Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 8:39 pm

“When the Constitution became a puppet show.”


Charles Pierce on the impending 25th anniversary of Iran-Contra:

It remains the great lost opportunity. If the crimes of what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal had been investigated the way they should have been — which is to say, had they been investigated all the way up to criminal indictments at the top of the executive branch, and impeachment inquiries into the conduct of relevant officials, including the president — the political world would have been changed utterly, as Mr. Yeats once put it. The ongoing project of turning Reagan into a secular saint at least would have been slowed to a crawl had an inquiry proven in court that he engaged in peddling arms to a terrorist-sponsoring state. (Instead, when we all went nutty on the subject of terrorism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Iran-Contra hardly got a mention and, to this day, people seem more concerned about the Muslim influence on Butterball turkeys than in the fact that Saint Ronnie once sold missiles to the mullahs.) The George H.W. Bush administration might never have happened, for all that would have meant to George W. Bush’s eventual career. Criminalizing the constitutional crimes that are the inevitable result of the theory of the “unitary executive” might have encouraged the nation to ignore the ravings of an authoritarian lycanthrope like Richard Cheney.

I can remember what happened instead. Washington decided, quite on its own, that “the country” didn’t need another “failed presidency,” so what is now known as The Village circled the wagons to rescue Reagan from his crimes. There was the customary gathering of Wise Men — The Tower Commission — which buried the true scandal in Beltway off-English and the passive voice. There was a joint congressional investigation that served only to furnish people like Oliver North with legal loopholes that prevented their incarceration. There was poor Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor, whom everybody wished would simply go away, but who pressed on, making a case that ultimately forced President Poppy Bush to pardon everyone except Shoeless Joe Jackson on his way out the door in 1992.

The press was next to useless. (Mark Hertsgaard’s On Bended Knee is the essential text here.) Hell, the scandal was uncovered by two guys in Beirut with a mimeograph machine. And while there was some excellent work done in spots by the elite American press, the general tone was that the scandal was “too complex” for the country to follow, which led to its having “dragged on too long” and to the eventual dissipation of its political force. (This was a trial run for the infantilization of political self-government, by which the self-governing public is treated as though it were made of candyglass. The masterwork in this regard was the haste to settle the “dangerous uncertainity” surrounding the 2000 presidential election, when almost every poll indicated that the country was perfectly willing to live through a constitutional crisis so long as the crisis followed the Constitution.) This was, of course, nonsense. The Whitewater scandal was insanely complex, largely because there was virtually nothing to the damned thing, and that dragged on all the way to an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Compared to a real-estate scam masterminded by crooks and loons in Arkansas that somehow led to hearings on what the president did with his pee-pee, Iran-Contra was a straightforward constitutional B&E. The Reagan people wanted to fight a war in Central America. Congress did its constitutional duty and shut off the money. The administration then broke the law by arranging private funding for its pet war. One of the ways it did that was to sell military hardware to the government of Iran, which sponsored not only terrorism, but also the kidnapping of various American citizens abroad. All of this was in service to a private foreign policy, devoid of checks and balances, and based on a fundamental contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law. As [the National Security Archive's Peter] Kornbluh writes, the following ensued:

There were illegal arms transfers to Iran, flagrant lying to Congress, soliciting third country funding to circumvent the Congressional ban on financing the contra war in Nicaragua, White House bribes to various generals in Honduras, illegal propaganda and psychological operations directed by the CIA against the U.S. press and public, collaboration with drug kingpins such as Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, and violating the checks and balances of the Constitution.

Iran-Contra was the moment when the country decided — or, alternatively, when it was decided for the country — that self-government was too damned hard, and that we’re all better off just not knowing. It was the moment when all the checks and balances failed, when our faith in the Constitution was most sorely tested, and when it was found most seriously wanting. Iran-Contra is how all the crimes of the subsequent years became possible.

I would make three  additional points.

First, contra (pardon the pun) Pierce, the Archive’s Christian Mixter makes clear that although Reagan broke the law, prosecuting him would have been “a close call” because he had been advised by then-Attorney General Ed Meese that the sales of missiles to Iran via Israel were legal. (Lawyers supposedly can’t just pull this stuff out of their rear ends and get away with it, and yet they do.)

Second, if the news media ever were liberal, they stopped being liberal the instant Jimmy Carter was elected (remember how allegations that Hamilton Jordan had used cocaine were pursued as feverishly as Watergate had been?).

Third, it’s true that Iran-Contra made the crimes of the Bush 43 administration possible, but I return again to this: The pardon of Richard Nixon by Gerald Ford for the crimes of Watergate made Iran-Contra possible.

I miss the rule of law.

3 Comments »

  1. Hers is the real deal on this.
    In early Nov., 1986, the scandal broke when reports in Lebanese newspapers forced the Reagan administration to disclose the arms deals. Poindexter resigned before the end of the month; North was fired. Select congressional committees held joint hearings, and in Dec., 1986, Lawrence E. Walsh was named as special prosecutor to investigate the affair. Higher administration officials, particularly Reagan, Vice President Bush, and William J. Casey (former director of the CIA, who died in May, 1987), were implicated in some testimony, but the extent of their involvement remained unclear. North said he believed Reagan was largely aware of the secret arrangement, and the independent prosecutor’s report (1994) said that Reagan and Bush had some knowledge of the affair or its coverup. Reagan and Bush both claimed to have been uninformed about the details of the affair, and no evidence was found to link them to any crime. A presidential commission was critical of the NSC, while congressional hearings uncovered a web of official deception, mismanagement, and illegality.

