‘On This Day’ 1986: Iran-Contra Affair Revealed
On November 25, 1986 U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese announced that the United States was selling weapons to Iran in contravention of an embargo and funneling the profits to the brutally barbaric Contra rebels in Nicaragua in direct violation of U.S. law. What would come to be known as the Iran-Contra Affair exploded into the biggest scandal of Ronald Reagan’s scandal-ridden administration, and the President himself would be implicated in criminal activity.
It all began with a scheme to sell weapons to Iran via Israel in return for Iranian assistance in freeing American hostages being held captive in Lebanon by U.S.-designated terrorist organizations with close ties to Tehran. The plan was opposed by Secretary of State George Schultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar “Cap” Weinberger, but President Reagan liked it and authorized its execution. The scheme was modified by Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council (NSC) who cut Israel out of the arms deal and facilitated the direct sale of weaponry to Iran. A share of the profits was then channeled to the Nicaraguan Contras, a U.S.-backed rebel group fighting the popular yet leftist Sandinista government so hated by Reagan.
The Contras were were an unbelievably barbaric bunch, fond of committing unimaginably sadistic acts of violence. The Sandinistas had been working hard to improve life for the impoverished people of Nicaragua; land reform, health care, education and nutrition were all improving under their rule. The Contras, with Reagan’s blessing and assistance, aimed to destroy all of that. They engaged in widespread and often indiscriminate terrorism the likes of which shocked the conscience of the world. Here is one eyewitness account of Contra “liberation”:
“They took out their knives and stuck them under his fingernails. After they took his fingernails off, then they broke his elbows. Afterwards they gouged out his eyes. Then they took their bayonets and made all sorts of slices in his skin all around his chest, arms, and legs. They then took his hair off and the skin of his scalp. When they saw there was nothing left to do with him, they threw gasoline on him and burned him.
The next day they started the same thing with a 13 year old girl. They did more or less the same, but they did other things to her too. First, she was utilized, raped by all the officers. They stripped her and threw her in a small room, they went in one by one. Afterwards they took her out tied and blindfolded. Then they began the same mutilating, pulling her fingernails out and cutting off her fingers, breaking her arms, gouging out her eyes and all they did to the other fellow. They cut her legs and stuck an iron rod into her womb.”
The Contras, for maximum terror, would often force family members to watch as they committed heinous atrocities against their relatives. President Reagan called these detestable savages “freedom fighters” and “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers” as he channelled more and more aid to them. Contras were brought to the United States where they were trained by American military and intelligence operatives using CIA-authored torture and assassination manuals. When word of Contra atrocities reached Reagan, he dismissed them as “much ado about nothing.” Congress and the American people didn’t think so. A Congressional intelligence committee concluded that the Contras “raped, tortured and killed unarmed civilians, including children” and that “groups of civilians, including pregnant women and children were burned, dismembered, blinded and beheaded.” Recognition of Contra atrocities along with pressure from ordinary citizens led to the passage of the Boland Amendment, which outlawed most American aid to the Contras.
The Contras were also heavily involved in drug trafficking and senior U.S. officials were fully aware of this. Worse, they helped import large quantities of cocaine and other drugs into the United States. Colonel Oliver North’s own notebooks prove this beyond a doubt. “Wanted aircraft to go to Bolivia to pick up paste,” reads an entry from July 9, 1984. On the same day, North wrote: “want aircraft to pick up 1,500 kilos.” A report by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) revealed that the U.S. actually paid known drug traffickers to deliver aid to the Contras, even after said traffickers had been indicted by U.S. federal prosecutors.
Despite the Contras shocking human rights record, the fact that they were importing dangerous drugs into the United States and the Boland Amendment which prohibited U.S. aid to them, the Reagan administration secretly continued to supply the rebels with desperately needed cash via arms sales to Iran. This, too, was illegal since there was an embargo against the country that had seized the American embassy and held hundreds of American hostages just a few short years earlier. The Reagan administration was also playing a very dangerous, highly immoral game in the Middle East, where it had encouraged Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to wage war on Iran and then sold weapons to both sides in the conflict. Reagan dispatched envoy Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to bolster cooperation between the United States and Iraq, cooperation that included the transfer of chemical weapons components that Hussein would use not only against Iran but also on his own people with horrific results.
The Iran-Contra scandal was first revealed by a Lebanese newspaper on November 3, 1986. There was a mad rush to shred as many incriminating documents as possible as key figures in the affair realized the jig was up. Then, on November 25, 1986, the affair was revealed. Poindexter resigned that day and Colonel North was fired by the President, who created the “Tower Commission” to investigate. Reagan would later admit that he authorized the arms sales to Iran and in an address to the nation on March 4, 1987 he took full responsibility for the mess and admitted he had lied about trading arms for hostages. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” the President said, “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”Reagan’s popularity fell from 67% to 46% but later rebounded. He remains one of the most popular figures in American history despite his crimes.
Fourteen Reagan administration officials were indicted for their roles in the Iran-Contra affair, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Elliot Abrams, Otto Reich, John Negroponte and National Security Adviser John Poindexter. None of them ever served a day in prison. Poindexter’s hometown of Odon, Indiana even named a street after him, the sign for which was stolen by a local man named Bill Breeden. He was arrested and imprisoned, the only person who would ever serve time as a result of the Iran-Contra affair. Many of the Iran-Contra criminals would later be appointed to prominent position in George W. Bush’s administration; among them Abrams, Reich, Negroponte and Poindexter.
Tagged Attorney General, Baghdad, Bill Breeden, Boland Amendment, Caspar Weinberger, Colonel Oliver North, Contras, Donald Rumsfeld, Edwin Meese, Elliot Abrams, George Schultz, George W. Bush, Iran, Iran-Contra Affair, Israel, John Kerry, John Negroponte, John Poindexter, Lebanon, National Security Council, Nicaragua, Odon Indiana, Otto Reich, Ronal Reagan, Sandinistas, torture, Tower Commission