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Cheney Cites El Salvador Civil War That Killed 75,000 As Model for Afghanistan

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When asked about the situation in Afghanistan and the upcoming election, Vice President Dick Cheney called it a success in democracy and compared it to El Salvador in the 1980s. We speak with veteran investigative journalist Robert Parry about what he calls the “bloody mess” of El Salvador and Rahul Mahajan about voter manipulation in Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]

  • Vice Presidential debate, October 5, 2004.
  • Rahul Mahajan, independent journalist who has spent time in Iraq. He is author of “Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond” (Seven Stories). And he operates a website at
  • Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and author of the new book “Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.” For years he worked as an investigative reporter for both the Associated Press and Newsweek magazine. His reporting led to the exposure of what is now known as the “Iran-Contra” scandal.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go now to a clip of the candidates talking about Afghanistan. Interestingly enough, a connection that Dick Cheney makes, a historical note to El Salvador. This is Gwen Ifill asking the question.

GWEN IFILL: Tonight we mentioned Afghanistan. We believe that Osama bin Laden is hiding perhaps in a cave somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border. If you get a second term, what is your plan to capture him and then to neutralize those who have sprung up to replace him?

DICK CHENEY: Gwen, we’ve never let up on Osama bin Laden from day one. We’ve actively and aggressively pursued him. We’ve captured or killed thousands of Al Qaeda in various places around the world and especially in Afghanistan. We’ll continue to very aggressively pursue him, and I’m confident eventually we’ll get him. The key to success in Afghanistan has been, again, to go in and go after the terrorists, which we’ve done, and also take down the Taliban regime which allowed them to function there, in effect sponsors, if you will, of the Al Qaeda organization. John Edwards, two and a half years ago, six months after we went into Afghanistan announced that it was chaotic, the situation was deteriorating, the warlords were about to take over. Here we are, two and a half years later, we’re four days away from a democratic election, the first one in history in Afghanistan. We’ve got 10 million voters who have registered to vote, nearly half of them women. That election will put in place a democratically elected government that will take over next December. There’s been enormous progress in Afghanistan, in exactly the right direction, in spite of what John Edwards said two and a half years ago. He just got it wrong. The fact is, as we go forward in Afghanistan, we will pursue Osama bin Laden and the terrorists as long as necessary. We’re standing up Afghan security forces so they can take on responsibility for their own security. We’ll keep U.S. forces there — we have about 16,000 there today — as long as necessary, to assist the Afghans in terms of dealing with their security situation. But they’re making significant progress. We have got President Karzai, who is in power. They have done wonders writing their own constitution for the first time ever. Schools are open. Young girls are going to school. Women are going to vote. Women are even eligible to run for office. This is major, major progress. There will be democracy in Afghanistan, make no doubt about it. Freedom is the best antidote to terror.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Edwards: you have 90 seconds to respond.

JOHN EDWARDS: Someone did get it wrong. But it wasn’t John Kerry and John Edwards. They got it wrong. When we had Osama bin Laden cornered, they left the job to the Afghan warlords. They then diverted their attention from the very people who attacked us, who were at the center of the war on terror, and so Osama bin Laden is still at large. Now, I want to go back to something the vice president said just a minute ago, because these distortions are continuing. He said that — made mention of this global test. What John Kerry said — and it’s just as clear as day to anybody who was listening — he said: We will find terrorists where they are and kill them before they ever do harm to the American people, first. We will keep this country safe. He defended this country as a young man, he will defend this country as president of the United States. He also said very clearly that he will never give any country veto power over the security of the United States of America. Now, I know the vice president would like to pretend that wasn’t said, and the president would too. But the reality is it was said. Here’s what’s actually happened in Afghanistan, regardless of this rosy scenario that they paint on Afghanistan, just like they do with Iraq. What’s actually happened is they’re now providing 75 percent of the world’s opium. Not only are they providing 75 percent of the world’s opium, large-cut parts of the country are under the control of drug lords and warlords. Big parts of the country are still insecure. And the reality is the part of Afghanistan, eastern Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden is, is one of the hardest places to control and the most insecure.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Vice President.

DICK CHENEY: All right, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: 30 seconds.

