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"Covert action," the late Senator Frank Church concluded in 1976 after his long inquiry into CIA operations in Chile and elsewhere, is a "semantic disguise for murder, coercion, blackmail, bribery, the spreading of lies...." Had the CIA been fully forthcoming with Church's committee about its ties to Augusto Pinochet's regime, he would have included "and consorting with known torturers and international terrorists."
To the rogues' gallery of world-class criminals the CIA has directly supported--among them Panama's Manuel Noriega, Emmanuel Constant of the FRAPH in Haiti, Nicolas Carranza, former head of the treasury police in El Salvador, Guatemala's Col. Julio Alpírez and, many believe, ousted intelligence chieftain Vladimiro Montesinos, who recently fled Peru--can now be added Gen. Manuel Contreras of Chile. In a declassified report provided to Congress on September 18, titled "CIA Activities in Chile," the agency confirms what so many have long suspected: At the height of the Pinochet regime's repression, the head of Chile's infamous secret police, the DINA, was put on the CIA payroll.
Contreras ran the torture centers in Chile; he ordered the murder and disappearances of hundreds of Chileans. But unlike so many other infamous CIA assets who viciously violated the human rights of their countrymen while their covert handlers looked the other way, Contreras took his dirty war beyond Chilean borders, dispatching his agents throughout the world to commit acts of international terrorism. He is currently in prison outside Santiago for the most brazen terrorist attack ever to take place in the capital of the United States--the September 21, 1976, car bombing that killed former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and a 25-year-old American associate, Ronni Karpen Moffitt.
Having covered up its relationship to Contreras and the DINA for all these years, including initially keeping it secret from federal prosecutors investigating the Letelier-Moffitt murders, the CIA now admits that it knew in 1974 that the DINA was involved in "bilateral cooperation...to track the activities of and...kill political opponents" abroad. Yet in 1975, shortly after the CIA's own intelligence reporting documented that Contreras was "the principal obstacle" to improving human rights in Chile, CIA officials "recommended establishing a paid relationship with Contreras," and a "one-time payment was given." Cozying up to the DINA, the report makes clear, was done "in the interest of maintaining good relations with Pinochet" and to "accomplish the CIA's mission," presumably to gather intelligence to safeguard US security.
The report, however, does not address how the CIA failed to avert a planned terrorist attack in Washington directed by its own asset. Only after the Letelier-Moffitt assassination, the report concedes, did the CIA approach Contreras to discuss Operation Condor--the network of Southern Cone intelligence services he led, which, the CIA already knew, was engaged in acts of murder abroad. "Contreras confirmed Condor's existence as an intelligence-sharing network but denied that it had a role in extrajudicial killings," states the report. Could his gullible handlers have believed this lie? On October 11, 1976, based on a leak, Newsweek reported that "the CIA has concluded that the Chilean secret police were not involved in the death of Orlando Letelier."
Either the CIA was criminally negligent in failing to detect and deter the Letelier-Moffitt assassination, or it was complicitous. Even if the covert operatives running Contreras were not aware of his plans to send a hit team to Washington, their close relations with him, despite his atrocities inside and outside Chile, may well have emboldened him to believe he could get away with this act of terrorism within a few blocks of the White House.
Advancing the US ability to protect itself from international terrorism is reason enough for Congress to hold hearings on how the CIA's covert associations in Chile compromised US security and cost the lives of two human beings. But the larger issue of the US role in Pinochet's horrors must also be addressed. Even the most cynical political observers cannot help but be profoundly disgusted by the CIA's callous debasement of US principles in Chile.
A full accounting will require release of the documents from which "CIA Activities in Chile" was written, as well as the hundreds of other records covering the history of US covert operations there. Despite a presidential directive to declassify the record of its contribution to political violence, terrorism and human rights abuses in Chile, to date the CIA has refused to release a single document on its clandestine actions that helped the Pinochet regime seize and consolidate power. The White House has delayed a final declassification of US records in order to press the CIA to be more forthcoming.
The Chileans have shown great courage by moving to hold Pinochet accountable for his crimes against humanity. But what Chile's human rights investigators have called "the cleansing power of the truth" in confronting their past applies equally to the United States. The CIA can no longer be allowed to hold this history hostage. A full accounting is required for Washington to begin to wash the blood from its hands.
In May 1928 Marie Curie, the famed discoverer of radium and double Nobel laureate, received a disturbing letter from an American journalist. It told of young women at a radium watch-dial plant in Orange, New Jersey, who were dying from necrosis of the jaw, a rare degenerative disease. The women would tip radium-laden brushes in their mouths, blithely ingesting this intensely radioactive substance--at levels more than 10,000 times those allowed under today's standards. Plant managers had told them that ingesting radium would enhance their vitality.
At the time, Madame Curie herself was paying dearly for her pioneering work. Reading the letter was not easy, as she suffered from radiation-induced cataracts and from painful radiation burns on her hands. True to form, she refused to accept that her discovery had anything to do with this tragedy and advised the women to eat calf's liver. By 1934 Curie was dead from severe bone marrow damage and America was experiencing its first industrial epidemic of radiation-induced diseases.
