In mid-February, The New York Times ran a news story headlined “Intelligence Nominee Comes Under Renewed Scrutiny on Human Rights.” That was, alas, not quite true.
John Negroponte, who George W. Bush selected to be the first national directory of intelligence, does have a checkered past that warrants examination. As I and others noted when Bush appointed him UN ambassador in 2001 and then ambassador to Iraq last year, during the time Negroponte was Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s, he was the boss of the contra operation. Worse, he ignored serious human rights violations and oversaw an embassy that smothered reporting of abuses committed by the Honduran military, an ally of the Reagan administration in the not-that-secret covert war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. (Click here for details.)
The Times article (of February 19) noted that human rights advocates were now complaining about the Negroponte appointment and accusing him of having covered up human rights abuses. The piece reported that Jack Binns, who had preceded Negroponte as ambassador in Honduras, opposed the nomination because he believed that Negroponte had misled Congress about human rights violations in Honduras and that Negroponte might tailor intelligence to fit the administration’s policies. But this “scrutiny” has not extended much beyond the human rights lobby. Hill Democrats have not made a fuss about Negroponte’s appointment. Senator Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who in the 1980s was the leading foe of Reagan’s actions in Central America, has declared Negroponte a fine fellow and fit for the job. Congressional Democrats have demanded an investigation of Gannongate, but none have pushed for the declassification of a 1997 CIA inspector general’s report that concluded Negroponte’s embassy had censored reporting on human rights abuses. (About 70 percent of the report is redacted.) And there’s been little discussion of Negroponte’s suitability for the post on the shouting-head television shows.
In its coverage of the appointment, the Times stuck with the old journalistic convention of he said/she said reporting, noting that some human rights fuddy-duddies were accusing Negroponte of having covered up human rights violations and that Negroponte’s supporters were maintaining he’s a great guy. That is, the Times was doing nothing to determine if the human rights critics were justified in their opposition to Negroponte. Yet the Times has on its staff one of the experts on Negroponte’s tenure in Honduras: a reporter who cowrote a convincing series published by the Baltimore Sun in 1995 that concluded Negroponte’s embassy had smothered reporting on human rights abuses. Ginger Thompson and Gary Cohn wrote the pieces, and today Thompson is a correspondent for The New York Times in Mexico City. (Click here for the Sun series.) Has the Times put her on the Negroponte beat? I don’t know. But it would be a pity if the newspaper of record did not make use of this resource.