Moral Low Ground

US Government

Hillary Clinton Touts Endorsement by John Negroponte, Reagan’s Death Squad Ambassador

John Negroponte served as US ambassador to Honduras, where he oversaw efforts to support the terrorist Contra insurgency in neighboring Nicaragua and ignored horrific human rights violations committed by Battalion 316, a US-backed Honduran military death squad. (Photo: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy/Flickr Creative Commons)

John Negroponte served as US ambassador to Honduras, where he oversaw efforts to support the terrorist Contra insurgency in neighboring Nicaragua and ignored horrific human rights violations committed by Battalion 316, a US-backed Honduran military death squad. (Photo: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy/Flickr Creative Commons)

While not exactly trumpeting her latest Republican endorsement from the rooftop, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has accepted and cited the support of John Negroponte, who her website notes was a five-time US ambassador, deputy national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan and director of national intelligence and deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush. That’s certainly an impressive resume, but what exactly did Negroponte accomplish in his decades of service? The truth is rather horrifying.

Negroponte rose to prominence as President Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras, which was then, like many Latin American nations, ruled by a brutal but US-friendly and staunchly anti-communist military dictatorship. A similar allied regime was committing genocide against poor, indigenous Mayan peasants in neighboring Guatemala, while yet another US-backed dictatorship was busy slaughtering opponents — mostly civilians, including entire villages, the beloved Archbishop Oscar Romero and American nuns — in next-door El Salvador.

As ambassador, Negroponte supervised the creation of the notorious Battalion 316, an army intelligence unit created, funded, armed and trained by the United States and Argentina, which was then ruled by the “Dirty War” junta responsible for as many as 30,000 disappearances. Battalion 316 was headed by Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, a graduate of the US Army School of the Americas, also known as the “School of Assassins,” from which some of the Western Hemisphere’s worst human rights violators were trained in kidnapping, torture, assassination and democracy suppression. One-time US ally, drug trafficker and Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, Bolivian despot Hugo Banzer (who sheltered the notorious Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie), Haitian death squad commander and military dictator Raoul Cédras and Argentine “Dirty War” dictator Leopoldo Galtieri were among the SOA’s most notorious alumni. So were at least 20 members of Battalion 316.

Tasked with eliminating opposition to the Honduran regime, Battalion 316 targeted students, academics, labor unionists, clergy, journalists, activists and others deemed a threat to the dictatorship. The unit specialized in barbaric torture — one victim had his testicles ripped off with a rope. Nobody knows exactly how many people were tortured and murdered by Battalion 316, but throughout the 1980s mutilated bodies were discovered strew throughout the Honduran countryside. The Reagan administration was fully aware of the horror it was supporting but instead of cutting off aid to the murderous regime it increased assistance from $3.9 million in 1980 to $77.4 million by 1984, a nearly 20-fold increase. Shockingly, Reagan even honored Gen. Alvarez with the Legion of Merit — awarded for exceptional conduct — for “encouraging the success of the democratic process in Honduras.” 

While Honduran civilians were being tortured to death, Negroponte and Thomas Enders, who worked to deny the massacre of more than 900 mostly women and children by US-backed, SOA-trained troops at El Mozote in neighboring El Salvador, did their best to conceal the regime’s worst human rights crimes. Negroponte claimed stories of abuse were fabricated but US Embassy officials regularly met with Hondurans whose family members had been kidnapped, even while accusing them of lying. In at least one case, however, Negroponte personally intervened to secure the release of a Oscar Reyes, a famous journalist, and his wife Gloria, who had been abducted and tortured. This proves that Negroponte was very much aware of the abuses taking place with Washington’s blessing.

Still, each year Negroponte supervised the deceitful preparation of State Department reports filled with outright lies meant to conceal the regime’s crimes. “There are no political prisoners in Honduras,” the 1983 report stated. Rick Chidester, an embassy officer who wrote the first draft of the previous year’s report, later told the Baltimore Sun his version was filled with documented human rights violations but he was ordered to delete the incriminating portions before passing it along for eventual release. The deception convinced Congress and the American people to support ever-increasing amounts of military and economic aid to the Honduran regime, whose favor was needed for much more than just repressing communism at home. 

