Iran-Contra: Crossing That Line
”I think everyone knew we were walking a very thin line.”(Owen) Not many Americans know the truth that lies behind the Iran-Contra scandals. Most would be surprised to know about the deception of our leaders. Still today, some truth of Iran-Contra lies hidden in the conscience of the people who organized it, aided it, and went through with it. It started with good intentions, but soon was corrupted. Some may argue that we must do what we can to smother the flame of communism, but I believe that deception, abuse of power and bloodshed is no way to go about it.To fully understand Iran-Contra, you must know the history behind it. Draper explains to us that the Iranian Revolution of 1978-1979 brought the fall of the tyrant Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and gave rise to Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini led the Shiite clerics, whose goal was to establish an Islamic state. In July 1979, the Nicaraguan Revolution overthrew the dictator Somoza and replaced the dynasty with the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas were a communist regime that sought allies with Castro and the Soviet Union. Khomeini and Sandinista had different views, both had one important thing in common; they came to power by defeating United States’ resistance, thus they were regarded with hostility. The United States was then left with the question of what to do next. The Reagan administration saw the Sandinistas not as nationalists, but as representatives of a communist conspiracy that must be stopped. “ Lurking in the background of these affairs, then, was the ghost of McCarthyism…”(Draper 568). The White House took the 1950’s idea of McCarthyism to take every method short of a full-scale war to overthrow the Sandinista regime.
The War Against the Sandinistas
The United States Central Intelligence Agency armed and trained an anti-Sandinista Guerrilla force based in the neighboring countries of Honduras and Costa Rica called the “Contras.” (Corn) These Contras began a series of terrorist raids in Nicaragua, and the death toll mounted. A large amount of opposition and protests by European powers soon followed. Congress then banned any further US financial or military assistance to the Contras in legislation titled the Boland amendment. (“Iran-Contra Affair”) This is where the deception started. The Reagan administration knew that if their aid to the Contras stopped, it would mean the end of the Contras.
Reagan called together a small planning staff to “keep the Contras together, body and soul” regardless of the legislation. Detailed to the NSC from the marines, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North was given the responsibility to establish a secret network to arm the Contras. Dozens of former CIA and retired military personnel were recruited to train the Contras and fly weapons into Central America. At first, American capitalists supplied much of the financing, but as the operation became more complex, money came from American allies who saw this as a “gesture to build goodwill in Washington” (Walsh 47). This aid provided a steadily growing death toll in Nicaragua. It is estimated that 20,000 Nicaraguan men, women and children were killed in these attacks. (“1986…”) These attacks’ purposes were to terrorize the people and destroy the country’s economics. I believe the Reagan administration was wrong in doing this, even though they had good intention to stop communism. They only brought unnecessary blood shed.
Arms for Hostages
The Iranian end of the affair started with a series of clashes between the Islamic regime and the US, which lead to the capture of the American Embassy and hostages in Teheran. After “a long and bloody stalemate”(Walsh 311), the Reagan administration backed by National Security Advisor McFarlene decided to trade arms for hostages. But, the catch in the plan was that the same NSC operatives – McFarlene, PoinDexter, and Lt. Col. Oliver North – had the responsibilities of both the Iran dealings and the ongoing shipment to the Contras. They decided to overcharge the Iranians in order to provide funds to the Contras. This made it almost inevitable that something would go wrong, and it did. The arms deal was soon found out and it was made the center of media attention. Ignoring this warning, McFarlene and North traveled to Teheran personally to deliver missiles and talk to Iranian officials. North even brought Iranians into the White House secretly at night to discuss the situation.
The lies in Iran-Contra kept getting deeper and deeper, and Reagan and his administration refused to give up their fight. But, they would never be able to keep such an intricate web of lies from being exposed. They had already been in direct violation of the Boland amendment, which prohibited aid to Nicaraguan rightists. As word leaked out about North’s role in the operation, North and others lied under oath, adding perjury and obstruction of justice to their other crimes.
In Firewall, Walsh explains to us the exposure of Iran-Contra that came in the fall of 1986. In early October, Sandinista air defense troops shoot down the C-130 used in supplying the Contras. Former CIA operative Eugene Hasenfus, a cargo handler on-board, was captured and paraded before television cameras. Three weeks later, a Lebanese newspaper reported the visit of North and McFarlene to Teheran. This was not only exposure to Iran-Contra, but it also showed the Reagan Administration breaking the policy of never negotiating with terrorists and kidnappers. The Reagan administration decided to cover-up Iran-Contra. Attorney General Edwin Meese went on television to announce that he uncovered the diversion of the funds from the arms sales. Oliver North was fired, and Poindexter was forced to resign.
“The focus of the diversion of funds was an exercise in misdirection: a ‘diversion’ in more than one sense.” (Walsh 369) The emphasis of Oliver North’s transfer of a few million dollars from one secret operation diverted the attention from the far more important side of Iran-Contra: the use of the funds to arm Contra forces that created a bloodbath in Nicaragua. Not only was this a diversion from the important side of Iran-Contra, but it also placed the blame on North and Poindexter instead of the whole group of those were involved.
An Ending to Iran-Contra
Investigations were launched focusing on the diversion of funds. Reagan and his administration clamed they knew nothing, and were found blameless. After questioning and flattering media coverage, North was almost proclaimed a hero. (Fritz) Then, Democrat Jack Brooks of Texas sought to question North about his role in the contingency planning for the roundup of hundreds of thousands of Central American immigrants. Chairman Inouye intervened and cut off the discussion saying such issues should be discussed in a secret session. The committee gave North and Poindexter limited immunity in return for their testimony. (Kemper) The investigation by a special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was sabotaged and ultimately shut down by the combined action of Congress, the courts and the Bush administration. The case went to the Supreme Court who ruled that Walsh had to prove that neither the prosecutors nor any of the witnesses had been influenced by this testimony which had been broadcast on national television. North and Poindexter were convicted of lying to Congress, but their convictions were later overturned. Walsh then obtained convictions of a handful of CIA officials and then brought charges of obstruction of justice and perjury against Weinburger. (“Iran-Contra Affair”) Despite all his efforts, Walsh never got the justice he wanted. In a final act before leaving office, Bush pardoned Weinburger and four other former Reagan administration officials. Not a single person went to prison for their role in this massive violation of democratic and constitutional rights.
Iran-Contra was a perfect example of abused power. The Reagan administration had good intentions to stop the communism in Nicaragua, but when Congress shut them down, they should have stopped. Because of their actions, many people were killed. They had no right to take this matter into their own hands. The depth of the deception in Iran-Contra is proved when not a single person involved in it was sent to prison, and aid to Contras was later approved. The integrity of our leaders has been there, but their actions do not follow. Let us hope that this does not happen again. Just as the Philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
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