals either in Guatemala or the United States. But the American official most directly responsible for renewing U.S. military aid to Guatemala and encouraging its government during the 1980s was Ronald Reagan.

The major U.S. newspapers covered the truth commission’s report though only fleetingly. The New York Times made it the lead story the next day. The Washington Post played it inside on page A19. Both cited the troubling role of the CIA and other U.S. government agencies in the Guatemalan tragedy. But, again, no U.S. official was held accountable by name.

On March 1, 1999, the Washington Post’s neoconservative editorial board addressed the findings but did not confront them, except to blame President Carter for having cut off military aid to Guatemala in the 1970s, thus supposedly preventing the United States from curbing Guatemala’s horrific human rights conduct.

The editorial argued that the arms embargo removed “what minimal restraint even a feeble American presence supplied.” The editorial made no reference to the substantial evidence that Reagan’s resumption of military aid in the 1980s made the Guatemalan army more efficient in its slaughter of its enemies, armed and unarmed. With no apparent sense of irony, the Post editorial ended by stating: “We need our own truth commission” though there was no follow-up of that idea.

During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Bill Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala dating back to 1954. “For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake,” Clinton said. [Washington Post, March 11, 1999]

However, back in Washington, there was no interest, let alone determination, to hold anyone accountable for aiding and abetting the butchery. The story of the Guatemalan genocide and the Reagan administration’s complicity quickly disappeared into the great American memory hole.

For human rights crimes in the Balkans and in Africa, the United States demanded international tribunals to arrest and to try violators and their political patrons for war crimes. In Iraq, President George W. Bush celebrated the trial and execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for politically motivated killings.

Rios Montt (who died on April 1, 2018 at 91), after years of evading justice under various amnesties, was finally indicted and put on trial. (He was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013, but a higher court, filled with political allies, overturned his conviction.)

Yet, even as Latin America’s struggling democracies have made tentative moves toward holding some of their worst human rights abusers accountable, no substantive discussion has occurred in the United States about facing up to the horrendous record of the 1980s and Reagan’s guilt.

Rather than a debate about Reagan as a war criminal who assisted genocide, the former president is honored as a conservative icon with his name attached to Washington National Airport and scores of other public sites. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has gushed over Reagan as “one of the all-time greats,” and Democrats (including Barack Obama) regularly praise Reagan in comparison to modern right-wing Republicans.

When the U.S. news media does briefly acknowledge the barbarities of the 1980s in Central America, it is in the context of how those little countries are bravely facing up to their violent pasts. There is never any suggestion that the United States had a big hand in it and should follow suit.

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can become a Consortium News member and receive a set of three books written by Parry.




One Year Ago Today…

On this day last year Consortium News lost its founder and editor Robert Parry, who succumbed to cancer at 68. We look back on his life in this video of his memorial service in Arlington, VA on April 14, 2018.

 

Bob’s wife, Diane Duston, introduced friends and colleagues to recount their memories of Bob, whose work impacted the nation.

The speakers are Lynn Neary, the NPR broadcaster; Spencer Oliver, a former Congressional staffer and one of Bob’s then unnamed Iran-Contra sources; Jill Abramson, the former New York Times executive editor and a long-time neighbor of Bob and Diane’s; Brian Barger, Bob’s partner at the AP on many Iran-Contra exclusives; Joe Lauria, the Consortium News editor-in-chief who also read a tribute to Bob from legendary journalist John Pilger, who was unable to attend; a video tribute from Oliver Stone, the filmmaker, and Bob’s two sons, Sam and Nat.

We present here a video of the entire memorial for the many admirers of Bob and his groundbreaking journalism. It runs one hour and seven minutes.  Please click on “Watch on YouTube.”  Apparently the National Football League has blocked the video from playing directly on Consortium News because it contains a very short clip of an NFL game.

 




There’s Still Time to Make a 2018 Tax-Deductible Contribution to Maintain Bob Parry’s Legacy

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If you want to keep reading original articles by Ray McGovern, Max Blumenthal, Pepe Escobar, Patrick Lawrence, Annie Machon, and more please take this opportunity to make a tax-deductible contribution to Consortium News.

Consortium News is one of the few websites where you can find a different angle on the news–one suppressed by the dominant corporate media. Unlike many other websites, we pay our writers for original articles, marked as Special to Consortium News. Their contributions make up the vast majority of what we publish. We have a new deputy editor helping to put out our fact-checked articles and we’ve incorporated a lot more video and added many new writers. All this, plus managing the site and its business administration, costs money. 

If you think Consortium News, the earliest independent news website in history, founded in 1995, should continue in the tradition of its founder Robert Parry, please dig deep and offer what you can. Consortium News is counting on you.  

 

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Diane Duston on Her Late Husband, Robert Parry

Bob Parry worked at his job nearly every waking hour. Diane Duston asked him why he kept it up. Her husband’s answer was pretty simple. It’s what journalists are supposed to do, he said. 

Dear Readers:

It has been almost a year since the death of my husband, Consortium News founder Robert Parry. The stroke he mentioned in the final piece he wrote for Consortium News was the first of three, caused by undiagnosed pancreatic cancer. It has been a challenging year for me and our family since he passed away on Jan. 27, but one of the things that has given us comfort is the continuation of his journalism through the website he founded.

The only way this can live on is through your donations. I urge you to contribute today so Consortiumnews.com will thrive and grow.

A lot has happened in Washington since Bob wrote his last piece. But one thing that has not changed is the need for independent journalism. Bob was fond of saying, “I don’t care WHAT the truth is. I just care what the truth IS.”

I met Bob in the 1980s at the Associated Press where we both worked. As a member of the special assignments team, he was delving into inconsistencies about what the Reagan administration was saying and what it was doing. Eventually, his work led to revelations that became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. I never ceased in my admiration for Bob’s dogged pursuit of the truth, no matter what might happen politically. It took patience and long hours of documents research. It required source development and double-triple-quadruple fact-checking. It meant going to battle with editors who were worried about political fall-out. It wasn’t easy. I was a journalist, too, but I didn’t have the same kind of drive. Few do, really. 

In 31 years of marriage, I remained in awe of his persistent quest for truth. He worked at it nearly every waking hour. I asked him why he kept it up. His answer was pretty simple. It’s what journalists are supposed to do, he said.

It hadn’t brought him any particular financial rewards. His books never became best-sellers. He didn’t seek praise from anyone, and he was irrationally modest about the awards he received. He eschewed self-promotion. He was too busy practicing journalism.

Consortiumnews.com is home for those who are interested in truth and fearless journalism. You can help keep this important mission alive. Please send a donation today.

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Here is the last piece that Bob Parry wrote: 

An Apology and Explanation

From Editor Robert Parry: For readers who have come to see Consortium News as a daily news source, I would like to extend my personal apology for our spotty production in recent days. On Christmas Eve, I suffered a stroke that has affected my eyesight (especially my reading and thus my writing) although apparently not much else. The doctors have also been working to figure out exactly what happened since I have never had high blood pressure, I never smoked, and my recent physical found nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps my personal slogan that “every day’s a work day” had something to do with this.

