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Jewish World Review Aug. 20, 1999 /8 Elul, 5759

David Corn

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The Ghosts of El Aguacate -- LAST WEEK, a short wire service report from Associated Press noted that clandestine grave sites had been discovered at a military base in Honduras. These few paragraphs provided proof that U.S. government officials had been complicit in torture and brutality in Central America. A reasonable person might think that would cause a stir. Talk in the media. Calls for an inquiry. Not these days.

The AP reported that human remains had been found at the El Aguacate Air Base, 80 miles east of capital Tegucigalpa, and that the Honduras Attorney General’s office had declared there was evidence that “torture and human sacrifice” had been conducted there. What’s the connection to Washington? The United States in 1983 built the base with taxpayer money, and the facility was used as a training center for the Contras fighting the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. These rebels were a pet cause of President Reagan and his henchmen, who ignored or challenged reports of human rights atrocities committed by the Contras and who insisted on portraying the bunch as heroic freedom fighters.

In the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration’s support of El Aguacate provoked controversy in Washington. The base was constructed by the Pentagon for maneuvers the U.S. armed forces were conducting in Honduras in 1983 and 1984. (These exercises were meant to intimidate the Sandinistas.) It was supposed to be merely temporary, but some Democrats were suspicious of the amount of money the U.S. military was spending on El Aguacate. A General Accounting Office study, ordered up by Sen. James Sasser, concluded that the Pentagon had spent far more than would be needed for a temporary base. In fact, the Reaganites had used the maneuvers as an excuse to upgrade a facility that the CIA could then turn over to the Contras. In doing so, the Reagan administration was able to evade congressional limits on how much money the CIA could spend to assist the Contras.

Now, it turns out, this CIA gift to the Contras was a place of murder, more proof the Contras and their comrades in Honduras were brutes. But it’s doubtful that Reagan and his lieutenants will ever have to pay for their alliance with these thugs. The Honduras government has begun an investigation of the site, but there won’t be any probe here that discomfits those who arranged the under-the-table—and arguably unconstitutional—funding for the base.

These people usually get off. In 1993, the Honduras Human Rights Commissioner, Leo Valladares, reported that U.S. military personnel had helped train a death squad that killed nearly 200 people. The revelation caused no public repercussions in Washington. In fact, an archive of documents released last month by the U.S. government showed that during the Cold War, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies repeatedly cooperated with the intelligence services of brutal Latin American dictatorships. Much of this sort of collaborating occurred during the Reagan years, when his foreign policy crew argued there was a difference between authoritarian governments (non-communist dictatorships) and totalitarian governments (communist states) and that the United States could work with the former to fight the latter. It was a premise that made for provocative reading in Commentary, but this sort of hairsplitting was of little solace to the families of El Salvadoran peasants massacred by the Reagan-backed military forces there.

More than a decade later, every GOP presidential candidate is praising Reagan as a global savior, and conservative activists are mounting a campaign to name roads, mountains and federal facilities after him. There is no payback for being the geostrategic accomplice—and enabler—of torturers and murderous rogues. The national security gang almost always escapes retribution. The Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed, lives were lost due to CIA screwups, and who lost his or her job? No one. The innocent killed in the name of national security go unavenged.

While we’re on the subject, let’s, as a public service, remind Democratic voters that Bill Bradley, who is campaigning for the presidency on the basis of his strong values system, was one of a handful of Democrats who voted to support the Contras. In 1986, when $100 million in funding for the Contras was on the line, Bradley, who previously had opposed Contra aid, switched sides and joined the Reaganites. He argued at the time that sending this money to the Contras was necessary in order to put pressure on the Sandinistas. Easy for him to say. He wasn’t on the other end of the torture at El Aguacate. (For the record, Gore, then a senator, voted against this $100 million.) On the campaign trail, one of the values Bradley hawks is responsibility.

Tell us, Senator, who in the United States dares assume responsibility for what was done in the recesses of the El Aguacate base, a site of horror funded with our money and built in the supposed pursuit of our national security interests?

JWR contributor David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation, writes the "Loyal Opposition" column for The New York Press.

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