Letter to Kerry and Congress on Negroponte and U.S. Terrorism in Iraq
304 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Dear Senator Kerry,
Three weeks into August, sixty “coalition” soldiers have died in Iraq, more than the number for all of July. Despite the impression given in the news media, only ten of these deaths have occurred in or around Najaf. There has in fact been an escalation of violence throughout Iraq, excepting parts of Kurdistan, and U.S. forces are now routinely using planes, helicopters and 155mm howitzers to bomb, rocket, strafe and shell urban areas of Baghdad, Najaf, Kut, Fallujah, Ramadi and other cities in clear violation of our country’s international legal responsibilities towards the people of Iraq. This is raw state terrorism, whose only purpose is to demonstrate to the Iraqis and the world the price that must be paid by anyone who dares to oppose the United States.
The appointment of John Negroponte as Ambassador to Iraq was a clear signal of the policy that the Bush administration was determined to follow. Negroponte took over as Chief Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam in 1964 at a similar moment, as the U.S. struggled to find a new leader to salvage its interests from the chaos and corruption of the Diem regime. He helped to install Thieu, and then watched from various privileged positions as our armed forces killed two million people to defend this equally corrupt regime. When the U.S. finally abandoned Thieu in 1973, Negroponte resigned in protest from his position as Officer-in-Charge for Vietnam at the National Security Council, indicating that, even then, he could not accept that the war was lost.
By contrast, his supporters credit his tenure as Ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 with “saving” Central America from communism at the expense of as few as 200,000 lives, but the actual historical record is less flattering. When he took over in 1981, his Carter-appointed predecessor, Jack Binns, had become critical of human rights abuses by the Honduran government. Negroponte quickly put a very different policy into effect:
a) He turned a blind eye to the extrajudicial executions by the infamous Battalion 3-16 of at least 180 Hondurans who opposed the use of their territory for a U.S. war against Nicaragua, as well as to the the fate of 32 Salvadoran nuns they pushed out of helicopters. (The Baltimore Sun eventually won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering that story!)
b) His aide, Rick Chidester, told the Sun that Negroponte ordered him to delete every mention of executions and torture from a 1982 human rights report.
c) He oversaw a tenfold increase of staff at the embassy, including reportedly the largest CIA station in the world at that time.
d) With assistance from the military government of Argentina and then from Israel, he helped to build a force of “Contras” who killed at least 13,000 Nicaraguans, and terrorized much of that country with a campaign of murder, rape, torture, mutilation and destruction.
e) He arranged more than 50 U.S.-Honduran joint military exercises in Honduras that served as a cover to transfer arms to the Contras. When too many U.S. weapons started turning up in Nicaragua, the U.S. Congress passed the Boland Amendment to outlaw this form of “aid”, leading to the familiar Iran-Contra debacle.
At the end of his tenure, the Sandinistas were reelected by 69% of the Nicaraguan people in an internationally-monitored election in 1984, the U.S. Congress passed the Boland Amendment, and the International Court of Justice and the U.N. General Assembly condemned the U.S. mining of Nicaraguan ports and other illegal U.S. actions. Negroponte was recalled in 1985, and the U.S. then imposed unilateral economic sanctions on Nicaragua, which were ultimately successful in crippling the country’s economy. The United States and the Roman Catholic Church formed an alliance with Violetta Chamorro, the Nicaraguan newspaper publisher, to engineer her election as President in 1990. Today, Nicaragua still rivals Honduras as the poorest country in Latin America, and 60% of its children are so malnourished that they are permanently brain-damaged by anemia.
So, what can we and the Iraqis expect of our new “man in Baghdad”? The tactics being employed in Iraq today are consistent with those he developed in Vietnam and Central America, and there is no evidence that he has developed a wiser view of our country’s interests with the passage of years. His simplistic prescription is to inflict unlimited amounts of pain on the people of Iraq in the belief that this will eventually bend them to his will.
The more damage we do and the longer we prolong this agony for the people of Iraq, the more decisive will be our ultimate defeat, and the weaker will be our position in the “post-Iraq” world. A decision to withdraw now will be hailed as a demonstration of our fundamental rationality and our ability to learn from our mistakes, while to continue this vindictive campaign to punish the Iraqis will only isolate and weaken us even more. The more of our blood, money and time we invest in this insane adventure, the clearer it will be to the whole world that the immense destructive power of our armed forces is impotent to impose our will on one country, let alone the world.
President Bush’s “doctrine of preemption” depends entirely on the assumption that we can choose our enemies and destroy them one at a time at our convenience. The world stood back to let us find out for ourselves that we can’t, even once we’ve selected a disarmed, ethnically divided country to invade. However, if we can find the courage and faith to engage with a world we cannot control, I believe that there will be life after hegemony, and that we can have both a strong economy and a peaceful foreign policy. I grew up in a British naval family as the sun was setting on the British Empire, and I can now see that, forty-eight years after the Suez Crisis, the United Kingdom is a prosperous country at peace with the world. Let us hope that our country can follow a similar path.