Perhaps, too, the unrelenting ugliness that has become Official Washington and national journalism was a factor. It seems that since I arrived in Washington in 1977 as a correspondent for The Associated Press, the nastiness of American democracy and journalism has gone from bad to worse. In some ways, the Republicans escalated the vicious propaganda warfare following Watergate, refusing to accept that Richard Nixon was guilty of some extraordinary malfeasance (including the 1968 sabotage of President Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks to gain an edge in the election and then the later political dirty tricks and cover-ups that came to include Watergate). Rather than accept the reality of Nixon’s guilt, many Republicans simply built up their capability to wage information warfare, including the creation of ideological news organizations to protect the party and its leaders from “another Watergate.”

So, when Democrat Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election, the Republicans used their news media and their control of the special prosecutor apparatus (through Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle) to unleash a wave of investigations to challenge Clinton’s legitimacy, eventually uncovering his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The idea had developed that the way to defeat your political opponent was not just to make a better argument or rouse popular support but to dredge up some “crime” that could be pinned on him or her. The GOP success in damaging Bill Clinton made possible George W. Bush’s disputed “victory” in 2000 in which Bush took the presidency despite losing the popular vote and almost certainly losing the key state of Florida if all ballots legal under state law were counted. Increasingly, America – even at the apex of its uni-power status – was taking on the look of a banana republic except with much higher stakes for the world.

Though I don’t like the word “weaponized,” it began to apply to how “information” was used in America. The point of Consortium News, which I founded in 1995, was to use the new medium of the modern Internet to allow the old principles of journalism to have a new home, i.e., a place to pursue important facts and giving everyone a fair shake. But we were just a tiny pebble in the ocean. The trend of using journalism as just another front in no-holds-barred political warfare continued – with Democrats and liberals adapting to the successful techniques pioneered mostly by Republicans and by well-heeled conservatives.

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was another turning point as Republicans again challenged his legitimacy with bogus claims about his “Kenyan birth,” a racist slur popularized by “reality” TV star Donald Trump. Facts and logic no longer mattered. It was a case of using whatever you had to diminish and destroy your opponent.

We saw similar patterns with the U.S. government’s propaganda agencies developing themes to demonize foreign adversaries and then to smear Americans who questioned the facts or challenged the exaggerations as “apologists.” This approach was embraced not only by Republicans (think of President George W. Bush distorting the reality in Iraq in 2003 to justify the invasion of that country under false pretenses) but also by Democrats who pushed dubious or downright false depictions of the conflict in Syria (including blaming the Syrian government for chemical weapons attacks despite strong evidence that the events were staged by Al Qaeda and other militants who had become the tip of the spear in the neocon/liberal interventionist goal of removing the Assad dynasty and installing a new regime more acceptable to the West and to Israel).

More and more I would encounter policymakers, activists and, yes, journalists who cared less about a careful evaluation of the facts and logic and more about achieving a pre-ordained geopolitical result – and this loss of objective standards reached deeply into the most prestigious halls of American media. This perversion of principles – twisting information to fit a desired conclusion – became the modus vivendi of American politics and journalism. And those of us who insisted on defending the journalistic principles of skepticism and evenhandedness were increasingly shunned by our colleagues, a hostility that first emerged on the Right and among neoconservatives but eventually sucked in the progressive world as well. Everything became “information warfare.”

The New Outcasts

That is why many of us who exposed major government wrongdoing in the past have ended up late in our careers as outcasts and pariahs. Legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who helped expose major crimes of state from the My Lai massacre to the CIA’s abuses against American citizens, including illegal spying and LSD testing on unsuspecting subjects, has literally had to take his investigative journalism abroad because he uncovered inconvenient evidence that implicated Western-backed jihadists in staging chemical weapons attacks in Syria so the atrocities would be blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The anti-Assad group think is so intense in the West that even strong evidence of staged events, such as the first patients arriving at hospitals before government planes could have delivered the sarin, was brushed aside or ignored. The Western media and the bulk of international agencies and NGOs were committed to gin up another case for “regime change” and any skeptics were decried as “Assad apologists” or “conspiracy theorists,” the actual facts be damned.

So Hersh and weapons experts such as MIT’s Theodore Postol were shoved into the gutter in favor of hip new NATO-friendly groups like Bellingcat, whose conclusions always fit neatly with the propaganda needs of the Western powers.

The demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia is just the most dangerous feature of this propaganda process – and this is where the neocons and the liberal interventionists most significantly come together. The U.S. media’s approach to Russia is now virtually 100 percent propaganda. Does any sentient human being read the New York Times’ or the Washington Post’s coverage of Russia and think that he or she is getting a neutral or unbiased treatment of the facts? For instance, the full story of the infamous Magnitsky case cannot be told in the West, nor can the objective reality of the Ukrane coup in 2014. The American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the “other side of the story.” Indeed to even suggest that there is another side to the story makes you a “Putin apologist” or “Kremlin stooge.”

Western journalists now apparently see it as their patriotic duty to hide key facts that otherwise would undermine the demonizing of Putin and Russia. Ironically, many “liberals” who cut their teeth on skepticism about the Cold War and the bogus justifications for the Vietnam War now insist that we must all accept whatever the U.S. intelligence community feeds us, even if we’re told to accept the assertions on faith.

The Trump Crisis

Which brings us to the crisis that is Donald Trump. Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton has solidified the new paradigm of “liberals” embracing every negative claim about Russia just because elements of the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency produced a report last Jan 6 that blamed Russia for “hacking” Democratic emails and releasing them via WikiLeaks. It didn’t seem to matter that these “hand-picked” analysts (as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called them) evinced no evidence and even admitted that they weren’t asserting any of this as fact.

The hatred of Trump and Putin was so intense that old-fashioned rules of journalism and fairness were brushed aside. On a personal note, I faced harsh criticism even from friends of many years for refusing to enlist in the anti-Trump “Resistance.” The argument was that Trump was such a unique threat to America and the world that I should join in finding any justification for his ouster. Some people saw my insistence on the same journalistic standards that I had always employed somehow a betrayal.

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Other people, including senior editors across the mainstream media, began to treat the unproven Russia-gate allegations as flat fact. No skepticism was tolerated and mentioning the obvious bias among the never-Trumpers inside the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence community was decried as an attack on the integrity of the U.S. government’s institutions. Anti-Trump “progressives” were posturing as the true patriots because of their now unquestioning acceptance of the evidence-free proclamations of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Hatred of Trump had become like some invasion of the body snatchers – or perhaps many of my journalistic colleagues had never believed in the principles of journalism that I had embraced throughout my adult life. To me, journalism wasn’t just a cover for political activism; it was a commitment to the American people and the world to tell important news stories as fully and fairly as I could; not to slant the “facts” to “get” some “bad” political leader or “guide” the public in some desired direction.

I actually believed that the point of journalism in a democracy was to give the voters unbiased information and the necessary context so the voters could make up their own minds and use their ballot – as imperfect as that is – to direct the politicians to take actions on behalf of the nation. The unpleasant reality that the past year has brought home to me is that a shockingly small number of people in Official Washington and the mainstream news media actually believe in real democracy or the goal of an informed electorate.

