A nursing home aide earning minimum wage caring for Alzheimer's
patients is an unskilled laborer. A grade school teacher pulling
down $25,000 a year in a crumbling inner-city school is barely a
professional. But a politician reaping power, pay, perks and retirement
packages is a public servant.
Calling George W. Bush and Jesse Helms "public servants" is like
calling Iran-contra criminal Elliott Abrams an "outstanding diplomat"--which
is precisely what White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer did
when he announced Abrams' appointment as senior director of the
National Security Council's Office for Democracy, Human Rights and
International Operations. Fleischer conveyed Bush's faith-based
assertion that Abrams is "the best person to do the job," which,
happily for the appointee, does not require Senate confirmation.
For those who don't remember, Abrams was one of the most odious
participants in a
particularly shameful chapter of U.S. history. In the '80s, he was
Ronald Reagan's assistant secretary of state for human rights and
humanitarian affairs and later the assistant secretary of state for
inter-American affairs. In that post, Abrams, in his own words, "supervised
U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean."
"This snake is hard
said Adm. William Crowe Jr., referring to Abrams.
That policy included backing the contras--a surrogate army dedicated
to overthrowing the democratically elected Sandinista government
of Nicaragua. It also involved funding the military thugocracy of
El Salvador and supervising its war against a popular leftist rebellion.
In his role as public servant, Abrams found time to cover up the
genocidal policies of the Guatemalan government and embrace the
government of Honduras while it perpetrated serial human rights
abuses through Battalion 3-16, a U.S.-trained "intelligence unit"
turned death squad.
Thick as thieves with Oliver North, Abrams helped evade congressional
restrictions on aid to the contras. When Congress--spurred on by
protests and embarrassing press disclosures--grew wary of the Central
American wars, the Reaganites sought other avenues for funding them.
Ever eager to serve, Abrams flew to London under the alias "Mr.
Kenilworth" to solicit a $10 million contribution from the Sultan
In the congressional investigations that followed disclosure of
the Iran-contra conspiracies, Abrams was never held accountable
for the human rights violations backed, hidden and funded by the
Reagan administration. Instead Abrams was accused of withholding
information from Congress, a Washington euphemism for bald-face
lying. In 1991, he copped to two counts of withholding information
from Congress (and was granted a Christmas Eve pardon a year later
by President George Bush).
Abrams was none too pleased, even with this slap on the wrist.
According to a May 30, 1994 article in Legal Times, he called
his prosecutors "filthy bastards," the proceedings against him "Kafkaesque,"
and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee "pious clowns"
whose raison d'être was to ask him "abysmally stupid"
questions. (In the spirit of full disclosure: Abrams once called
me a "rotten bitch" after I tactlessly noted that much of the world
considers him a war criminal.)
Abrams' own "full biography," posted on the Web site of the Ethics
and Public Policy Center--an oxymoronic think tank where he wiled
away much of the Democratic interregnum awaiting the collective
amnesia of the American public--omits his unpleasantness with Congress.
In any case, as Fleischer said of Abrams' transgressions, "the president
thinks that's a matter of the past and was dealt with at the time."
Loved ones of the thousand unarmed Salvadoran peasants, including
139 children, killed by U.S.-trained contra troops in the 1981 El
Mozote massacre may be less inclined to let bygones be bygones.
Abrams has been a consistent massacre denier, even calling Washington's
policy in El Salvador a "fabulous achievement." He told Congress
that the reports carried in the New York Times and Washington
Post a month after El Mozote were Communist propaganda.
In 1993, members of a Salvadoran Truth commission testified about
the massacre in a congressional hearing of the House Western Hemisphere
subcommittee. Chairman Robert G. Torricelli (D-New Jersey) vowed
to review for possible perjury "every word uttered by every Reagan
administration official" in congressional testimony on El Salvador.
Abrams denounced Torricelli's words as "McCarthyite crap."
Eventually documentation emerged proving that the Reagan administration
had known about El Mozote and other human rights violations all
along. Abrams, however, carefully denied knowledge of the assassination
of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, committed shortly after the
cleric denounced government terror. "Anybody who thinks you're going
to find a cable that says that Roberto d'Aubuisson murdered the
archbishop is a fool," Abrams was quoted in a March 21, 1993 article
in the Washington Post.
In fact, the Post notes, the U.S. embassy in San Salvador
sent at least two such cables to Washington nailing d'Aubuisson,
the right-wing politician who was the chief architect of the plot
against Romero. The December 21, 1981 cable notes: "A meeting, chaired
by Maj. Roberto d'Aubuisson, during which the murder of Archbishop
Romero was planned. During the meeting, some of the participants
drew lots for the privilege of killing the archbishop."
Now Bush II has given Abrams a post that rewards his special experience.
In the proud ranks of America's public servants, he will join other
Iran-contra vets: Secretary of State Colin Powell; Deputy Secretary
of State Richard Armitage; Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state
for inter-American affairs; and presumably John Negroponte, awaiting
confirmation as U.N. ambassador.
And who says you can't get help like you used to?
Contributing editor Terry J. Allen's work has
appeared in Harper's, The Nation, New Scientist and other
publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.