Madame Curie's denial of radiation dangers is emblematic of the legacy we now face as America's romance with the atom draws to a close. The once dynamic and sprawling US nuclear weapons program, which underwent spectacular growth in the past fifty years, is winding down, leaving behind a tragic health legacy that, once again, is borne by working people. In the next few weeks, Congress will decide whether to enact a federal compensation program for the 600,000 people who helped make our nuclear weapons.
The current attention dates to the summer of 1999, when the Clinton Administration, spurred on by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, proposed legislation to compensate nuclear weapons workers. In January of this year, a report prepared for President Clinton found that workers at fourteen federal nuclear facilities across the United States have higher than expected risks of dying from cancer or nonmalignant diseases following exposure to radiation and other substances. This official concession that nuclear weapons workers were harmed led to an unprecedented public outpouring in politically conservative company towns near federal nuclear sites. Workers told of being overexposed, getting sick and then having to battle against the government, which spared no expense to block claims. "The people in this area have been forced into poverty--they fall through the cracks, and they die," said Kay Sutherland, a cancer victim, at a meeting near the DOE's Hanford site in Washington.
In June an amendment to the 2001 defense authorization bill offered by Senators Fred Thompson and Jeff Bingaman was unanimously adopted by the Senate. The measure would create a federal program to provide compensation for illness, disabilities and deaths due to exposure to radiation or to beryllium or silica, two hazardous substances. The Senate provision is far from perfect, but it's a good start. However, it looked likely as we went to press that the provision was in jeopardy. Republicans in the House were at work fashioning a symbolic gesture that greatly reduces the benefits and provides no funding to compensate people.
I started working on this issue twenty-five years ago, first as an environmental activist involved in the lawsuit on behalf of the parents of Karen Silkwood, a contaminated nuclear worker in Oklahoma who was killed in November 1974 while trying to deliver safety documents to the New York Times. While it is personally gratifying to see this change take place, it still remains a tragedy for many who could have been helped as long ago as 1951, when the first official recommendations to help sick, overexposed weapons workers were secretly turned down. As we come to terms with the aftermath of the nuclear arms race, it is time for Congress to provide justice to working people who were put at risk without their knowledge and who paid with their health and lives.
In a bad spy flick, there's got to be a character like Notra
Trulock, an obsessed sleuth who always gets his man--even if it's the
"This is a story about a spy," writes Millicent Dillon in Harry Gold: A Novel.
These days, the once highly revered nuclear weapons lab at Los
Alamos is the butt of jokes and investigations over the latest
revelation--that top-secret files supposedly locked in the most sec
Gay-Baiting in the Military Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
It's difficult to get over the idea that we failed Timothy McVeigh and that his execution fails us all. How deceptive a finale it is that leaves history neatly packaged in the cemetery of our imagination, safely removed from the festering reality of life. It happened, it's over, and we can now move on when we ought not to.
By killing McVeigh, we served only the purpose of avoiding responsibility for his creation. How convenient to not have a living reminder that this callow, awkward, unformed youth was a product of mainstream American culture--varnished by the "be all you can be" Army, no less--and not some easily dismissed dropout aberration. No, he was us in our darkest moments, even as we acknowledge gratefully that he was possessed by malevolent forces that the healthy can conquer.
If he was the devil, how did he get that way, this product of a strong Catholic family that raised a son to be a patriot, a son who then suddenly took his own government to be the enemy? What did he learn from us, his neighbors, the media and the government, that left him plotting in seedy motel rooms, manufacturing a weapon of mass destruction, while singing the disturbed loony tunes of the assassin?
His execution is to be denounced because it brings to an all-too-tidy conclusion a phenomenon that cries out for more complex and sustained examination. That's true in any capital case, but all the more so that 168 innocent men, women and children died at his hands, and scores of others were injured. It hardly serves their memory that McVeigh at worst will be venerated as a martyr by generations of lunatics to come and at best be dismissed as a weirdo actor in a script that is not of our hand.
We are told that the grieving relatives of those killed in the bombing need "closure," an unattainable state that has become the basic mantra of denial of harsh reality. It's a word now inevitably accompanied by the horrid phrase of "getting on" with the next phase of one's life, invoked even by McVeigh's lawyers before the execution to refer to their client's "future." But the so-called closure afforded by capital punishment, as some relatives of the dead have noted, cheapens the quest for real healing, which can never be an act of amnesia but rather requires the search for meaning in even the most dastardly of events.
For that we needed McVeigh alive, to be tormented every day in his own mind by the enormity of his crime, to the point where that smug self-righteousness of the killer would be pierced, and he finally would have to confront the pain of mass death as something other than a clinically ordered act of ideological game playing.
But we too, the uninvolved, needed his presence as an open wound to remind us of the pain that political madness, no matter its source, induces. In this case, the madness was, in effect, condoned when an unshaped youth was taught by his government to kill.