Whether they would admit it or not, they believe in a “guided democracy” in which “approved” opinions are elevated – regardless of their absence of factual basis – and “unapproved” evidence is brushed aside or disparaged regardless of its quality. Everything becomes “information warfare” – whether on Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, MSNBC, the New York Times or the Washington Post. Instead of information provided evenhandedly to the public, it is rationed out in morsels designed to elicit the desired emotional reactions and achieve a political outcome.

As I said earlier, much of this approach was pioneered by Republicans in their misguided desire to protect Richard Nixon, but it has now become all pervasive and has deeply corrupted Democrats, progressives and mainstream journalism. Ironically, the ugly personal characteristics of Donald Trump – his own contempt for facts and his crass personal behavior – have stripped the mask off the broader face of Official America.

What is perhaps most alarming about the past year of Donald Trump is that the mask is now gone and, in many ways, all sides of Official Washington are revealed collectively as reflections of Donald Trump, disinterested in reality, exploiting “information” for tactical purposes, eager to manipulate or con the public. While I’m sure many anti-Trumpers will be deeply offended by my comparison of esteemed Establishment figures with the grotesque Trump, there is a deeply troubling commonality between Trump’s convenient use of “facts” and what has pervaded the Russia-gate investigation.

My Christmas Eve stroke now makes it a struggle for me to read and to write. Everything takes much longer than it once did – and I don’t think that I can continue with the hectic pace that I have pursued for many years. But – as the New Year dawns – if I could change one thing about America and Western journalism, it would be that we all repudiate “information warfare” in favor of an old-fashioned respect for facts and fairness — and do whatever we can to achieve a truly informed electorate.

The late Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as the Internet’s first investigative magazine. He saw it as a way to combine modern technology and old-fashioned journalism to counter the increasing triviality of the mainstream U.S. news media.

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Become a Member of Consortium News

Consortium News is offering readers to become members of the first independent news site on the Web, founded by legendary journalist Bob Parry in 1995.

To show your support for Consortium News and help expand its reach you can join our membership program today.

Members who contribute $150 will receive a set of four books written by our founding editor, the late Bob Parry: Fooling America, Lost History, Neck Deep, and America’s Stolen Narrative.

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Yes, Virginia, There Is a Deep State and Bob Parry Exposed It

In his efforts to uncover the Iran-Contra plot and the machinations surrounding Russia-gate, Bob Parry was in the forefront of journalists exposing the inner workings of the Deep State, recalls Ray McGovern during our Winter Fund Drive.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

A year ago yesterday, it became fully clear what was behind the feverish attempt by our intelligence agencies and their mainstream media accomplices to emasculate President Donald Trump with the Russia-gate trope.

It turned out that the objective was not only to delegitimize Trump and make it impossible for him to move toward a more decent relationship with Russia.

On December 12, 2017, it became manifestly clear that it was not only the usual suspects — the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank Complex, namely, the Boeings, Lockheeds, and Raytheons profiteering on high tension with Russia; not only greedy members of Congress upon whom defense contractors lavish some of their profits; not only the TV corporations controlled by those same contractors; and not only the Democrats desperately searching for a way to explain how Hillary Clinton could have lost to the buffoon we now have in the White House.

No, it was deeper than that. It turns out a huge part of the motivation behind Russia-gate was to hide how the Department of Justice, FBI, and CIA (affectionately known as the Deep State) — with their co-opted “assets” in the media — interfered in the 2016 election in a gross attempt to make sure Trump did not win.

Russia-gate: Cui Bono?

This would become crystal clear, even to cub reporters, when the text exchanges between senior FBI officials Peter Strzok and girlfriend Lisa Page were released exactly a year ago. Typically, readers of The New York Times the following day would altogether miss the importance of the text-exchanges.

Readers of Robert Parry’s article on December 13, 2017, “The Foundering Russia-gate ‘Scandal,” would be gently led to understand the importance of this critical extra dimension explaining the the media-cum-anonymous-intelligence-sources frenzied effort to push the prevailing Russia-gate narrative, and — and how captivated and unprofessional the mainstream media had become.

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Bob Parry did not call me frequently to compare notes, but he did call on Dec. 12, 2017 for a sanity check on the release of the Strzok-Page texts. FBI Agent Peter Strzok interviewed Hillary Clinton on her servers (and led that investigation); he was the hand-picked FBI agent who took part in the Jan 2017 light-weight intelligence “assessment” that blamed Russia for the 2016 election result, and he was on special counsel Robert Mueller’s staff investigating alleged Russian interference. Bob and I agreed on the texts’ significance, and I was tempted to volunteer a draft to appear the next day. But it was clear that Bob wanted to take the lead, and it would turn out to be his last substantive piece. He had already laid the groundwork with three articles earlier that month. (All three are worth reading again. Here are the links.

Here’s how Bob began his article on the Strzok-Page bombshell. (Not a fragment of it seemed to impact mainstream media.):

The disclosure of fiercely anti-Trump text messages between two romantically involved senior FBI officials who played key roles in the early Russia-gate inquiry has turned the supposed Russian-election-meddling “scandal” into its own scandal, by providing evidence that some government investigators saw it as their duty to block or destroy Donald Trump’s presidency.

As much as the U.S. mainstream media has mocked the idea that an American ‘deep state’ exists and that it has maneuvered to remove Trump from office, the text messages between senior FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and senior FBI lawyer Lisa Page reveal how two high-ranking members of the government’s intelligence/legal bureaucracy saw their role as protecting the United States from an election that might elevate to the presidency someone as unfit as Trump.”

Parry’s Cri de Coeur

Fast forwarding just two weeks, Bob had a stroke on Christmas Eve, which seriously affected his eyesight. By New Year’s Eve 2017, though, he was able to “apologize” (typical Bob) to Consortium News readers for not filing for two weeks.

In January, he had additional strokes. When I visited him in the hospital, he was not himself. What is indelible in my memory, though, is the way he kept repeating from his hospital bed: “It’s too much; it’s just too much, too much.”

What was too much?

Since Bob told me how hard he had to struggle, with impaired vision, to put together his Dec. 31 piece, and since what he wrote throws such light on Bob and the prostitution of the profession he loved so much, I include a few excerpts below. (Forgive me, but I cannot, for the life of me, pare them down further.)

These paragraphs from Bob are required reading for those who want to have a some clue as to what has been going on in Washington, and the Faustian bargain Strzok — sorry, I mean struck — between the media and the Deep State. Here’s what Bob, clear-eyed, despite fuzzy eyesight, wrote:

On Christmas Eve, I suffered a stroke that has affected my eyesight (especially my reading and thus my writing) although apparently not much else. The doctors have also been working to figure out exactly what happened since I have never had high blood pressure, I never smoked, and my recent physical found nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps my personal slogan that ‘every day’s a work day’ had something to do with this.

