It wasn’t quite a gathering of storms. But in two different Senate meeting rooms on the same morning, committees were holding hearings on two controversial picks for George W. Bush’s national security team. As the Senate intelligence committee questioned–yes, questioned, not grilled–former ambassador John Negroponte, whom Bush has nominated to be the new director of national intelligence position, the Senate foreign relations committee took the testimony of a former assistant secretary of state who maintained that John Bolton, Bush’s choice to be UN ambassador, had imperiously tried to fire a State Department analyst who had challenged Bolton’s contention that Cuba posed a WMD threat to the United States. The pair of hearings exposed–to a limited degree–the failings of each nominee. But they also demonstrated that there is probably not enough opposition to derail either appointment.
At the intelligence committee gathering, Republicans praised Negroponte–and so did some Democrats. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the committee, cited Negroponte’s 40-year career as a diplomat and gushed, “This breeds a tough and disciplined man of self-esteem and a willingness to make decisions and tell truth to power….You’ve ably served the country.” Rockefeller did not mention the well-supported allegation that Negroponte, when he was ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, downplayed and smothered reports of human rights abuses conducted by the Honduran military, his partner in providing assistance to the contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. When Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras and ever since, he has denied that he covered up abuses or that the Honduran military engaged in systemic human rights violations. But a 1997 CIA inspectors general report and Honduran investigations have concluded the Honduran military committed serious human rights atrocities during Negroponte’s tenure. The CIA IG noted, “The Honduran military committed hundreds of human rights abuses since 1980, many of which were politically motivated and officially sanctioned.” It also noted that an infamous CIA-trained military outfit, Battalion 316, was linked to “death squad activities.” As ambassador, Negroponte toiled side by side General Gustavo Alvarez, the Honduran strongman who was the architect of Battalion 316.
This may be ancient history, but hours before Negroponte sat down before the intelligence committee, The Washington Post published an article based on hundreds of previously secret cables Negroponte sent to Washington when he was ambassador in Tegucigalpa. The records show that he regularly met with Alvarez. In one cable, Negroponte praised Alvarez’s “dedication to democracy.” (Alvarez was kicked out by his fellow militarists in 1984 for being too much of an authoritarian.) Negroponte’s support for the fellow who oversaw a battalion that engaged in kidnapping, torture and murder never wavered. And the Post reported, “There is little in the documents…to support [Negroponte’s] assertion that he used ‘quite diplomacy’ to persuade the Honduran authorities to investigate the most egregious violations, including the mysterious disappearance of dozens of government opponents.”