Negroponte was soon supervising the construction of an American airbase at El Aguacate, which has been called “the Abu Ghraib of its day.” Not only did US forces use the base as a training facility for the Nicaraguan Contras, a vicious terrorist army that tortured, raped and murdered thousands of men, women and children that was nevertheless lauded by Reagan as “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers, it was also a notorious secret prison where many Hondurans were tortured and murdered. A 2001 excavation unearthed the remains of 185 victims. 

But the real horror was happening in Nicaragua, where the US-backed Contras waged a guerrilla war against the leftist Sandinista regime. The Contras were unbelievably barbarous. Here’s one eyewitness account:

“Rosa had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken, their testicles cut off. They were killed by slitting their throats and pulling the tongue out through the slit.”

Renowned linguist and historian Noam Chomsky wrote of the Contras:

We can learn of a 14-year-old girl who was gang-raped and then decapitated, her head placed on a stake at the entrance to her village as a warning to government supporters; of nurses who were raped, then murdered; a man killed by hanging after his eyes were gouged out and his fingernails pulled out; a man who was stabbed to death after having been beaten, his eyes gouged out and a cross carved in his back after he fled from a hospital attacked by the Contras; another tortured then skinned; another cut to pieces with bayonets by contras who then beheaded her 11-month-old baby before his wife’s eyes; others who were raped to a background of religious music; children shot in the back or repeatedly shot “as though she had been used for target practice,” according to a North American priest; along with much similar testimony provided by American priests, nuns, and others working in the border areas where the terrorist forces rampage, attacking from the Honduran bases established by their US advisers, instructors and paymasters.

Apparently, none of this worried Negroponte too much. “I do not have any regrets about the way we carried out US policies,” Negroponte said in 1995. “I think we had a positive record there.” Former Honduran Congressman Efraín Díaz Arrivillinga strongly disagrees. He repeatedly met with Negroponte and other US officials about the military’s human rights abuses but “their attitude was one of tolerance and silence,” he said. “They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.”

Negroponte suffered temporarily after he was indicted for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, in which In leading Reagan administration officials conspired to illegally sell weapons to arch-enemy Iran in order to fund the Contras’ terrorist insurgency. But by the end of the decade, George H. W. Bush had appointed him ambassador to Mexico. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Negroponte was asked about Battalion 316’s atrocities. “I have never seen any convincing substantiation that they were involved in death squad type activity,” he deceitfully declared. 

Not only Republicans sought Negroponte’s service; President Bill Clinton appointed him ambassador to the Philippines. Negroponte’s star continued to rise as the George W. Bush administration, which promoted and rewarded individuals with track records of planning, implementing and covering up grave human rights violations, called on him to serve once again, this time as ambassador to the United Nations. Negroponte proved a perfect fit. He was, after all, Reagan’s replacement as Honduran ambassador for Jack Binn, who had warned his superiors about the regime’s crimes, and proved all too willing to provide diplomatic cover for grievous human rights violations, including torture, committed in the name of fighting Islamist terrorism.

While Negroponte is widely viewed today in establishment circles as an elder statesman, he is reviled throughout much of Latin America for having supported some of the worst human rights violations of modern times. There can be little doubt that Clinton is well aware of the many dark stains on his record, and while the former secretary of state has accepted Negroponte’s endorsement without much enthusiasm as she seeks to defeat Donald Trump by drawing in as many conservatives and independents as possible, many human rights advocates say she should repudiate Negroponte for his unconscionable past actions. However, Clinton — who has supported her share of staggering human rights violations, including the invasion and occupation of Iraq and, not so long ago, torture — is close friends with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who helped plan and implement wars against the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in which millions of men, women and children were killed. Under President Gerald Ford, Kissinger also green-lighted Suharto’s genocidal invasion of East Timor and supported bloody pro-US military coups and brutal dictatorships around the world, including the Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Clinton’s embrace of Kissinger has infuriated human rights advocates and activists, who have noted that he ranks among the most murderous figures in US history. But to her supporters, many of whom believe defeating Donald Trump trumps all other considerations and that pragmatic realpolitik as championed by Kissinger and Clinton is the way of the world, accepting this and Clinton’s other highly questionable actions are the price that must be paid for victory in November.

This article was also published on Daily Kos. 

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