Not Too Late for a War Crimes Tribunal

He turns 91 this week, so its possible Ronald Reagan cant remember. But Jim Washburn cant forget

The White House later got Congress to approve limited funding for food and medical supplies. What they didn't mention was that they were still secretly funding the contras against the wishes—and outside the knowledge—of the American public.

In January 1984, Reagan secretly approved the CIA's covert mining of Nicaraguan harbors, intended to block shipping and destroy the country's feeble economy. Ships from several nations were subsequently damaged, including a Soviet oil tanker. When the CIA's role was revealed by The Wall Street Journal that April, there was a new uproar, leading to a second funds-stopping Boland Amendment passed in October.

By law, the White House was required to inform the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence of the covert operation. It hadn't, and committee chairman Barry Goldwater (a shining example of what a Republican can stand for) was incensed, writing to CIA director Bill Casey, "I am pissed-off. . . . This is an act violating international law. It is an act of war. For the life of me, I don't see how we are going to explain it."

The International Court of Justice agreed when Nicaragua brought the case to the Hague. While the U.S. had frequently used the same court to enforce international agreements, Reagan chose to ignore its ruling this time, making us a rogue state in the eyes of much of the world.

The covert, illegal funding of the contras continued, with Colonel Oliver North and others soliciting secret contributions from foreign states, making us beholden to them in ways we were never meant to know about. Among the nations entrusted with this potential blackmail material were Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and the Sultanate of Brunei, who sent millions to numbered Swiss bank accounts administered from the White House. One bit of comic relief: the Sultanate was given the wrong account number and deposited $10 million into some lucky stranger's account.

Other strange bedfellows were enlisted, such as Panamanian leader, CIA employee and No. 1 drug runner Manuel Noriega. Clandestine flights delivered arms to the contras and came back loaded with cocaine destined for the U.S. That several top contras were smuggling coke into the States is established fact. If you have doubts that the CIA or White House knew of this, read the literature and make up your own mind. Such allegations would be harder to believe, though, if known truths weren't barely more conscionable.

These elaborate steps—Swiss accounts, dummy corporations, secret flights, etc.—were taken not to deceive the Nicaraguans, who could pretty well figure out where the bullets were coming from, but to deceive the American Congress and public.

It is a grand irony that the White House's free-market attitude and penchant for secrecy crippled even the efforts closest to Reagan's heart: our military buildup was matched by gigantic procurement corruption scandals, and—in the only way the contras were similar to the troops at Valley Forge—the mercenaries in the field were often underfed and ill-equipped because everyone on down the line was grabbing a cut of the action for themselves.

In trying to win overt support for the contras, Reagan sank to the lowest level of fearmongering and hucksterism when he made speeches citing the number of miles between Nicaragua and Harlingen, Texas, as if the besieged Sandinistas were going to hop on a Greyhound bus and wage war on us. This while we were mining their harbors, violating their airspace, sabotaging their economy and secretly funding a war of terror against them—burning crops; bombing power stations; and massacring men, women and children.

Reagan's scare tactics were all the more cynical given that the only Americans killed in Nicaragua had been murdered by the contras. It was a similar story across the border in El Salvador, where Reagan wholeheartedly supported the military government, despite the fact that U.S.-supplied soldiers raped and murdered three American nuns, along with killing an archbishop and anyone else they felt like. Confronted with the evidence, Reagan aides argued (until even they were shamed into silence) that the nuns were rebel gunrunners.

Our American tax dollars used to kill Americans, even nuns, in the name of defeating godless communism: if I had to live with a contradiction like that rattling around inside my head, I'd pray to get Alzheimer's.

In 1981, Reagan, who had criticized Carter for negotiating with Iran, declared, "America will never make concessions to terrorists" and said, "Let terrorists beware: when the rules of international behavior are violated, our policy will be one of swift and effective retribution."

We could almost imagine the missiles flying toward our avowed foes. What we couldn't imagine was that those missiles would be flying aboard cargo jets, delivered to those enemies to use at their pleasure. Reagan also sent them a cake and a Bible.

The nagging October Surprise question aside, by 1985, the administration was shipping arms to Iran, ostensibly in exchange for American hostages, and arranging for intermediary countries such as Israel to do so as well, in violation of the Arms Control Export Act, an embargo on Iran the U.S. had arranged—and in violation of the president's own tough talk. The president is required to make a finding to Congress of covert acts, informing select members of the acts and justifying how the nation would be served by them. Reagan didn't, another violation of the law.

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