DICK CHENEY: Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had — guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. And the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote. And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections. The power of that concept is enormous. And it will apply in Afghanistan, and it will apply as well in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Dick Cheney and John Edwards in their only debate. It took place last night at Case Western Reserve in Ohio. Bob Parry, you have written a book, Secrecy and Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty From Watergate to Iraq. You worked as an investigative reporter for both Newsweek and A.P. Your reporting led to the exposure of what is now called the Iran-Contra scandal. I want to start with the last point and then we’ll talk about Afghanistan. What about the parallels to El Salvador two decades ago?

ROBERT PARRY: Well, the Vice President’s account is just not accurate. I was also in El Salvador in 1982. I presume that’s the election he’s referring to. There was an election held. Was it during the civil war in El Salvador. These accounts of the guerrillas shooting up polling places just didn’t happen. I know President Reagan tried to create —

AMY GOODMAN: The “terrorists” shooting up —

ROBERT PARRY: Right. They often were called terrorists. People forget that the war on terror was also being applied in Central America, even though it was often the security forces of the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala that were conducting the terror. The 75,000 people killed in El Salvador that Mr. Cheney mentioned, the vast majority, the vast, vast majority were killed by Salvadoran security forces and not in battle but taken out and executed, often tortured and raped first. This was a bloody mess, and the United States, under then President Reagan and Vice President Bush, supported it, and they advocated it, and they tried to cover up the facts of the matter. It was — what we saw in El Salvador and Central America in the 1980’s in parallel in some ways. There was a concept that was being brought to bear at the time called perception management. It really emanates from the C.I.A. It was a concept that they had which was then increasingly applied to the American people. The idea is that if you can control how a population perceives events, you can then dictate the policies responding to false facts. And in Central America, the idea was to create a myth about what was occurring there, and creating a great deal of fear among Americans about the Soviet Union somehow establishing a beachhead and then attacking through Texas. And there was this effort to create an hysteria about Central America that was used then to protect the policies which were to aggressively support the security forces in Guatemala and El Salvador, and in the case of Nicaragua to support the Contra rebels that were fighting the leftist Sandinista government. But in terms of what happened in the election in 1982, it’s mythical to describe these guerrilla attacks or terrorist attacks on polling places. I mean, I was down there; I was a pool reporter for the A.P. I was with the same delegation that Cheney is talking about. I was a pool reporter for that congressional investigation that went down to watch the elections. You know, we weren’t — I wasn’t everywhere, but that just didn’t happen. There were no reports at the time. So, I think that what Cheney is doing is continuing to create this false history of what happened in Central America, and trying to apply it now to Iraq, which is — which is not probably the best way to pursue sound policy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting to go back to Dick Cheney’s record at that time. We’re going to do that in a minute with John Nichols who has just published the new highly unauthorized biography called Dick: The Man Who Is President. But before we do that, Rahul Mahajan, the response on Afghanistan.

RAHUL MAHAJAN: Yeah, it’s interesting that even in El Salvador, the last election was again done under the cloud of crude intimidation by republicans in which they said basically that El Salvadoran remittances would be stopped in the wrong people won in El Salvador. In Afghanistan, this election that’s coming up is extremely manipulated. In fact, Zalmay Khalilzad, the neoconservative U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan has been pressuring so many presidential candidates to resign and throw their support to Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-picked candidate, that the main oppositional candidate, Yunos Qanuni, called a meeting of himself and 13 other presidential candidates in Kabul simply to discuss his manipulation. Furthermore, these claims of 10 million people registered are actually an embarrassment, not an achievement. It’s quite possible that there are more people registered than are eligible to vote in Afghanistan, and registrations are being taken up by warlords and presumably mostly by U.S.-backed people. It’s going to be an extreme sham of an election. And it’s beginning to look like the elections in Iraq in January will be the same kind of sham.

AMY GOODMAN: The election this weekend, tomorrow the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan.

