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Death Squad Ambassador: Senate Hearings Begin on Negroponte Iraq Appointment

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding hearings today on John Negroponte’s appointment to the Baghdad embassy. Negroponte’s reputation as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 earned him a reputation for supporting widespread human rights abuses and campaigns of terror. [includes rush transcript]

Two events happened last week that at first glance may not seem to be related. Honduras announced that it was withdrawing its troops from Iraq, following the lead of Spain’s new government. The second event was that President Bush announced he was appointing John Negroponte to head up the U.S. embassy in Iraq. Perhaps the two events are just a coincidence, or maybe the Hondurans know something most of the world hasn’t been told. And that is the record of John Negroponte as U.S. ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s.

Negroponte currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But it is his reputation as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 that earned him a reputation for supporting widespread human rights abuses and campaigns of terror. As ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte played a key role in coordinating US aid to the Contra death squads in Nicaragua and shoring up a CIA-backed death squad in Honduras. During his term as ambassador there, diplomats alleged that the embassy’s annual human rights reports made Honduras sound more like Norway than Argentina.

According to a four-part series in the Baltimore Sun, in 1982 alone the Honduran press ran 318 stories of murders and kidnappings by the Honduran military. In a 1995 series, Sun reporters Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson detailed the activities of a secret CIA-trained Honduran army unit, Battalion 3-16, that used “shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves.” In 1994, Honduras’s National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights reported that it was officially admitted that 179 civilians were still missing.

Former official Rick Chidester, who served under Negroponte, says he was ordered to remove all mention of torture and executions from the draft of his 1982 report on the human rights situation in Honduras. During Negroponte’s tenure, US military aid to Honduras skyrocketed from $3.9 million to over $77 million. Much of this went to ensure the Honduran army’s loyalty in the battle against popular movements throughout Central America.

In the hearings on Negroponte’s appointment to his current post as UN ambassador, he was questioned by Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members on whether he had acquiesced to human rights abuses by death squads funded and partly trained by the Central Intelligence Agency. Negroponte testified that he did not believe the abuses were part of a deliberate Honduran government policy. “To this day,” he said, “I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras.”

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding hearings on Negroponte’s appointment to the Baghdad embassy, which will be the largest US embassy in the world, with some 3,000 employees and more than 500 CIA officers. But many Democrats have indicated that they will not question Negroponte about his record in Central America, calling it ancient history. When asked about the appointment, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd said, “It’s critically important that we get an ambassador there.”

  • Sister Laetitia Bordes, a Catholic nun with the Society of Helpers, a Catholic community of women. She joins us from San Bruno California.

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

AMYGOODMAN: Sister Laetitia Bordes is with us, a Catholic nun with the society of Helpers, a Catholic community of woman, speaking to us from San Bruno, California. You were involved in opposing Negroponte’s appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the UN, why?

SISTER LAETITIA BORDES: Good morning, Amy. Yes. I was really involved in that. When I found out that John Negroponte was going to be nominated as the ambassador to the UN, I just was in complete shock. At that time, my mind went back to 1982. In 1982, I had gone to Honduras on a fact-finding delegation because there were 32 women from El Salvador who had taken refuge in Honduras. They had taken refuge from the Salvadorian death squads. These women had been followers of Archbishop Romero. And after his assassination in 1980 they fled to Honduras. Shortly after they got there all these women disappeared There were witnesses to the disappearance. They were living in a house of refuge, and they were taken out of that house, put in a van, and nothing more was heard about them. So, in 1982, I went with the delegation to Honduras, and during those eight long days that we were there, twice we met with John Negroponte, who absolutely denied that he knew anything about the disappearance of these women. Also, I remember so well, John Negroponte kept on saying that the U.S. Embassy did not interfere in the affairs of the Honduran government, and that we would have to deal with that issue with the government. We would return to the Honduran government, who in turn would send us back to John Negroponte and they would tell us that our embassy were the best people to help us in this case. This went on for eight days, this back and forth. When we were not meeting with him, we were meeting with various people, people working in human rights. We were hearing about the horrible, horrible atrocities that were going on in Honduras at that time, and we were reading the paper and even in the newspapers we would read about people disappearing. And John Negroponte kept on insisting that he knew nothing about this, and, of course, we knew that he was lying to us. When I went there, Amy, I must tell you, I was quite naive. I thought we were going to go there and we were going to come back and on the plane with us we would be bringing back these two — these 32 women. And what I found out when I was in Honduras, I saw how our government was implicated not only in what was going on in Honduras but what was going on in El Salvador, what was going on in Nicaragua, and everything was meshed in that the U.S. Embassy in Honduras just stood for a very, very evil object, right there, that was commanding these people — things going on in Central America.

AMYGOODMAN: Your thoughts today on John Negroponte being nominated as the U.S. Representative in Iraq, replacing Paul Bremer.

SISTER LAETITIA BORDES: I’m filled with sadness. I’m filled with fear. I fear that the people of Iraq, because I feel that John Negroponte certainly is not concerned about the democracy of Iraq. I think that John Negroponte is concerned about his reputation. He is an expert in counter insurgency tactics. We see that in his background. And John Negroponte will stop at nothing. At nothing.

AMYGOODMAN: We want to ask that you come back with us tomorrow. We’re going to play excerpts, we hope, of the hearing today, and get your comment on that tomorrow. Sister Laetitia Bordes testified, has worked against the nomination of Negroponte as U.S. Ambassador, met him in Honduras when he was ambassador in the early 1980’s, the height of the death squad known as Battalion 316 that was trained by the U.S. Government. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to go to Colombia and find out why a dissident shareholder was dragged out from the shareholders’ meeting and speak with a journalist about his new book, Colombia and the United States, War, Unrest and Destabilization.

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