The Guardian 2 March, 2005

Negroponte's bloody baggage

Emile Schepers

John Negroponte, the US ambassador to Iraq, has been nominated by President Bush to head the new super-spy agency set up by last year's intelligence reform legislation. Negroponte's baggage contains a shocking amount of dirt and blood.

Negroponte was US ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, during a time when the Reagan administration was secretly arming right-wing "Contra" forces with the aim of ousting the progressive, Sandinista-led government in neighbouring Nicaragua.

Since Congress had expressly forbidden the administration from using taxpayer dollars for this purpose, funding was obtained from an arrangement that involved the secret sale of US arms to Iran (illegal at the time) and drug sales (illegal at any time).

The Contras were ruthless killers. Their methods included terrorist attacks on unarmed, rural Nicaraguan schoolteachers and health care workers. The US used facilities in Honduras, including the Aguacate airfield, to mount and support the Contra attacks in Nicaragua, and thus the US ambassador Negroponte must have known about many of these crimes.

Though Nicaragua was the main target, the Honduran people did not remain unscathed. To carry out the Contra support mission, Negroponte associated himself with some of the most brutal elements in the Honduran military, especially General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who set up a death squad operation ("Battalion 3-16") within the country.

Honduran human rights groups say that Negroponte was complicit in numerous atrocities committed by Martinez and others, including massacres of Honduran and Salvadoran leftists and the disappearance of 184 Honduran oppositionists. These charges were supported by a detailed investigative series in the Baltimore Sun newspaper in 1995.

That same year, a Honduran court charged 14 officers with human rights violations. The Honduran Commissioner for Human Rights asked the US government to make information it possessed available to him about Negroponte and others in connection with Battalion 3-16, but Washington refused to cooperate.

These actions, and the part Negroponte played in them, were denounced in the United States at the time, even by some of his colleagues in government. His predecessor as ambassador to Honduras, John Binns, has called on the Senate not to confirm him in the new position, as have growing numbers of people both in the US and in Central America.

In 2001, Negroponte was appointed US ambassador to the United Nations by George W Bush, and thus played a key role in organising the barrage of lies laid down to justify the Iraq war. When the Mexican and Chilean ambassadors to the UN would not be swayed by the lies, Negroponte organised a campaign to get them fired by their home governments.

Then, last summer, Negroponte was made US ambassador to Iraq. Questions should be raised about his role vis--vis atrocities there, including his handling of the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal and the brutal bombardment of Fallujah last year.

Some have wondered aloud why a person whose whole experience has been in the diplomatic corps is being put in charge of an agency that will have no diplomatic role, but instead will supervise the CIA and 14 other spy agencies. But Negroponte was never really a "diplomat": he was always the instigator and fixer of covert operations and dirty tricks directed against other countries, and his ambassadorial positions were, you might say, only his diplomatic cover.

We can be sure that he will not interpret his role as keeping these spy agencies, some of which, especially the CIA, have histories of wantonly violent and illegal behaviour, "honest".

On the contrary, he will consider himself to be in charge of minimising accountability to Congress and the public, and using whatever lies and dirty tricks serve that purpose.

It is to be hoped that when Negroponte comes up for Senate confirmation hearings, at least some of the senators will demand a full accounting, and the majority will have the courage to do what they did not do with Attorney General Gonzales and Secretary of State Rice, namely, to block the appointment.

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