RAHUL MAHAJAN: Yeah. Three years. Three years after the bombing of Afghanistan, which according to The Guardian, may have killed over 20,000 people, and the country is still in the state of chaos. It’s true that girls and women are more able to go to school and less likely to be beaten in public, but they’re more likely to be raped and abducted. So it’s a tradeoff that’s very unclear even for them.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, I wanted to bring you into this conversation you run the editorial page of the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. You are the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine. You have been watching Dick Cheney for a long time, as you have just written the unauthorized biography of him, but also watching John Edwards closely, as well. Your overall reaction to this debate?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, I thought it was a pretty remarkable debate. The first 20-25 minutes provided one of the more engaged debates, actually, where you had two people challenging one another in pretty blunt terms. I liked that. But I was a little sad that John Edwards didn’t come back at Cheney far more aggressively on some points. It was terrific that he threw the rising republican opposition to the war and questioning of this war in Cheney’s face. That was great, but in that point where we were just talking about, El Salvador, I was sorry that John Edwards is not so deeply experienced as a lot of people in politics that he wasn’t really in the game back in the 1980s, because that was such an incredible opening. The fact of the matter is that Dick Cheney was one of the most passionate supporters of funding the Contras, of the most vile players in El Salvador, Guatemala, other countries when he served in Congress in the 1980s. He was personally responsible for the minority report that challenged the congressional attempts to crack down on Iran-Contra. I mean, you could have gone after Cheney in a lot of detailed ways on his record from the 1980s, which is very a troubling record where he supported the administration violating the law and going against what Congress has said. He also, I think, could have done a better job of connecting Cheney’s past record to the current mess. It’s no surprise that Cheney went to El Salvador, as his model, for what he wants to see in Afghanistan and Iraq. It won’t turn out. I mean, El Salvador won’t serve as a model because there’s a lot of reasons; the two places are very different. But at core, Cheney saw what happened in El Salvador in the 1980s as just fine. Hundreds of thousands of people killed by death squads, the horrors that occurred in those countries. That didn’t bother him at all, and I’ll tell you why. He saw it as part of the Cold War. And many people call Cheney a neoconservative. The fact is the best way to understand him as an unreconstructed Cold Warrior. He loved the Cold War. He thought it was a great struggle. He has been looking ever since the Cold War ended for a new Cold War-like struggle where you could have client states, where you can set up faux elections, and the fact that he referenced El Salvador was the most telling thing in the debate. I just wish that Edwards had gone after it a lot more aggressively.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, John Kerry, deeply involved in investigating Iran-Contra. Bob Parry and John Nichols on that point.

ROBERT PARRY: It’s true. John Kerry knows a great deal about Central America. He was one of the lead players first following up on some of the work we were doing at A.P. when we did the first stories about the Oliver North operations in 1985. It was John Kerry who picked up on that. We also did a story about the Contras getting involved in drug trafficking in December of 1985, and John Kerry picked up on that. He began an investigation in 1986, which brought him under a great deal of attack in Washington, both by people in the political establishment, but also in much of the news media, not just the conservative media, but also The New York Times and The Washington Post. he was dismissed as kind of a conspiracy theorist, even though his investigation has proved out historically to be very sound. The Contras were deeply involved in drug trafficking, and the C.I.A. in 1998 finally put out that report, the Hitz report, by their inspector general, confirming pretty much everything John Kerry had alleged in the 1980s. But because of the way the Reagan-Bush administration controlled that narrative of the war, of that whole era, much of it through the perception management concept where they falsified the history, John Kerry was basically forced to drop that as part of his resume. It became so controversial, and even though he was ultimately vindicated, it’s a hard thing for him to bring back up. So sadly a very really important chapter of John Kerry’s history as a politician in Washington has been obscured and lost. But again it goes to this point that it’s — that America has been sort of had imposed on it this bogus history of what happened in Central America in the 1980s. And as John mentioned, the efforts to contain the Iran-Contra scandal, which were pretty effective, frankly, in the latter part of the 1980s has helped create this myth about Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. and what they did or didn’t do. We don’t have a good history of that period. That’s in my new book. Secrecy and Privilege tries to go at this and explain how we got there.

JOHN NICHOLS: If I can come in on that and —

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, can you hold your thought, because we have to go to break. But we’ll come back to you and then we’ll look at what the pundits called the dropping of the H-bomb, Halliburton, and John Edwards raising it, and Dick Cheney’s record on it. This is Democracy Now! We’re talking to Rob Parry, who is author of Secrecy and Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty From Watergate to Iraq. Rahul Mahajan, who is author of Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond. John Nichols also on a line us with. His new book is the highly unauthorized called, Dick: The Man Who is President.

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Edwards Attacks Cheney On Halliburton Dealings in Iran, Bribing Foreign Officials and No-Bid Contract in Iraq

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