Perhaps, too, the unrelenting ugliness that has become Official Washington and national journalism was a factor. It seems that since I arrived in Washington in 1977 as a correspondent for The Associated Press, the nastiness of American democracy and journalism has gone from bad to worse. …

“More and more I would encounter policymakers, activists and, yes, journalists who cared less about a careful evaluation of the facts and logic and more about achieving a pre-ordained geopolitical result –and this loss of objective standards reached deeply into the most prestigious halls of American media. This perversion of principles –twisting information to fit a desired conclusion – became the modus vivendi of American politics and journalism. And those of us who insisted on defending the journalistic principles of skepticism and
evenhandedness were increasingly shunned by our colleagues … Everything became ‘information warfare.’ …

The demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia is just the most dangerous feature of this propaganda process – and this is where the neocons and the liberal interventionists most significantly come together. The U.S. media’s approach to Russia is now virtually 100 percent propaganda. Does any sentient human being read the New York Times’ or the Washington Post’s coverage of Russia and think that he or she is getting a neutral or unbiased treatment of the facts? … The American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the ‘other side of the story.’ Indeed to even suggest that there is another side to the story makes you a ‘Putin apologist’ or ‘Kremlin stooge.’

Western journalists now apparently see it as their patriotic duty to hide key facts that otherwise would undermine the demonizing of Putin and Russia. Ironically, many ‘liberals’ who cut their teeth on skepticism about the Cold War and the bogus justifications for the Vietnam War now insist that we must all accept whatever the U.S. intelligence community feeds us, even if we’re told to accept the assertions on faith. …

The hatred of Trump and Putin was so intense that old-fashioned rules of journalism and fairness were brushed aside. On a personal note, I faced harsh criticism even from friends of many years for refusing to enlist in the anti-Trump ‘Resistance.’ The argument was that Trump was such a unique threat to America and the world that I should join in finding any justification for his ouster. Some people saw my insistence on the same journalistic standards that I had always employed somehow a betrayal.

Other people, including senior editors across the mainstream media, began to treat the unproven Russia-gate allegations as flat fact. No skepticism was tolerated and mentioning the obvious bias among the never-Trumpers inside the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence community was decried as an attack on the integrity of the U.S. government’s institutions. Anti-Trump ‘progressives’ were posturing as the true patriots because of their now unquestioning acceptance of the evidence-free proclamations of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

Hatred of Trump had become like some invasion of the body snatchers –or perhaps many of my journalistic colleagues had never believed in the principles of journalism that I had embraced throughout my adult life. To me, journalism wasn’t just a cover for political activism; it was a commitment to the American people and the world to tell important news stories as fully and fairly as I could; not to slant the ‘facts’ to ‘get’ some ‘bad’ political leader or ‘guide’ the public
in some desired direction.”

Robert Parry, who exposed Deep State skullduggery in the Iran-Contra affair, died on January 27, 2018. Our corrupt media, though, live on in infamy. Strokes and pancreatic cancer were the cause. But I think Bob was also a casualty of the stress caused by the Faustian media/Deep State bargain. It was just “too much.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. Bob Parry was happily surprised when he learned that CIA and other intelligence analysts, as opposed to operations people, were as devoted as he was to spreading some truth around; he welcomed our input — in particular the corporate memos from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity; the VIPS archive on CN appears at: https://consortiumnews.com/vips-memos/

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A Concise History of Consortium News by Robert Parry

During the 2011 Winter Fund Drive, ex-CIA analyst (and peace activist) Ray McGovern suggested that the late Bob Parry write a brief narrative to explain Consortium News’ history and goals. 

(If you want to donate to our end-of-year fund drive, please click Donate.)

A Brief Narrative of Consortium News

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

In 1995, after more than two decades in the mainstream news media (AP, Newsweek and PBS), I founded Consortiumnews.com as a home for the serious journalism that no longer had a place in an American news business that had lost its way.

At the time, I was the lead journalist on what had become known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and I had watched first-hand as senior news executives chose to squelch that inquiry apparently out of fear that it would cause another impeachment crisis around another Republican president, Ronald Reagan.

Such a possibility was deemed “not good for the country,” a view held both inside Congress and in the boardrooms of the elite national news media. But I refused to accept the judgment. I continued to pursue the many loose ends of the scandal, from evidence of drug trafficking by Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contras to suspicions that the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran started much earlier, possibly even during the 1980 presidential campaign.

My insistence on getting to the bottom of this historically important story alienated me from my senior editors at Newsweek and from many of my journalistic colleagues who simply wanted to keep their jobs and avoid trouble. But it offended me that the national press corps was signing off on what amounted to a high-level cover-up.

The era of Watergate had come full circle. Instead of exposing crimes and cover-ups, the Washington press corps’ job had changed into harassing and mocking serious investigators the likes of Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh who stayed on the trail.

Consistency and persistence were oh so passe’. The Washington news media had drifted into a culture of careerism where top jobs paid well into the six- and even seven-figures. Your hair style and glib presentation on TV were far more important than the quality of your reporting. And the most important thing was to avoid the wrath of right-wing attack groups who would “controversialize” you.

By the mid-90s, it had become clear to me that there was no feasible way to do the work that had to be done within the confines of the mainstream media. The pressures on everyone had grown too intense. No matter how solid the reporting, many issues were simply off limits, particularly scandals that reflected badly on the admired duo of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Even when I obtained highly classified government documents in 1994-95 shedding light on how U.S. policies toward Iraq and Iran had evolved at the start of the Reagan-Bush era, this information could find no home even in the liberal outliers of the mainstream media.

Quitting the Mainstream

So, on the advice of my oldest son Sam, who told me about this strange new phenomenon called the Internet, I started this Web site in fall 1995.

Besides seeing Consortiumnews.com as a place for serious journalism, I also envisioned it as a refuge for quality journalists who faced the same frustrations that I did. I thought we could provide editing and financial support, as well as an outlet that would distribute their stories to the public. Hence, the rather clunky name, Consortiumnews. At the time, I thought I could raise a significant amount of money for the project.

However, during my initial contacts with public-interest and liberal foundations, I was told that a major objection to funding journalism was the cost. The feeling was that information was an expensive luxury. But I thought I could prove that assumption wrong by applying old-fashioned journalistic standards to this new medium.

To start the Web site the first of its kind on the Internet I cashed out my Newsweek retirement fund and we began producing groundbreaking reporting original to the Web. Over time, we showed that quality journalism could be done at a bargain-basement price.

Yet, despite our journalistic success, foundations and large funders remained skittish. We became an IRS-recognized 501-c-3 non-profit in 1999 (as the Consortium for Independent Journalism) and received some modest grants, but we have never been funded at the level that I had hoped.

Indeed, at the start of the crucial 2000 presidential campaign, our financial situation had grown so dire that I was forced to take an editing job at Bloomberg News and put the Web site on a part-time basis. We still published some important stories about the campaign, including how unfairly the Washington press corps was treating Al Gore and how outrageous the Florida recount was, but we didn’t have the impact that we could have had.

During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2002-03, we also challenged Washington’s conventional wisdom, which was solidly behind George W. Bush’s case for war. But again our voice was muted.

