The Nation

Facing South

Ex-Nation intern Chris Kromm and the Institute for Southern Studies--a "think tank/act tank" founded by civil rights veterans, which publishes the award-winning Southern Exposure magazine--have launched a new blog, Facing South.

The Institute has been at the forefront of campaigns for economic justice, campaign finance reform, environmental sanity and most recently the defense of voting rights and the reigning in of war profiteers (over 40 percent of military contracts go to corporations operating in the South).

Why Facing South? Because the South is far from a lost cause for social change. Progressives in the region are getting energized, laying infrastructure and finding openings that draw on the region's populist streak and unbroken history of movements for justice and dignity.

And there's much to build on recently: A campaign for economic justice in Florida won a 71 percent vote to boost the minimum wage last November. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee's recent contract victory for 8,000 North Carolina farm-workers was an important victory in the struggles for immigrant rights. Successful efforts to ward off corporate encroachment, like the Public Safety and Justice Campaigns to halt prison privatization in several states. Progressives are getting more serious about electoral politics, too--one third of the delegates at South Carolina's Democratic Convention last May were members of a growing Progressive Caucus.

Facing South will chronicle these sources of inspiration--as well as the inevitable outrages-- to move forward the debate about progressive prospects in the red states. Click here to check it out.

Hunter Thompson's Political Genius

Norman Mailer had the best take on Hunter Thompson's passing.

"He had more to say about what was wrong with America than George W. Bush can ever tell us about what is right," mused Mailer upon learning of Thompson's suicide.

Anyone who read Thompson knew that the so-called "gonzo journalist" was about a lot more than sex, drugs and rock-and-roll -- although it is Thompson who gets credit for introducing all three of those precious commodities to the mainstream of American journalism. The gun-toting, mescaline-downing wildman that showed up in Doonesbury as "Uncle Duke" was merely the cartoon version of an often serious, and always important, political commentator who once said that his beat was the death of the American dream. Thompson was to the political class of the United States in the latter part of the 20th century what William Hazlitt was to the English poets of the early 19th century: a critic who was so astute, so engaged and so unyielding in his idealism that he ultimately added more to the historical canon than did many of his subjects.

Thompson taught me how to look at politics -- his book on the 1972 presidential campaign, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, remains the one necessary campaign journal of the era -- and I cherished him for that. (When I was writing a book on the Florida recount fight of 2000, I wanted to pay homage to Thompson, so I asked him if we could use one of his brilliant "Hey Rube" columns to remind readers that no crime was beyond the imagination of the Bush brain trust. Thompson, who referred to George W. Bush as "the goofy Child President" and saw the Bush family as a recurring cancer that plagued the American body politic, leapt at the chance to be part of the project. He continued to delight in Bush-bashing, titling a column published at the time of the 43rd president's first inaugural: "Abandon All Hope.")

But Thompson also taught me how to do politics. Thompson was a journalist in the traditional sense of the craft and, as such, he was entirely unwilling to merely observe the wrongdoings of the political class. He wanted to create a newer, better politics -- or, at the very least, to so screw up the current machinery that it would no longer work for the people who he referred to as "these cheap, greedy little killers who speak for America today."

In 1970, fresh from covering the assassinations, police riots and related disappointments of the 1968 presidential campaign, Thompson waded into the fight himself as a "pro-hippie, anti-development" candidate for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, which included the ski town of Aspen. Thompson wanted to win in order to save what was still a rural, live-and-let-live county from the influx of Hollywood stars, corporate hoteliers and the rest of the elite entourage that would make it the nation's premier ski resort. But he also wanted to teach a lesson about politics that would have meaning far beyond Colorado.

Thompson ran on what he and his backers dubbed the "Freak Power" ticket, declaring in an advertisement in the Aspen Times that, "(In) 1970 Amerika a lot of people are beginning to understand that to be a freak is an honorable way to go. This is the real point: that we are not really freaks at all - not in the literal sense -- but the twisted realities of the world we are trying to live in have somehow combined to make us feel like freaks. We argue, we protest, we petition -- but nothing changes. So now, with the rest of the nation erupting in a firestorm of bombings and political killings, a handful of "freaks" are running a final, perhaps atavistic experiment with the idea of forcing change by voting..."

At a time when many of his contemporaries were disappearing into a drug haze, or shouting silly "Smash-the-State" slogans, Thompson was exploring a more radical prospect. He wanted to combine "Woodstock vibrations, New Left activism, and basic Jeffersonian Democracy with strong echoes of the Boston Tea Party ethic" into what the writer-candidate referred to as "a blueprint for stomping the (conservative Vice President Spiro) Agnew mentality by its own rules -- with the vote, instead of the bomb; by seizing the power machinery and using it, instead of merely destroying it."

The experiment was not an immediate success. But Thompson did win the city of Aspen and took 44 percent of the vote county wide. In fact, only a last-minute deal between the Democratic and Republican parties pulled together enough votes for the incumbent sheriff to beat the "Freak Power" candidate. But, as Thompson noted, "the Aspen campaign suddenly assumed national importance as a sort of accidental trial balloon that might, if it worked, be tremendously significant."

As it happened, even in defeat, the campaign proved significant. Because of all the national attention accorded Thompson's campaign, the blueprint was noted by "new politics" candidates and activists around the country. They won power in college towns such as Berkeley and Madison and Ann Arbor, and eventually in communities that were threatened by commercial and real estate pressures similar to those that were the target of Thompson's Aspen campaign. Indeed, even in Aspen, Thompson's politics would eventually win out -- in the mid-1990s, he organized a campaign that successfully blocked a plan by the Aspen Ski Company to expand the local airport to accommodate jetliners that were designed for "industrial tourism."

Hunter Thompson once said: "Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why." And when all the rumination about his adventurous approach to drugs and guns is done, there will remain the blueprint for that better politics that Thompson was wise enough and idealistic enough to believe might yet redeem the American dream.


John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com

Visit Your Rep During President's Week

During the week of President's Day, Senators and Representatives go home on recess. 20/20 Vision and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) are taking advantage of this break to arrange meetings between representatives and their constituents to talk about ending the war in Iraq. And it's not too late to sign up.

As David Corn recently reported in The Nation, Congressional Dems have already begun the fight to end the occupation. Rep. Lynn Wolsey introduced a bill demanding immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and Rep. Marty Meehan is asking for a specific timetable for withdrawal over the next 18 months. However, no real progress can be made on these issues until Democrats and Republicans in both houses start hearing the voices and seeing the faces of the 56 percent of Americans who are now dissatisfied with the way President Bush has handled the war in Iraq, according to a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

As 20/20 Vision reports in its newsletter, "legislators routinely speak about how much more effective it is the hear from constituents in their home districts…meeting three people at home has more impact that 50 meetings here in DC." So click here to sign up for 20/20 Vision and FCNL's Interfaith Lobby Days for Iraq, click here for advice about how to best conduct the lobbying, and click here to learn more about the FCNL's lobbying strategy.

It's also time to start making plans for what are expected to be a nationwide series of antiwar protests on Saturday, March 19, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The antiwar coalition United for Peace & Justice is calling for vigils, rallies, marches, nonviolent civil disobedience and creative expressions of antiwar sentiment of all kinds. Check out the UFP website for more info.

Co-written by Mark Hatch-Miller.

No Stems, No Seeds

In secretly taped conversations in 1998 and 1999, President Bush admitted to deliberately "stoned-walling" the press about his past drug use during the 2000 election.

Quote: "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried." Instead Bush used "code words" about his "wild past" to appeal to the Christian Right as a sinner who had been saved.

If George Bush is the Cheech Marin of turning past vices into present virtues, then John Negroponte is Tommy Chong. While ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte was involved in Iran/Contra, misled Congress about Honduras' human rights record, and denied the existence of CIA-trained death squads which, in fact, were then hunting down, torturing, and killing suspected subversives.

But Negroponte's resume doesn't stop there. He was ambassador to the United Nations, when Colin Powell presented false WMD intelligence to the Security Council. And finally, if more proof is needed that he is the last person in the world you want to hear the United States has assigned to be ambassador to your country, Negroponte's most recent posting was Iraq.

So let's see, covert torture operations, involvement with Iran/Contra, failed nation building, and a history of lying to the press and Congress--sounds like the perfect man with the perfect qualifications for the job of Bush's National Intelligence Director.

The Anti-Imperialist GW

America has become a profoundly--and tragically--ahistoric country. As such, the 273rd anniversary of the birth of George Washington will pass this Tuesday with little note. Washington's legacy has been so disregarded by its heirs that his birthday has been stirred into the generic swill of "President's Day," an empty gesture that blunts the memories of both the first chief executive and the sixteenth, Abraham Lincoln, in order to avoid cluttering February with too many holidays or too much history.

The memory of Washington has become an inconvenience for men who occupy the high stations he and his fellow founders occupied. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Negroponte and their ilk certainly do not want the work of remaking America in their own image--as a greedy, self-absorbed and frequently brutal empire--interrupted by reflections upon the nobler nation that Washington and his compatriots imagined.

Considering the ugly state to which the American experiment has degenerated, however, it would make sense for the rest of us to renew our affiliation with the first GW. Indeed, patriots need to call General Washington back into the service of his country--not merely as a clarification of national memory but as a blunt challenge to those who have usurped America's promise with their illegal invasions and reckless misadventures.

It will not be the first time that the wrench of Washington's memory has been tossed into the machinery of American empire.

When dissenters from the impulse toward American empire held their annual gatherings in cities and towns across the United States in the early years of the twentieth century, they would meet on the anniversary of George Washington's birth. It was the accepted wisdom of the day that, in addition to having been "the father of his country," Washington was, as well, the father of the anti-imperialist movement. The first president had given his ideological descendants ample evidence on which to base their claim. His 1793 proclamation of American neutrality in regards to European political and military conflicts explicitly rejected international entanglements, with Washington later explaining that, "The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations."

But it was Washington's Farewell Address, delivered in 1796 toward the end of his second presidential term, that became a touchstone for ensuing generations of anti-imperialists. Washington used his last great statement to the nation he had shepherded through the struggle to loosen the grip of British colonial rule, "to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."

Washington saw great danger in any step that would "entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice," but it was not just alliances with European states that worried him. The first president counseled that it should be "our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."

The commander of America's revolutionary armies did not want his country to follow the European course of collecting colonies and establishing spheres of influence that would need to be defended. He warned that the new United States might "pay with a portion of its independence" for involving itself in "projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives." And he asked a question that would echo across the ages as his presidential successors moved the country further and further from its founding principles: "Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?"

An American political leader who uttered those words today would be set upon by the self-appointed guardians of false patriotism-- Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and a thousand imitators --and accused of undermining the "war on terrorism" that has become such a convenient excuse for the occupation of Iraq and the development of imperialist instincts that owe more to King George than to George Washington.

But there is nothing American about a career of empire.

In fact, the American impulse is the one that Washington expressed two centuries ago.

The principles that Washington discussed in his Farewell Address were not new concepts. They were, in fact, mainstream opinions shared by many, though surely not all, of his countrymen. A measure of pragmatism underpinned their broad acceptance. America was a new nation, rich in resources but sparsely populated and militarily weak. A career of empire seemed not just hypocritical for the former colony, but impractical. And America was divided, not just over questions of foreign allegiance and entanglement but with regards to her domestic course. New Englanders were already objecting to the practice of human bondage in the southern states and Jefferson, himself a slaveholder, acknowledged that he trembled at the thought of the rough justice that awaited a nation that countenanced the sin of slavery. While the Pennsylvania Quakers imagined cooperation and comity with the indigenous owners of the ground on which Europeans stood as newcomers, governors from Massachusetts in the north to Georgia in the south plotted violent removals of American Indians from their native lands. Washington well recognized that the United States lacked the strength and unity to survive internal struggles over alignment with particular colonial powers, let alone the conflicts and costs associated with colonialisms of its own.

But there was more than enlightened self-interest in play when Washington suggested that, "Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course." From the beginnings of what would come to be referred to as "the American experiment," there was a sense that this endeavor ought to be about something nobler than the mere recreation of European excesses on the new ground of the western Hemisphere. John Winthrop's notion that an American settler might see his or her community "as a city on a hill," a model unto the world for the moral ordering of affairs, echoed across religious, ethnic and regional lines. Among a certain rebellious element, it came to be accepted that Europe's potentates, with their subjects and colonies, represented a corrupt old order that would be replaced only by a shot heard round the world. The American revolutionaries promised that their challenge to the British king and crown would in the words of their tribune, Tom Paine, "begin the world again." The revolution, which the Continental Congress pledged to fight neither "for glory or for conquest," did, in fact, inspire more revolts against colonial authorities.

America's progression toward democracy--slowed, as it was, by the hypocrisy and intolerance of the founders--would, as well, provide a model for the systems that replaced the divine right of kings with the consent of the governed. That requirement of consent should, by its very nature, have rendered illegitimate any colonial or imperialist impulse. And, it seemed many of the founders read it that way. Fifty years after independence was declared, its author, Jefferson, would renew the city-on-a-hill promise with a call to globalize the democratic revolution: "May it be to the world, what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all: the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government."

George Bush has throttled America's promise by mirroring the worst excesses of King George. He has cast his lot with the colonialists who believe in the spread of enlightenment at gunpoint. Patriots need to mirror the best instincts of another George and pursue that "different course" that the first president said was essential to the maintenance of our independence and our ability to inspire by example rather than force.-----------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com

Church Folks for a Better America

George Hunsinger gives the lie to the Right's caricature of progressives as anti-religious zealots. As a minister, the McCord professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, and coordinator of Church Folks for a Better America (CBFA), Hunsinger is working hard to reframe the "moral values" debate by raising tough questions about how torture, pre-emption, unjust war, and poverty can be tolerated by people of moral and religious conviction.

Hunsinger has tapped into a rich tradition of religious progressive activism--from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Father Robert Drinan to Rev. William Sloane Coffin. He shared his thoughts on Iraq, torture, and the challenges facing progressive religious leaders in a recent email interview.


Torture is not a divisive issue for religious people. No religious person, and no person of conscience, can possibly justify it morally. An example of this is an emerging new network of religious progressives which recently published an "Open Letter to Alberto Gonzales."

My fledgling organization, Church Folks for a Better America, took the lead. In a short time we garnered over 225 signatures from a wide variety of religious leaders: Not only Catholics, Protestants and Jews, but also Muslims and Sikhs. We also made inroads among leading evangelicals.

The Open Letter got some good coverage. We were often mentioned alongside the ex-military lawyers who came out against Gonzales in press accounts. In the final Gonzales debate, our letter was quoted on the Senate floor.

Church Folks for a Better America came into existence almost by accident. On September 12, 2001, I found myself spending more time on the Internet than I care to remember trying to get a handle on what was really happening. I could see the ominous implications for war as well as for a crackdown on liberty at home. I wrote an Urgent Appeal opposing the invasion of Iraq on just-war grounds, signed by prominent academic theologians like Sarah Coakley, Stanley Hauerwas and Nicholas Wolterstorff as well as activists like JimWallis and William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and published in Sojourners. I started flooding the inboxes of my friends each day with what I found by scouring the net.

Until the Abu Ghraib torture scandal I was pretty much just a guy alone in his office with a computer. By that time I had an enormous backlog of files. I wrote a new statement that I hoped we could run in the New York Times. I wanted to get it out there before the "transfer" of power in Iraq on June 30, 2004. When I was unable to raise the handsome sum the Times requires, a colleague suggested setting up a website a la Howard Dean. One thing led to another, and by August CFBA came online. And, with a few large donations and many smaller ones, An Appeal to Recover America's Moral Character"--the Dove Ad, as we called it--finally ran in the Times as a quarter-page ad on the Sunday Op-Ed page just prior to the presidential election. We also had enough funds to publish the letter in papers in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

I try to keep the website up-to-date, though as a professor I also have a day job. The site keeps abreast of Iraq news, in-depth analysis, good sermons, antiwar poetry and little-known websites.

It used to be said that the right had the wallet but the left had the pen. But then the Right discovered that if you had the wallet you could buy the pen. The rightwing take-over of religious discourse in America is part of a larger trend that has developed over the last 25 to 30 years. The right has learned to be extremely effective in shaping the political agenda and exploiting religious sensibilities.

Meanwhile, the liberal left has not always been hospitable to religious people. The renewal of a progressive movement in our country may well hinge on whether that can change. The Solidarity movement in Poland, where dissident intellectuals joined hands with the Catholic Church, is suggestive of what we need here. Jeffrey Stout's new book Democracy and Tradition is also seminal for the future of religion and politics in America.

Church Folks for a Better America is dedicated to the idea that the word "Christian" does not necessarily go with the word "Right." Our motto, taken from Martin Luther King, is addressed first to the churches: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." We are a rallying point for many Christians who are appalled when the churches remain silent. If the churches cannot speak out against something like torture, what good is it to have tongues?

The confirmation of Alberto Gonzales was, in effect, a national referendum on torture. No one in high places has been held accountable, the Republican-dominated Senate has acquiesced, and not enough people seem to care. Enormities like torture are increasingly papered over with democratic rhetoric and pious falsehoods. Anti-democratic forces in America tighten their grip, while we suffer from a will to ignorance. The elements of atrocity, manipulation and indifference add up to a spiritual crisis.

Let me add, however, that to some extent I was heartened by the quality of opposition to Gonzales. Senators Kennedy, Byrd, Durbin, and Reed, for example, all made distinguished speeches. They remind me of the hopes we once had, and might still have, for our beloved country.

Karl Barth (1886-1968), regarded by many as the 20th century's greatest theologian [and whom Hunsinger has studied], is, in one sense, something like Noam Chomsky. He does not fit neatly into familiar categories. Theologically traditional, he stood on the political left. Generous orthodoxy, as he represented it, inspires my intellectual and religious life.

Barth was the theological leader of the confessing church, the grouping of Protestant churches that resisted Hitler. He was a life-long democratic socialist. On the war question, he went back and forth between just-war pacifism and chastened non-pacifism. These are the parameters of my political views.

As a divinity student at Harvard years ago, I pounded the pavement for Father [Robert] Drinan during his campaign for the House of Representatives. It was a particular pleasure for me when, just recently, he volunteered his signature for The Dove Ad. In 1978-79, with the Riverside Church Disarmament Program, I served as an assistant to [Rev.] William Sloane Coffin, Jr. The loose-leaf anthology and course syllabus I developed on nuclear disarmament, which we called the Red Notebook, was widely distributed at the time. You might say that Church Folks for a Better America online is a successor to the Red Notebook.

Church Folks for a Better America owes a debt to great figures who have gone before us like Karl Barth, Martin Luther King, and Bill Coffin. You could look at it as my modest attempt to pay them tribute.

As for what's next, a larger anti-torture campaign is now in the works with the following goals: 1) Congressional action to stop exempting intelligence services from the torture ban imposed on military services; 2) Congressional action to outlaw the horrifying practice of extraordinary rendition/torture by proxy; 3) A clear statement from Bush that US policy does not condone torture in any form or under any circumstances; 4) The appointment of a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of the issue.

Our work will also continue against the Iraq war. Destroying entire cities, as happened with Fallujah, is a form of terrorism, just as torture is a form of terrorism. Fighting terrorism by terrorism is at once immoral and futile. It has been clear since Abu Ghraib that the war cannot be won. The 14 new military bases planned for Iraq must be exposed and opposed along with the shameless profiteering still taking place. We join with all who call for an early and orderly exit, and for reparations for Iraq's long-suffering people.

As our list of supporters grows, we will combine Internet activism with direct mail and political action. Last fall the Dove Ad campaign saw seminary students raising money on 12 campuses across the country. Model sermons and prayers appear on our website along with alternative news and analysis. Congregations need a deeper understanding of the just-war tradition. Ordinary believers need to see the progressive implications of ordinary faith. They need powerful alternatives to the Religious Right.

We will work in concentric circles, beginning with the community of faith. Our efforts will be modest. Remember that we have only been around for six months. Though we will of course join in coalitions with anyone who shares our concerns, our particular calling is reaching out to people of faith, including elected officials. Republican Senators who profess to be believers, for example, have no business voting for torture. Through creative new faith-based initiatives, perhaps they too can be reached.

Help Defend Lynne Stewart

On February 10, a jury in New York City convicted longtime activist attorney Lynne Stewart of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists, defrauding the government and making false statements.

But, as David Cole comments in the latest issue of The Nation, rather than making us safer, this conviction "illustrates how out of hand things have gotten in the 'war on terrorism'...To inflate its successes in ferreting out terrorism," Cole adds, "the Justice Department turned an administrative infraction into a terrorism conviction that, unless reversed, will likely send Stewart to prison for the rest of her life."

Stewart's transgression--violating an administrative agreement to not convey any communication between her client and the outside world, is--as Cole says, simply not a crime. "In an ordinary case, the lawyer might receive a warning. In an unusual case, the lawyer might be barred from continuing to visit her client. In an extraordinary case, the lawyer might be brought up on disciplinary charges before the bar."

But the prosecution, intent on winning a cheap "terror" conviction for its perceived public relations value, went on a transparently politically-motivated witch-hunt, and unfortunately was able to convince a jury of its spurious claims that Stewart helped abet terrorism.

Let's do all we can to help taint this PR "victory," and help save Stewart from an unjust prison sentence. Click here to read and circulate law professor Elaine Cassell's essay arguing that the Stewart verdict has stretched the definition of terrorism to its outer limits, click here to send a letter in support of Stewart, and click here to contribute to her legal defense fund. And follow www.lynnestewart.org for the latest developments in her case.


Good News

Last December, I mentioned the plight of Vietnamese political prisoner Dr. Nguyen Dan Que. An endocrinologist by training, Que was detained without trial from 1978 to 1988 after he criticized national health care policy. After his release, he established a democratic-rights movement, for which he was arrested in 1990 and sentenced to another 20 years' imprisonment.

I highlighted a letter-writing campaign led by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights calling for Que's release on both legal and humanitarian grounds and asked Nation readers to join in.

We were then thrilled to hear from Erik Giblin of the RFK Center sharing the great news that Que was released on January 31 and is now resting comfortably at home. So many thanks to the RFK Center for its tireless work on Que's behalf and thanks to all Nation readers who contributed to the campaign which led to his freedom.

Negroponte's Dark Past

How many times can I write the same piece about John Negroponte?

Today George W. Bush named him to the new post of Director of National Intelligence. Previously, Bush had hired Negroponte to be UN ambassador and then US ambassador to the new Iraq. On each of those earlier occasions, I noted that Negroponte's past deserved scrutiny. After all, during the Reagan years, when he was ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte was involved in what was arguably an illegal covert quid pro quo connected to the Iran/contra scandal, and he refused to acknowledge significant human rights abuses committed by the pro-US military in Honduras. But each time Negroponte's appointment came before the Senate, he won easy confirmation. Now that he's been tapped to lead the effort to reorganize and reform an intelligence community that screwed up 9/11 and the WMD-in-Iraq assignment, Negroponte will likely sail through the confirmation process once again.

His previous exploits, though, warrant more attention than ever. He has been credibly accused of rigging a human rights report that was politically inconvenient. This is a bad omen. The fundamental mission of the intelligence community is to provide policymakers with unvarnished and valuable information-even if it causes the policymakers headaches. But there's reason to believe that Negroponte did the opposite in tough circumstances. If that is the case, he would not be the right man to oversee an intelligence community that needs solid leaders who are committed to truth-finding. Rather than rewrite my previous work on Negroponte, I am posting below the article I did after Bush named him the viceroy of Baghdad. It's more relevant today than when it first appeared. But I doubt Negroponte's dark history will finally trigger a confirmation debate within the Senate. He has skated in the past; he'll likely do so again.

Bush's New Iraq Viceroy


May 10, 2004 issue

Like dirty money, tainted reputations can be laundered, as the Administration fervently hopes in the case of John Negroponte. Now UN ambassador, Negroponte has been chosen by George W. Bush to be the first ambassador to post-Saddam Iraq. When Bush selected Negroponte to be his UN representative in 2001, Negroponte was one of several Iran/contra figures being resurrected by the Bush crowd. As Honduras ambassador in the early 1980s, Negroponte, a career diplomat, participated in a secret and possibly illegal quid pro quo in which the Reagan Administration bribed the Honduran government with economic and military assistance to support the contras fighting the socialist Sandinistas of Nicaragua. Perhaps more significant, while Negroponte served in Honduras, he denied or downplayed serious human rights abuses by government security forces. This past threatened his confirmation as UN ambassador. But 9/11 rescued Negroponte. At the time of the attack, his nomination was pending, and the Senate moved quickly to approve him.


Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on why Republicans fancy G. Bush more than G. Washington, the growing connection between K Street and Wall Street, and David Horowitz's bad history.


These days Negroponte's tenure in Honduras is old news. The Washington Post's front-page story on his nomination did not mention his stint there. Senate staffers say that his record in Honduras won't be a focus of the confirmation hearings. But his tour of duty there is worth scrutiny, for it raises questions about his credibility and his ability to handle tough situations and inconvenient truths. While he was in Honduras and for years afterward, Negroponte refused to acknowledge the human rights abuses. In a 1982 letter to The Economist he said it was "simply untrue to state that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras." The next year he maintained, "There is no indication that the infrequent human rights violations that do occur are part of deliberate government policy." And during his 2001 confirmation he stated, "I do not believe then, nor do I believe now, that these abuses were part of a deliberate government policy. To this day, I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras." How then does he account for a 1997 CIA Inspector General investigation that concluded, "The Honduran military committed hundreds of human rights abuses since 1980, many of which were politically motivated and officially sanctioned" and linked to "death squad activities"?

Not only has Negroponte declined to acknowledge the obvious; when he was ambassador, the State Department rigged its Honduras human rights reports to Congress. As a 1995 Baltimore Sun series noted, "A comparison of the annual human rights reports prepared while Negroponte was ambassador with the facts as they were then known shows that Congress was deliberately misled." The Sun reported, "Time and again...Negroponte was confronted with evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA, was stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives." But this didn't make it into State Department reports. Had Honduras been found to be engaging in systematic abuses, it could have lost its US aid--thwarting the Reagan Administration's use of Honduras to support the contras.

Negroponte has claimed "there was no effort to soft pedal" abuses in Honduras. Yet in public statements he repeatedly conveyed a misleading appearance, and in the years since he has held tight--in the face of compelling evidence--to the view that the abuses that did occur were merely unfortunate exceptions. Negroponte's confirmation hearing will provide senators a chance to probe Bush's plans (or lack thereof) in Iraq. But if Negroponte's record as an abuse denier is not questioned, as seems likely, he will once again be able to escape his haunted past.


IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there


Al Franken's decision not to run for the Senate is a loss for the people of Minnesota and the country, but at least he'll have more time for his very funny radio show and books. I was just thinking about Al's first book today after reading a transcript of Rush Limbaugh's Valentine's Day show.

Recently, I wrote in this space about data showing that single women were more likely to be Democratic voters than married women, and I joked that this was another reason not to get married. Now, I do know that it's the nature of our political culture today that if a progressive, even a happily married one (16 years), makes a joke like that some right-wing blowhard is going to distort it for the sake of scoring cheap partisan points. So it wasn't a surprise that Rush Limbaugh, the grandaddy distorter of them all, stepped up to the plate to take a whack. But what did surprise me is that he took the opportunity not only to attack me but also my husband. Here's what he said:

"Now, The Nation is one of our favorite publications here, the far left fringe publication of the liberal journal of opinion that is edited by well known communist named Katrina vanden Heuvel whose husband is a well known communist at Columbia. Well, I use the term advisedly. Stephen Cohen's his name."

Now, I know that Limbaugh doesn't have a lot of experience with successful relationships, but attacking someone's spouse is generally considered to be pretty low down and dirty. In fact, some would call his reckless allegations libelous--my lawyer, for example. I also know that Limbaugh suffers from a rather severe case of McCarthy-era nostalgia, but equating liberalism with communism is tired and boorish even for someone who is a big, fat idiot. I use the term advisedly.

By the way, if Rush had done any research, he would have discovered that my husband now teaches, after many years at Princeton, at NYU, not Columbia. (Kids, this is an object lesson: read books, don't take drugs.)