It should be a matter of deep national soul searching that we as a nation sent McVeigh to roam the desert on a Bradley fighting vehicle inflicting the "collateral damage" of the Gulf War. Did his military training prepare him to differentiate between what he did as his government's agent in Iraq and his own subsequent war on civilians? The absurdly celebrated mayhem of the Gulf War was the alternative to the college experience McVeigh never had. He was at least in need of a crash course on the distinction between what he called the "collateral damage" of the Oklahoma City bombing and the morality of shooting Iraqi draftees as they fled the battle.
Unfortunately, McVeigh completed his education at desultory gun shows in which patriotism often is equated with a defiance born of personal failure, and fire power is the means to dignity and freedom. That and the literature of angry white men, who believe their skin color and a musket should be all that is needed to make them meaningful players in the computerized global marketplace.
The merchants of madness will now exploit the government's execution of McVeigh as confirmation of their paranoia. Better to have had McVeigh as an aging reminder of how horrible the taste can be when the American brew is curdled.
Generals and admirals often tell us that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, but they sure don't appreciate being on its business end.
Michael Kimmel served as the Justice Department's expert witness on gender issues in the VMI and Citadel litigation.
So now comes Bob Kerrey to remind us that even fair-haired boys may
commit the most unspeakable of war crimes. Or, as he puts it by way of
explaining the killing of at least thirteen unarmed Vietnamese women, older men
and children by a squad under his command: "Human savagery is a very
Indeed it is, and by the accounting of one veteran of his Navy SEAL
unit, disputed by others, the savagery may have extended to the rounding
up and cold-blooded execution of noncombatants. That's the memory also of
Vietnamese witnesses. Yet even the more benign version of former Sen.
Kerrey--that the carnage was the result of honest confusion--while it may
lessen his personal responsibility, doesn't erase the specter of our
nation's leaders officially condoning wanton murder. It's they who came
to define the countryside of Vietnam as a killing field in which Kerrey's
team did what it thought it was ordered to do.
Kerrey, then 25, and other young warriors were deliberately lied to by
leaders who knew better. The terror of that night is the work of the four
Presidents who insisted the United States had an obligation in Vietnam to fill the blood-stained shoes of a defeated French colonialism.
None of the four who ordered this mayhem unleashed upon a distant land
ever established that the war served a serious national security purpose.
Dwight D. Eisenhower created a puppet government in South Vietnam in
1954, flying in Ngo Dinh Diem--an autocratic Vietnamese exile safely
cloistered in a New Jersey Catholic seminary--to rule an overwhelmingly
Buddhist country. Diem followed US orders in preventing the election
called for in the Geneva Accords that would have unified Vietnam, an
election Eisenhower predicted our designated enemy, Ho Chi Minh, would
have won overwhelmingly. But while Eisenhower left the CIA to create an
artificial nation out of South Vietnam, this former World War II general
drew the line at committing US troops.
John F. Kennedy ignored that caution, sending to Vietnam a small
contingent disguised as flood control advisors. But when his ambassador
approved the assassination of Diem in 1963 and installed an even more
compliant puppet, Kennedy indelibly committed this country to the path of
That was the path pursued vociferously by Lyndon B. Johnson, who in
taped conversations with advisers stated he could find no legitimate
purpose for being in Vietnam, other than to ward off right-wing hawkish
attacks in the upcoming 1964 election. As Johnson told his national
security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, "I don't think it's worth fighting
for." Yet he was convinced he would lose to Barry Goldwater if he
appeared soft on communism.
Goldwater was right when he later charged that LBJ lied to Congress
about an attack on US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, to
secure what Johnson interpreted as a declaration of war. In turn, he
dispatched half a million US troops, including young Kerrey, and
unleashed history's most intense air war, with more explosives dropped on
the thin strip of Vietnam than had been used in all of World War II,
leaving 3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American dead.
Richard Nixon, who got elected pledging to quickly end this war he
knew to be without legitimate purpose, instead escalated it to even more
nightmarish proportions, including the destruction of once-peaceful and
neutral Cambodia, with another million dead.
Those Presidents bear responsibility for deceiving good men like Bob
Kerrey into thinking they were serving their nation, when what the war
was always about was the poison of political ambition.
That is the admission of Nuremberg-level criminality lurking in the
1997 mea culpa of Robert McNamara, Johnson's Defense secretary, who
defined much of the South Vietnamese countryside as the legitimate target
of indiscriminate bombing.
The village Kerrey entered that fateful night fell into McNamara's
territory of the doomed; does it matter whether those illiterate peasants
ended up the hapless victims of McNamara's napalm or a Navy SEAL's
razor-sharp knife? The difference is that Kerrey was forced to witness
the pain while McNamara, the Ford Co. auto
executive-turned-deskside-warrior, was not. Yet McNamara already knew, as
he would later write, that "we were wrong, terribly wrong" and cited five
honorable opportunities that the US passed up to end the war by 1967,
two years before Kerrey visited upon that village such horror.
The true war criminal, yet to be brought to account by a nation that
presumes it can judge others throughout the world, was that steely
corporate bean-counter who took over the Pentagon and defined victory in
Vietnam by the number of Vietnamese dead, even if they were the children
and mothers slaughtered by Kerrey and his boys.