Finally, in early 2004, I felt it was important to pull together our volumes of original material about the Bush Family before that year’s election. For personal financial reasons, I couldn’t leave Bloomberg News until April (and I must admit it wasn’t easy stepping away from a six-figure salary). But I felt I had no choice.

After quitting, I accelerated the pace at Consortiumnews.com and got to work on a book that became Secrecy & Privilege, the history of the Bush Dynasty.

After George W. Bush got his second term, we still kept at it at Consortiumnews.com, contesting his claims about the Iraq War and his broader neoconservative strategy, which combined violence in the Middle East with an assault on civil liberties at home. I felt it was especially crucial to explain the real history of U.S. relations with Iran and Iraq, a narrative that had been grossly distorted by the cover-ups in the 1980s and early 1990s.

MSM and CIA Parallels

To my great satisfaction, we also began developing what might be regarded as unlikely relationships with former CIA analysts, such as Ray McGovern, Peter Dickson, Melvin Goodman and Elizabeth Murray. Though these CIA folks had been trained not to talk to journalists like me, it turned out they also were looking for places to impart their important knowledge.

I found that our experiences had run on parallel tracks. In the 1980s, as the Washington press corps was facing intense pressure to toe the Reagan-Bush line, the CIA analysts were experiencing the same thing inside their offices at Langley. It became clear to me that the Right’s central strategy of that era had been to seize control of the information flows out of Washington.

To do so required transforming both CIA analysts and Washington journalists into propagandists. The crowning achievement of that project had been the cowering CIA “analysis” and the fawning “journalism” that had been used to whip up popular support for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And that is where I fear we still stand, stuck in a dangerous swamp of disinformation, spin and lies.

Though the election of Barack Obama in 2008 showed that the Right’s propaganda machine is not all-powerful, it remains the most intimidating political force in the United States. It can literally create scandals out of nothing, like the “birther” controversy that persuaded many Americans that Obama was born in Kenya despite clear evidence to the contrary. On economic topics, millions of Americans are convinced to oppose their own best interests.

Today, the Right along with much of the Washington mainstream media is reprising the propagandistic treatment of Iraq regarding Iran, with a new conflict increasingly likely as the American public again gets whipped up into a war frenzy.

Still, my hope remains that we can finally gain the financial backing that we need at Consortiumnews.com to be a strong voice for truth and a way to maintain the best principles of journalism in order to counteract the exaggerations and hysteria that are again taking hold in America.

If you want to help us, you can make a donation by credit card at the Web site or by check to Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ); 2200 Wilson Blvd.; Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201. Or you can use PayPal (our account is named after our e-mail address “consortnew@aol.com”).

Since we are a 501-c-3 non-profit, your donation may be tax-deductible. We appreciate any size donation that you can afford.

Here are some other ways you can help us continue our work:

If you’d rather spread out your support in smaller amounts, you can sign up for a monthly donation.

As always, thanks for your support.

Robert Parry

The late Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as the Internet’s first investigative magazine. He saw it as a way to combine modern technology and old-fashioned journalism to counter the increasing triviality of the mainstream U.S. news media.

Please give to our end-of-year fund drive, by clicking Donate.




Consortium News Launches Winter Fund Drive

To keep bringing quality independent journalism in the tradition of our founding editor, the late Robert Parry, we depend on our readers’ support. So today Consortium News launches its year-end, Winter Fund Drive. 

Please Donate to Keep Bob Parry’s Legacy Going

Today Consortium News launches its Winter Fund Drive. We depend on you, the reader, to keep this site going, the first independent news on the internet begun in 1995 by the late, legendary journalist Robert Parry.  We are working hard to maintain the same high standards of journalism that Bob set. Our mission is to bring you news and analysis suppressed by the establishment media. We’ve brought on new, accomplished writers, such as Max Blumenthal, Pepe Escobar, Stefania Maurizi, As’ad AbuKhalil, John Kiriakou, Patrick Lawrence and Diana Johnstone.  We’ve begun Consortium News Radio, and added video reports to our site.  And we plan much more.

We’re on a roll.  To keep it going please donate today!

 

Consortiumnews is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and donations by U.S. taxpayers are fully tax-deductible to the extent of the law. 

 




The Bushes’ ‘Death Squads’

George H.W. Bush was laid to rest on Wednesday but some of his murderous policies lived on through his son’s administration and until this day, as Robert Parry reported on January 11, 2005.

How George W. Bush Learned From His Father

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

By refusing to admit personal misjudgments on Iraq, George W. Bush instead is pushing the United States toward becoming what might be called a permanent “counter-terrorist” state, which uses torture, cross-border death squads and even collective punishments to defeat perceived enemies in Iraq and around the world.

Since securing a second term, Bush has pressed ahead with this hard-line strategy, in part by removing dissidents inside his administration while retaining or promoting his protégés. Bush also has started prepping his younger brother Jeb as a possible successor in 2008, which could help extend George W.’s war policies while keeping any damaging secrets under the Bush family’s control.

As a centerpiece of this tougher strategy to pacify Iraq, Bush is contemplating the adoption of the brutal practices that were used to suppress leftist peasant uprisings in Central America in the 1980s. The Pentagon is “intensively debating” a new policy for Iraq called the “Salvador option,” Newsweek magazine reported on Jan. 9.

The strategy is named after the Reagan-Bush administration’s “still-secret strategy” of supporting El Salvador’s right-wing security forces, which operated clandestine “death squads” to eliminate both leftist guerrillas and their civilian sympathizers, Newsweek reported. “Many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success – despite the deaths of innocent civilians,” Newsweek wrote.

Central America Veterans

The magazine also noted that a number of Bush administration officials were leading figures in the Central American operations of the 1980s, such as John Negroponte, who was then U.S. Ambassador to Honduras and is now U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

Other current officials who played key roles in Central America include Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Central American policies at the State Department and who is now a Middle East adviser on Bush’s National Security Council staff, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a powerful defender of the Central American policies while a member of the House of Representatives.

The insurgencies in El Salvador and Guatemala were crushed through the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians. In Guatemala, about 200,000 people perished, including what a truth commission later termed a genocide against Mayan Indians in the Guatemalan highlands. In El Salvador, about 70,000 died including massacres of whole villages, such as the slaughter carried out by a U.S.-trained battalion against hundreds of men, women and children in and around the town of El Mozote in 1981. 

The Reagan-Bush strategy also had a domestic component, the so-called “perception management” operation that employed sophisticated propaganda to manipulate the fears of the American people while hiding the ugly reality of the wars. The Reagan-Bush administration justified its actions in Central America by portraying the popular uprisings as an attempt by the Soviet Union to establish a beachhead in the Americas to threaten the U.S. southern border.

[For details about how these strategies worked and the role of George H.W. Bush, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]

More Pain

By employing the “Salvador option” in Iraq, the U.S. military would crank up the pain, especially in Sunni Muslim areas where resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq has been strongest. In effect, Bush would assign other Iraqi ethnic groups the job of leading the “death squad” campaign against the Sunnis.

One Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Perhmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with discussions,” Newsweek reported.

Newsweek quoted one military source as saying, “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving the terrorists. … From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.”

Citing the Central American experiences of many Bush administration officials, we wrote in November 2003 – more than a year ago – that many of these Reagan-Bush veterans were drawing lessons from the 1980s in trying to cope with the Iraqi insurgency. We pointed out, however, that the conditions were not parallel. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Iraq: Quicksand & Blood.”]

In Central America, powerful oligarchies had long surrounded themselves with ruthless security forces and armies. So, when uprisings swept across the region in the early 1980s, the Reagan-Bush administration had ready-made – though unsavory – allies who could do the dirty work with financial and technological help from Washington.

Iraqi Dynamic

A different dynamic exists in Iraq, because the Bush administration chose to disband rather than co-opt the Iraqi army. That left U.S. forces with few reliable local allies and put the onus for carrying out counterinsurgency operations on American soldiers who were unfamiliar with the land, the culture and the language.

Those problems, in turn, contributed to a series of counterproductive tactics, including the heavy-handed round-ups of Iraqi suspects, the torturing of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the killing of innocent civilians by jittery U.S. troops fearful of suicide bombings.

The war in Iraq also has undermined U.S. standing elsewhere in the Middle East and around the world. Images of U.S. soldiers sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners, putting bags over the heads of captives and shooting a wounded insurgent have blackened America’s image everywhere and made cooperation with the United States increasingly difficult even in countries long considered American allies.

Beyond the troubling images, more and more documents have surfaced indicating that the Bush administration had adopted limited forms of torture as routine policy, both in Iraq and the broader War on Terror. Last August, an FBI counterterrorism official criticized abusive practices at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more,” the official wrote. “When I asked the M.P.’s what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occasion … the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.”

Despite official insistence that torture is not U.S. policy, the blame for these medieval tactics continues to climb the chain of command toward the Oval Office. It appears to have been Bush’s decision after the Sept. 11 attacks to “take the gloves off,” a reaction understandable at the time but which now appears to have hurt, more than helped.

TV World

Many Americans have fantasized about how they would enjoy watching Osama bin Laden tortured to death for his admitted role in the Sept. 11 attacks. There is also a tough-guy fondness for torture as shown in action entertainment – like Fox Network’s “24” – where torture is a common-sense shortcut to get results.

But the larger danger arises when the exceptional case becomes the routine, when it’s no longer the clearly guilty al-Qaeda mass murderer, but it is now the distraught Iraqi father trying to avenge the death of his child killed by American bombs.

Rather than the dramatic scenes on TV, the reality is usually more like that desperate creature in Guantanamo lying in his own waste and pulling out his hair. The situation can get even worse when torture takes on the industrial quality of government policy, with subjects processed through the gulags or the concentration camps.

That also is why the United States and other civilized countries have long banned torture and prohibited the intentional killing of civilians. The goal of international law has been to set standards that couldn’t be violated even in extreme situations or in the passions of the moment.

Yet, Bush – with his limited world experience – was easily sold on the notion of U.S. “exceptionalism” where America’s innate goodness frees it from the legal constraints that apply to lesser countries.

Bush also came to believe in the wisdom of his “gut” judgments. After his widely praised ouster of Afghanistan’s Taliban government in late 2001, Bush set his sights on invading Iraq. Like a hot gambler in Las Vegas doubling his bets, Bush’s instincts were on a roll.

Now, however, as the Iraqi insurgency continues to grow and inflict more casualties on both U.S. troops and Iraqis who have thrown in their lot with the Americans, Bush finds himself facing a narrowing list of very tough choices.

Bush could acknowledge his mistakes and seek international help in extricating U.S. forces from Iraq. But Bush abhors admitting errors, even small ones. Plus, Bush’s belligerent tone hasn’t created much incentive for other countries to bail him out.

Instead Bush appears to be upping the ante by contemplating cross-border raids into countries neighboring Iraq. He also would be potentially expanding the war by having Iraqi Kurds and Shiites kill Sunnis, a prescription for civil war or genocide.

Pinochet Option

There’s a personal risk, too, for Bush if he picks the “Salvador option.” He could become an American version of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet or Guatemala’s Efrain Rios Montt, leaders who turned loose their security forces to commit assassinations, “disappear” opponents and torture captives.

Like the policy that George W. Bush is now considering, Pinochet even sponsored his own international “death squad” – known as Operation Condor – that hunted down political opponents around the world. One of those attacks in September 1976 blew up a car carrying Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier as he drove through Washington D.C. with two American associates. Letelier and co-worker Ronni Moffitt were killed.

With the help of American friends in high places, the two former dictators have fended off prison until now. However, Pinochet and Rios Montt have become pariahs who are facing legal proceedings aimed at finally holding them accountable for their atrocities.

[For more on George H.W. Bush’s protection of Pinochet, see Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

One way for George W. Bush to avert that kind of trouble is to make sure his political allies remain in power even after his second term ends in January 2009. In his case, that might be achievable by promoting his brother Jeb for president in 2008, thus guaranteeing that any incriminating documents stay under wraps.

President George W. Bush’s dispatching Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to inspect the tsunami damage in Asia started political speculation that one of the reasons was to burnish Jeb’s international credentials in a setting where his personal empathy would be on display.

Though Jeb Bush has insisted that he won’t run for president in 2008, the Bush family might find strong reason to encourage Jeb to change his mind, especially if the Iraq War is lingering and George W. has too many file cabinets filled with damaging secrets.

This is how this article originally appeared on Consortium News.

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry, the founding editor of Consortium News, broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. His last book, America’s Stolen Narrative, can be obtained in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

If you value this original article, please consider making a donation to Consortium News so we can bring you more stories like this one.

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Bush-41’s October Surprise Denials

Deny everything,” British traitor Kim Philby said as a way for the powerful can bluff past their crimes, something George H.W. Bush knew when he denied charges of his own near treason in the October Surprise case, wrote Robert Parry on 4/6/2016.

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

A recently discovered lecture by the late British traitor Kim Philby contains a lesson that may help explain how George H.W. Bush could bluff and bluster his way past mounting evidence that he and other Republicans conspired in 1980 to block release of 52 U.S. hostages in Iran and thus ensure Ronald Reagan’s election, an alleged gambit that bordered on treason itself.

In a speech in East Berlin in 1981 – just aired by the BBC – the Soviet double-agent Philby explained that for someone like himself born into what he called “the ruling class of the British Empire,” it was easy to simply “deny everything.” When evidence was presented against him, he simply had to keep his nerve and assert that it was all bogus. With his powerful connections, he knew that few would dare challenge him.

Because I was born into the British governing class, because I knew a lot of people of an influential standing, I knew that they [his colleagues in Britain’s MI-6 spy agency] would never get too tough with me,” Philby told members of East Germany’s Stasi. “They’d never try to beat me up or knock me around, because if they had been proved wrong afterwards, I could have made a tremendous scandal.”

That’s why growing evidence and deepening suspicions of Philby’s treachery slid by while he continued spying for the Soviet Union. He finally disappeared in January 1961 and popped up several months later in Moscow, where he lived until his death in 1988.

Though the circumstances are obviously quite different, Philby’s recognition that his patrician birth and his powerful connections gave him extraordinary protections could apply to George H.W. Bush and his forceful denials of any role in the Iran-Contra scandal – he falsely claimed to be “out of the loop” – and also the October Surprise issue, whether the Reagan-Bush dealings with Iran began in 1980 with the obstruction of President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 U.S. Embassy hostages seized by Iranian radicals on Nov. 4, 1979.

Carter’s failure to secure the hostages’ release before the U.S. election, which fell exactly one year later, doomed his reelection chances and cleared the way for Reagan and the Republicans to gain control of both the White House and the Senate. The hostages were only released after Reagan was sworn in as President on Jan. 20, 1981, and as Bush became Vice President.

We now know that soon after the Reagan-Bush inauguration, clandestine U.S.-approved arms shipments were making their way to Iran through Israel. An Argentine plane carrying one of the shipments crashed in July 1981 but the incriminating circumstances were covered up by Reagan’s State Department, according to then-Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East Nicholas Veliotes, who traced the origins of the arms deal back to the 1980 campaign.

This hard-to-believe reality – that the tough-guy Reagan-Bush administration was secretly shipping weapons to Iran after Tehran’s mullahs had humiliated the United States with the hostage crisis – remained a topic for only occasional Washington rumors until November 1986 when a Beirut newspaper published the first article describing another clandestine shipment. That story soon expanded into the Iran-Contra Affair because some of the arm sales profits were diverted to the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

For Bush, the emergence of this damaging scandal, which could have denied him his own shot at the White House, was time to test out his ability to “deny everything.” So, he denied knowing that the White House had been secretly running a Contra resupply operation in defiance of Congress, even though his office and top aides were in the middle of everything. Regarding the Iran arms deals, Bush insisted publicly he was “out of the loop.”

Behind closed doors where he ran the risk of perjury charges, Bush was more forthcoming. For instance, in non-public testimony to the FBI and the Iran-Contra prosecutor, “Bush acknowledged that he was regularly informed of events connected with the Iran arms sales.” [See Special Prosecutor’s Final Iran-Contra Report, p. 473]

But Bush’s public “out of the loop” storyline, more or less, held up going into the 1988 presidential election. The one time when he was directly challenged with detailed Iran-Contra questions was in a live, on-air confrontation with CBS News anchor Dan Rather on Jan. 25, 1988.

Instead of engaging in a straightforward discussion, Bush went on the offensive, lashing out at Rather for allegedly ambushing him with unexpected questions. Bush also recalled an embarrassing episode when Rather left his anchor chair vacant not anticipating the end of a tennis match which was preempting the news.

How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York?” Bush asked testily. “How would you like that?”

Fitting with Philby’s observation, Bush’s bluster won the day. Much of the elite U.S. media, including Newsweek where I was working at the time, sided with Bush and slammed Rather for his sometimes forceful questioning of the patrician Bush.

Having put Rather in his place and having put the Iran-Contra issue to rest – at least as far as the 1988 campaign was concerned – Bush went on to win the presidency. But the history still threatened to catch up with him.

October Surprise Mystery

The October Surprise case of 1980 was something of a prequel to the Iran-Contra Affair. It preceded the Iran-Contra events but surfaced publicly in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra disclosures. This earlier phase slowly came to light when it became clear that the U.S.-approved arms sales to Iran did not begin in 1985, as the official Iran-Contra story claimed, but years earlier, very soon after Reagan and Bush took office.

Also, in the wake of the Iran-Contra Affair, more and more witnesses surfaced describing this earlier phase of the scandal, eventually totaling about two dozen, including former Assistant Secretary of State Veliotes; former senior Iranian officials, such as President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and Defense Minister Ahmad Madani; and intelligence operatives, such as Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe and a CIA-Iranian agent Jamshid Hashemi. Many of these witnesses were cited in a PBS documentary that I co-wrote in April 1991, entitled “The Election Held Hostage.”

After the documentary aired – and amid growing public interest – pressure built on Congress to open a new inquiry into this prequel, but President Bush made clear that his reaction would be to “deny everything.”

On May 3, 1991, at a White House press availability, Bush was asked about reports that he had traveled to Paris in October 1980 to personally seal the deal on having the 52 hostages released only after the election – as Israeli intelligence officer Ben-Menashe had described.

Was I ever in Paris in October 1980?” a clearly annoyed Bush responded, repeating the question through pursed lips. “Definitely, definitely, no.”

Bush returned to the October Surprise topic five days later, his anger still clearly visible: “I can only say categorically that the allegations about me are grossly untrue, factually incorrect, bald-faced lies.”

Yet, despite Bush’s anger – and despite “debunking” attacks on the October Surprise story from the neoconservative New Republic and my then-former employers at Newsweek – the House and Senate each started investigations, albeit somewhat half-heartedly and with inadequate resources.

Still, the congressional October Surprise inquiries sent Bush’s White House into panic mode. The President, who was expecting to coast to reelection in 1992, saw the October Surprise issue – along with the continued Iran-Contra investigation by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh – as threats to his retention of power.

By fall 1991, the Bush administration was pulling together documents from various federal agencies that might be relevant to the October Surprise inquiry. The idea was to concentrate the records in the hands of a few trusted officials in Washington. As part of that process, the White House was informed that there appeared to be confirmation of a key October Surprise allegation.

In a “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991, Associate White House Counsel Paul Beach Jr. wrote that one document that had been unearthed was a record of Reagan’s campaign director William J. Casey traveling to Madrid, Spain, a potentially key corroboration of Jamshid Hashemi’s claim that Casey had met with senior Iranian emissary Mehdi Karrubi in Madrid in late July and again in mid-August 1980.

The U.S. Embassy in Madrid’s confirmation of Casey’s trip had gone to State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson, who was responsible for assembling the State Department documents, according to the memo. Williamson passed on word to Beach, who wrote that Williamson said that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown.”

The significance of this confirmation of Casey’s trip to Madrid can hardly be overstated. The influential October Surprise debunking stories – ballyhooed on the covers of Newsweek and The New Republic – hinged on their joint misreading of some attendance records at a London historical conference which they claimed proved Casey was there and thus could not have traveled to Madrid. That meant, according to the two magazines, that the CIA’s Iranian agent Jamshid Hashemi was lying about arranging Casey’s two meetings with Karrubi in Madrid.

In their double-barreled shoot-down of the October Surprise story, Newsweek and The New Republic created a Washington “group think,” which held that the October Surprise case was just a baseless “conspiracy theory.” But the two magazines were wrong.

I already knew that their analyses of the London attendance records were inaccurate. They also failed to interview key participants at the conference, including historian Robert Dallek who had looked for Casey and confirmed to me that Casey had skipped the key morning session on July 28, 1980.

But 1991 was pre-Internet, so it was next to impossible to counter the false reporting of Newsweek and The New Republic, especially given the powerful conventional wisdom that had taken shape against the October Surprise story.

Not wanting to shake that “group think,” Bush’s White House withheld news of the Williamson-Beach discovery of evidence of Casey’s trip to Madrid. That information was neither shared with the public nor the congressional investigators. Instead, a well-designed cover-up was organized and implemented.

The Cover-up Takes Shape

On Nov. 6, 1991, two days after the Beach memo, Beach’s boss, White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, convened an inter-agency strategy session and explained the need to contain the congressional investigation into the October Surprise case. The explicit goal was to ensure the scandal would not hurt President Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992.

At the meeting, Gray laid out how to thwart the October Surprise inquiry, which was seen as a dangerous expansion of the Iran-Contra investigation where some of prosecutor Walsh’s investigators also were coming to suspect that the origins of the Reagan-Bush contacts with Iran traced back to the 1980 campaign.

The prospect that the two sets of allegations would merge into a single narrative represented a grave threat to George H.W. Bush’s political future. As assistant White House counsel Ronald vonLembke, put it, the White House goal in 1991 was to “kill/spike this story.” To achieve that result, the Republicans coordinated the counter-offensive through Gray’s office under the supervision of associate counsel Janet Rehnquist, the daughter of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Gray explained the stakes at the White House strategy session. “Whatever form they ultimately take, the House and Senate ‘October Surprise’ investigations, like Iran-Contra, will involve interagency concerns and be of special interest to the President,” Gray declared, according to minutes. [Emphasis in original.]

Among “touchstones” cited by Gray were “No Surprises to the White House, and Maintain Ability to Respond to Leaks in Real Time. This is Partisan.” White House “talking points” on the October Surprise investigation urged restricting the inquiry to 1979-80 and imposing strict time limits for issuing any findings, the document said.

In other words, just as the Reagan administration had insisted on walling off the Iran-Contra investigation to a period from 1984-86, the Bush administration wanted to seal off the October Surprise investigation to 1979-80. That would ensure that the public would not see the two seemingly separate scandals as one truly ugly affair.

Meanwhile, as Bush’s White House frustrated the congressional inquiries with foot-dragging, slow-rolling and other obstructions, President Bush would occasionally lash out with invective against the October Surprise suspicions.

In late spring 1992, Bush raised the October Surprise issue at two news conferences, bringing the topic up himself. On June 4, 1992, Bush snapped at a reporter who asked whether an independent counsel was needed to investigate the administration’s pre-Persian Gulf War courtship of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

I wonder whether they’re going to use the same prosecutors that are trying out there to see whether I was in Paris in 1980,” the clearly peeved President responded. “I mean, where are we going with the taxpayers’ money in this political year? I was not in Paris, and we did nothing illegal or wrong here” on Iraq.

At another news conference at the world environmental summit in Brazil, Bush brought up the October Surprise case again, calling the congressional inquiries “a witchhunt” and demanding that Congress clear him of having traveled to Paris.

Taking their cue from the President, House Republicans threatened to block continued funding for the inquiry unless the Democrats agreed that Bush had not gone to Paris. Although Bush’s alibi for the key weekend of Oct. 18-19, 1980, was shaky, with details from his Secret Service logs withheld and with supposedly corroborating witnesses contradicting each other, the Democrats agreed to give Bush what he wanted.

After letting Bush off the hook on Paris, the inquiry stumbled along inconclusively with the White House withholding key documents and keeping some key witnesses, such as Bush’s former national security adviser Donald Gregg, out of reach.

Perhaps more importantly, the Casey-Madrid information from Beach’s memo was never shared with Congress, according to House Task Force Chairman Lee Hamilton, who I interviewed about the missing material in 2013.

Whatever interest Congress had in the October Surprise case faded even more after Bush lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. There was a palpable sense around Official Washington that it would be wrong to pile on the defeated President. The thinking was that Bush (and Reagan) should be allowed to ride off into the sunset with their legacies intact.

So, even as more incriminating evidence arrived at the House task force in December 1992 and in January 1993 – including testimony from French intelligence chief Alexander deMarenches’s biographer confirming the Paris meeting and a report from Russia’s duma revealing that Soviet intelligence had monitored the Republican-Iranian contacts in 1980 – it was all cast aside. The task force simply decided there was “no credible evidence” to support the October Surprise allegations.

Trusting the Suspect

Beyond the disinclination of Hamilton and his investigators to aggressively pursue important leads, they operated with the naïve notion that President Bush, who was a prime suspect in the October Surprise case, would compile and turn over evidence that would prove his guilt and seal his political fate. Power at that level simply doesn’t work that way.

After discovering the Beach memo, I emailed a copy to Hamilton and discussed it with him by phone. The retired Indiana Democratic congressman responded that his task force was never informed that the White House had confirmation of Casey’s trip to Madrid.

We found no evidence to confirm Casey’s trip to Madrid,” Hamilton told me. “The [Bush-41] White House did not notify us that he did make the trip. Should they have passed that on to us? They should have because they knew we were interested in that.”

Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the task force’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was key to the task force’s investigation.

If the White House knew that Casey was there, they certainly should have shared it with us,” Hamilton said. Hamilton added that “you have to rely on people” in authority to comply with information requests.

Therein, of course, lay the failure of the October Surprise investigation. Hamilton and his team were counting on President Bush and his team to bring all the evidence together in one place and then share it with Congress, when they were more likely to burn it.

Indeed, by having Bush’s White House gather together all the hard evidence that might have proved that Bush and Reagan engaged in an operation that bordered on treason, Hamilton’s investigation may have made it impossible for the historical mystery ever to be solved. There is a good chance that whatever documentary evidence there might have been doesn’t exist anymore.

After discovering the Beach memo, I contacted both Beach and Williamson, who insisted that they had no memory of the Casey-to-Madrid records. I also talked with Boyden Gray, who told me that he had no involvement in the October Surprise inquiry, although I had the minutes to the Nov. 6, 1991 meeting where he rallied Bush’s team to contain the investigation.

I also filed a Freedom of Information Act request to have the records of the U.S. Embassy in Madrid searched for the relevant cable or other documents regarding Casey’s trip, but the State Department said nothing could be found.

So, the question becomes: Did Bush’s loyal team collect all the raw documents in one place, not so they could be delivered to Congress, but rather so they could be removed from the historical record permanently, thus buttressing for all time the angry denials of George H.W. Bush?

Surely, someone as skilled in using power and influence as former President Bush (the elder) would need no advice from Kim Philby about how to use privilege and connections to shield one’s guilt. That, after all, is the sort of thing that comes naturally to those who are born to the right families, attend the right schools and belong to the right secret societies.

George H.W. Bush came from the bosom of the American ruling class at a time when it was rising to become the most intimidating force on earth. He was the grandson of a powerful Wall Street banker, the son of an influential senator, and a director of the Central Intelligence Agency. (Along the way, he attended Yale and belonged to Skull and Bones.)

Indeed, Poppy Bush could probably have given Kim Philby lessons on how to brush off suspicions and cover up wrongdoing. Still, Philby’s insight into how the powerful and well-connected can frustrate the investigations and questions of lesser citizens is worth recalling: “Deny everything.”

[To watch a video interview with Robert Parry discussing this article, click here.]

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry, the founding editor of Consortium News, broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. His last book, America’s Stolen Narrative, can be obtained in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

If you value this original article, please consider making a donation to Consortium News so we can bring you more stories like this one.

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