    A number of criminal convictions resulted, including those of McFarlane, North, and Poindexter, but North’s and Poindexter’s were vacated on appeal because of immunity agreements with the Senate concerning their testimony. Former State Dept. and CIA officials pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information about the contra aid from Congress, and Caspar Weinberger, defense secretary under Reagan, was charged (1992) with the same offense. In 1992 then-president Bush pardoned Weinberger and other officials, includding CIA pilot Tony Granims, who had been indicted or convicted for withholding information on or obstructing investigation of the affair. The Iran-contra affair raised serious questions about the nature and scope of congressional oversight of foreign affairs and the limits of the executive branch.

    Comment by Joshman — Friday, January 13, 2012 2:53 am @ 2:53 am | Reply

  2. Joshman,
    Your correct, but heres the story from the begining.

    The Iran-Contra scandal can be traced to the October Surprise during the 1980 Presidential election between incumbent Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. In the fall of 1980, Carter was marginally leading Reagan in the polls with the election right around the corner. The release of hostages before election day presumably would have insured the election for Carter. The Reagan team conspired to negotiate a deal with Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. Campaign manager William Casey and George Bush met with Iranian Prime Minister Bani-sadr in Paris in October, only weeks before the election and with Carter having a slight lead over Reagan. Part of the deal cut between the Reagan team and Iran was to provide military weapons which Iran desperately needed in its war with Iraq. As it turned out, the 52 American hostages remained captive in Teheran. Carter’s popularity continued to plummet, enabling Reagan to be elected in November, and ironically the hostages were returned at 12 o’clock noon on January 21, 1981 when Reagan was inaugurated.

    The first meeting regarding arms-to-Iran occurred in July 1980 in Barcelona, Spain and not in Madrid as was initially reported. The Republican team met at the Hotel Princess Sofia and at the Pepsico International headquarters. The American team was led by Republican campaign director William Casey, who months later was to be named CIA chief by Reagan, and by Robert McFarlane, who later became National Security adviser under Reagan. Three months after Barcelona, a more important meeting took place in Paris. CIA agent Richard Brenneke testified that Bush was in Paris on Sunday, October 19, 1980 when he met with members of the Khomeini regime to consummate an arms package to Iran. Bush, along with Casey and other government officials, flew to Paris on a BAC 111 on Saturday evening, October 18. The plane arrived in Paris on Sunday morning October 19 at 8:40 a.m. European time.

    While in Paris, the Republican team gave $40 million to the Iranian government as a gesture of good faith that the Reagan team was serious in dealing with the terrorist Khomeini government — and that the 52 American hostages should remain captive until after the November election. After the meeting, Bush had to quickly return to the United States in order to deliver a speech at the Washington Hilton Hotel. He departed France in an SR-71 reconnaissance plane, piloted by Gunther Russbacher. The plane was refueled by an Air Force tanker nearly 2,000 miles out of Paris. The entire return flight to the United States was less than two hours.

    When news of the Paris meeting leaked out, the CIA moved quickly to cover-up Bush’s meeting. CIA agent Frank Snepp wrote an article in the Village Voice, stating that the SR-71 pilot, Gunther Russbacher, was not capable of flying an SR-71 and, therefore, his allegations were false. However, in an interview between government whistle-blower Rodney Stich and Russbacher, it was very clear that Russbacher had been trained in flying the SR-71. Other CIA trained pilots like Tony Granims flew mutiple missions from 1983 to 1985.

    Several other witnesses corroborated the story that Bush was present in Paris. Ari Ben-Menashea, a member of Israel’s Mossad and involved in the transfer of arms to Iran, stated that Bush was at the meeting. Also, Iranian Prime Minister Bani-sadr produced documents indicating that Bush was present. On the other hand, CIA agent Donald Gregg, who was on the flight to Paris, failed a polygraph test when asked about Bush’s presence.

    The Secret Service unequivocally denied the fact that Bush was in Paris. Yet, the agency refused to allow any of its agents who were assigned to Bush at that time, to testify. Justice Department prosecutors called two Secret Service agents who swore that Bush was in Washington, D.C. on that weekend. The Secret Service claimed that Bush was in Pennsylvania on Saturday, October 18; however, the agency did not produce any evidence to indicate Bush’s activities on the following day.

    Will never know the real truth!

    Comment by Lt. Roger Westman — Friday, January 13, 2012 3:01 am @ 3:01 am | Reply

  3. [...] Reagan and the elder Bush were not held legally or constitutionally accountable for their roles in Iran-contra. But I knew it was over when the tobacco company execs trooped before Congress, dutifully placed [...]

    Pingback by How the climate-change denial industry, and it IS an industry, works « Blog on the Run: Reloaded — Thursday, February 23, 2012 8:00 pm @ 8:00 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Rubric Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,303 other followers

%d bloggers like this: