Dems Ignore Negroponte’s Death Squad Past, Look to Confirm Iraq Appointment

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At a Senate hearing on the appointment of John Negroponte to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Negroponte was never questioned about supporting widespread campaigns of terror and human rights abuses as ambassador to Honduras. We speak to a priest and a nun who lived in Latin America in the early 1980s as well as a human rights activist who disrupted Negroponte at the Senate hearing. [includes rush transcript]

Yesterday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on President Bush’s nominee for US ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte and reports from Capitol Hill indicate that he is now on a fast-track for Senate confirmation. The vote could come as early as Friday.

If confirmed Negroponte will head up the largest US embassy in the world, with more than 3,000 employees and over 500 CIA officers. Despite what some would call Negroponte’s infamous history in Central America as US ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s, he has come up against almost no Congressional opposition, even from Senate democrats who once criticized him for supporting widespread human rights abuses.

As ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte played a key role in coordinating US covert 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. In a 1995 series, the Baltimore Sun 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.

A former official 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.

Despite Negroponte’s history, Democrats have not offered any organized resistance to his nomination. In fact some observers described yesterday’s hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a love fest. Sen. Chris Dodd who opposed Negroponte when the committee reported his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2001, has now come out in support of him, saying, “Whatever differences I’ve had years ago with John Negroponte, I happen to feel he’s a very fine Foreign Service officer and has done a tremendous job in many places.”

  • Senator Chris Dodd, speaking at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on John Negroponte.

While most Democrats either praised Negroponte or refused to raise his past record, some of the toughest questioning came from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. But he did not question Negroponte on Central America, but on Iraq.

As Negroponte, responded to Hagel, he was interrupted by an activist, Andres Conteris of Non-violence International.

  • Andres Conteris, is program director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the human rights group Non-violence International. He disrupted yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on John Negroponte’s appointment as US ambassador to Iraq.
  • Father Joe Mulligan, is a Jesuit priest who has been based in Nicaragua for the past 18 years. He has been one of the main activists trying to determine what happened to American priest James Carney, who disappeared in Honduras in 1983. He has met John Negroponte.
  • Sister Laetitia Bordes, a Catholic nun with the Society of Helpers, a Catholic community of women. She is talking to us from San Bruno, California.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Here is some of what Dodd had to say at yesterday’s hearing.

SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD: Since this is a non-traditional confirmation hearing, I was trying to recall a similar kind of a hearing. We haven’t gone the extent that the finance committee did a number of years ago when our former colleague Lloyd Benton was nominated by President Clinton to be Secretary of the Treasury. Pat Moynihan moved the nomination in the committee and then they proceeded with the questions. They actually voted him out before they started the questions. We’re not going that far, John, here, but in a sense, what I’m getting at here, it’s obvious that this committee is going to confirm your nomination. So, in the traditional sense, the normal question and answer period is not really appropriate here because I don’t think anything that you are going to say is going to dissuade any of us that you should not be the choice and get this job done.

AMY GOODMAN: Connecticut Senator, Christopher Dodd, speaking yesterday at the senate foreign relations hearings yesterday. Most democrats either praised Negroponte or refused to raise his past record, some of the toughest questioning come from republican Senator, Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska. He didn’t question Negroponte on Central America, but rather on Iraq. Negroponte responded to Hagel, he was interrupted by an activist and filmmaker, Andres Conteris of the non-violence international.

CHUCK HAGEL: If they have sovereignty, Mr. Ambassador what does that mean? Do they or don’t they have sovereignty on a specific issue like that, which obviously could widen and be applied to any military exercise or national security issue?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: And that is why I used the term exercise of sovereignty. I think in the case of military activity, they will — their forces will come under the unified command of the multinational force. That is the plan, and I — I think that as far 58s American forces are concerned, coalition forces, I think they’re going to have the freedom to act in their self-defense and are going to be free to operate in Iraq, as they best see fit, but when it comes to issues like Fallujah, as I discussed earlier, I think that that is going to be the kind of situation that is going to have to in addition to everything else be the subject of real dialogue between our military commanders, the new Iraqi government, and I think the united states mission as well.


ANDRES CONTERIS: Mr. Ambassador, there can be no dialogue if the United States —

SPEAKER: Please. Let’s have order in the hearing. Please. Please.

ANDRES CONTERIS: Mr. Ambassador, please —

SPEAKER: Please, let the ambassador testify. Appreciate the comments from the audience.

ANDRES CONTERIS: There is no sovereignty, Mr. Ambassador. There is no sovereignty if the United States continues to exercise security in Iraq. Senators, please ask the ambassadors about the Battalion 316. He had involvement with a death squad in Honduras that he supported.

AMY GOODMAN: Andres Conteris for the human rights group, non-violence international interrupting the hearings for John Negroponte. It was hard to understand what you were saying. What did you say, and why did you feel the need to interrupt this nomination confirmation hearing?

ANDRES CONTERIS: Amy, I felt it was imperative for those of us who support peace and non-violence to be at this hearing where this — where this man who we considered to be a state terrorist is about to be confirmed to the largest diplomatic post in U.S. history. What Negroponte was saying at the time is that when it comes to issues like Fallujah, there — we need to engage in real dialogue, and I could not believe that he would use such words. I rose and spoke and said that there could be — can be no dialogue as long as the U.S. continues to commit war on Iraq. I then went on to say that the people of Honduras consider him to be a state terrorist, and that we need to be pursuing non-violence in the Middle East instead of the — the way that we are committing violence there with the war. I went on to then emphasize that the senators need to ask the ambassador — about his involvement in human rights violations and particularly his support for a depth squad called Battalion 316 while he was ambassador in the early 1980’s in Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the phone by sister Laetitia Bordes, catholic nun with the Society of Helpers, which is a catholic community of women from San Bruno, California. And Father Joe Mulligan, a Jesuit priest who has been in Nicaragua for the past 18 years. One of the main people trying to determine what happened to a U.S. priest named James Carney who disappeared in Honduras in 1938. You have met with John Negroponte, Father John Mulligan. Can you talk about his record as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985? Father John Mulligan? Father Joe?


AMY GOODMAN: You can talk about the record of Ambassador Negroponte from 1981 to 1985?

FATHER MULLIGAN: Well, Ambassador Negroponte was, of course, in charge of U.S. policy in Honduras and also in relation to U.S. policy trying to help to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, so he was the main person responsible for that intervention in the sovereign affairs of Nicaragua and now he’s apparently about to be appointed our Ambassador to Iraq where we’re seeing a much more drastic and massive and direct intervention in a sovereign country, but also, I think the fact that Mr. Negroponte, when he was ambassador in Honduras, he did not report adequately, nor did the C.I.A. report adequately, to Washington on Honduran army violations of human rights. We have this in the C.I.A. inspector general’s report on C.I.A. activities in Honduras in the 1980’s, various statements and much of the material was blacked out, but there are a number of statements to the effect that the U.S. Embassy in that period of time and the C.I.A. were downplaying Honduran army violations of human rights in their reports to Washington. This does not show well for the ability of the American people to know what the United States is doing, will be doing in Iraq, and what the security forces that we are creating will be doing in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about what happened to James Carney in Honduras and about this Battalion 316. I’m also going to put the question to Laetitia Bordes, who we started a conversation with yesterday. First, we’re going to break for stations to identify themselves. We’re talking about the confirmation of John Negroponte as Ambassador to Iraq once the handover takes place. He will be replacing L. Paul Bremer. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. I am very much looking forward to seeing listeners of WPFW as well as viewers of Baltimore public access TV, I think it’s channel 5 tonight in Washington, D.C., as we celebrate community radio via UDC Auditorium on Van Ness University of District of Columbia in our continuation of the Exception to the Rulers tour. You can call WPFW if you want more information. I’m Amy Goodman, and we’re talking about John Negroponte, to be confirmed, as early as Friday, as the next ambassador to Iraq, replacing L. Paul Bremer. We’re talking to Father Joe Mulligan, a Jesuit priest who had been based in Nicaragua for the past 18 years, one of the main people trying to determine what happened to Father James Carney, who was a priest who disappeared in 1983. You dealt directly with John Negroponte as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985.

FATHER MULLIGAN: Well, I talked to Mr. Negroponte at the State Department some years after that. We talked about the case of Father Jim Carney. During that period of time when he was ambassador, I did not have contact with him. He told me that he simply accepted the Honduran military’s version of what might have happened, which was simply that they didn’t know anything about Father Carney. Of course, his body has never been found, but the Honduran military said they didn’t know anything about him, but if he was a member of this insurgent group of Hondurans which had come in from Nicaragua, perhaps he had simply starved to death in the mountains. That’s been the official position of the Honduran military and government and Mr. Negroponte said he didn’t have any reason to doubt that, and that he had not really looked any further into it, because he left that up to the Hondurans.

AMY GOODMAN: Battalion 316, Sister Laetitia Bordes, can you talk about this, and why you met with Negroponte as ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980’s.

SISTER LAETITIA BORDES: Why yes, good morning Amy. As I mentioned yesterday on your program, I had gone to Honduras to meet with then-ambassador John Negroponte to find out what had happened to 32 women from El Salvador, who had taken refuge in Honduras and who disappeared. At that time there was the Battalion 316. The Battalion was another name for the horrible death squad that was operating in Honduras at that time. That was well known to ambassador Negroponte. The reason I say it was very well known to ambassador Negroponte was that General Alvarez Martinez was then chief of the Honduran armed forces, and he was the secret head of battalion 316. Now, Negroponte and Martinez, the people would tell you, it was known that they would wine and dine together, and had ongoing connections. So, it is absurd to think that Mr. Negroponte would say that he did not know what was going in El Salvador at that time. As I found out 13 years later that the women we were looking for had been badly, badly tortured and then put in a helicopter and dropped into the ocean. They used Salvadoran military and helicopters to take these women and drop them over the ocean. Now, Battalion 316 continued to function the whole time that Negroponte was there, and I don’t think too many people know that General Gustavo Martinez was kind of, quote, “Beheaded by his own military.” There was kind of a coup, and he took temporary refuge in the United States. When he went back to Honduras, he was assassinated. I don’t think many people know about that. It is believed that he was assassinated by members of the military, who were very upset with him because of deals that he had made with the United States while he was the general. What angers me — angers me very, very much is that there’s absolutely no reference being made to the past of Mr. Negroponte in Honduras during these hearings. We just don’t hear anything about it. We do not learn from our history. The people of Iraq are those who are going to be the ongoing victims of John Negroponte, who believes that the end justifies the means.

AMY GOODMAN: Father Joe Mulligan, were you surprised that democrats like Senator Christopher Dodd who had actually objected to Negroponte’s nomination as ambassador to the United Nations are not raising questions now and are in fact fully supporting him?

FATHER MULLIGAN: Yes, I have been surprised and very disappointed. I think that his past record is something that needs to be scrutinized if we’re going to have an ambassador in charge of the largest U.S. Embassy in the world. We need somebody who does not have the history of as the C.I.A. Inspector general said, “Downplaying the human rights situation, downplaying the problem of violations of human rights in that country.” I might just said something about Battalion 316 — one of the former members of Battalion 316 who deserted from that Battalion and left Honduras about in the mid 1980’s has testified in a number of instances that Father Jim Carney was captured by the Honduran army and turned over for interrogation and torture and elimination by Battalion 316. So, we have different kinds of reports about the fate of Father Carney. As I said earlier, Mr. Negroponte has simply accepted the official statement of the Honduran military that perhaps Father Carney, an American citizen, starved to death in the mountains. There was also another American citizen in that group. It was a small group of Honduran insurgents who entered Honduras from Nicaragua, Father Carney went along as a Chaplain, accompanying the group, but there was another U.S. Citizen, a Nicaraguan American, in that group, David Baez, who had interestingly enough been a member of the U.S. Green Berets for about 11 years previously and had returned to his native country, Nicaragua, and then joined this group of about 100 Hondurans, along with Father Carney going into Honduras, and David Baez, another U.S. Citizen, also disappeared. We have never been able to find his remains, nor have we been able to find out exactly what happened. I think the ambassador — the U.S. Ambassador in a particular country is responsible to investigate what happened in the case of this — of this disappearance of two American citizens, and Mr. Negroponte simply accepted the official Honduran line on that, and as I said, he — the Embassy and the C.I.A. Were under — underestimating or underreporting the violations of human rights in Honduras in their reports to Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Father Joe Mulligan, I want to thank you for being with us. I should also add that Father Mulligan has just come out of jail, serving three months for protesting at the School of the Americas in Georgia. Sister Laetitia Bordes with the Society of Helpers, thank you. And Andres Conteris, with the group Nonviolence International and one of the filmmakers of “Hidden In Plain Sight”, a film about the School of the Americas.

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