Negroponte, a Torturer’s Friend

April 20, 2004 | The Progressive

by Matthew Rothschild

Bush’s announcement that he intends to appoint John Negroponte to be the U.S. ambassador to Iraq should appall anyone who respects human rights.

Negroponte, currently U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., was U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s and was intimately involved with Reagan’s dirty war against the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. Reagan waged much of that illegal contra war from Honduras, and Negroponte was his point man.

According to a detailed investigation the Baltimore Sun did in 1995, Negroponte covered up some of the most grotesque human rights abuses imaginable.

The CIA organized, trained, and financed an army unit called Battalion 316, the paper said. Its specialty was torture. And it kidnapped, tortured, and killed hundreds of Hondurans, the Sun reported. It “used shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves.”

The U.S. embassy in Honduras knew about the human rights abuses but did not want this embarrassing information to become public, the paper said.

“Determined to avoid questions in Congress, U.S. officials in Honduras concealed evidence of human rights abuses,” the Sun reported. Negroponte has denied involvement, and prior to his confirmation by the Senate for his U.N. post, he testified, “I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras.”

But this is what the Baltimore Sun said: “The embassy was aware of numerous kidnappings of leftists.” It also said that Negroponte played an active role in whitewashing human rights abuses.

“Specific examples of brutality by the Honduran military typically never appeared in the human rights reports, prepared by the embassy under the direct supervision of Ambassador Negroponte,” the paper wrote. ” The reports from Honduras were carefully crafted to leave the impression that the Honduran military respected human rights.”

So this is the man who is going to show the Iraqis the way toward democracy?

More likely, as the insurgency increases, this will be the man who will oversee and hush up any brutal repression that may ensue.

— Matthew Rothschild

Bush Appoints Negroponte Iraq Ambassador

April 20, 2004 | DemocracyNow!

George Bush has appointed a diplomat infamous for supporting right-wing death squads in Central America during the 1980s to succeed Paul Bremer as the top US official in Iraq. UN Ambassador John Negroponte is set to take over what will be the largest US embassy in the world, that in Baghdad.

Negroponte currently serves as US ambassador to the United Nations. But it is his reputation as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 that earned him a reputation for supporting widespread human rights abuses and campaigns of terror. As ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte played a key role in US aid to the Contra death squads in Nicaragua and shoring up the brutal military dictatorship of General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez in Honduras. During his term as ambassador there, diplomats alleged that the embassy’s annual human rights reports made Honduras sound more like Norway than Argentina.

According to a four-part series in the Baltimore Sun, in 1982 alone the Honduran press ran 318 stories of murders and kidnappings by the Honduran military. In a 1995 series, Sun reporters Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson detailed the activities of a secret CIA-trained Honduran army unit, Battalion 316, that used “shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves.” In 1994, Honduras’s National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights reported that it was officially admitted that 179 civilians were still missing.

Former official Rick Chidester, who served under Negroponte, says he was ordered to remove all mention of torture and executions from the draft of his 1982 report on the human rights situation in Honduras. During Negroponte’s tenure, US military aid to Honduras skyrocketed from $3.9 million to over $77 million. Much of this went to ensure the Honduran army’s loyalty in the battle against popular movements throughout Central America.

Negroponte’s nomination for the UN post he currently holds was confirmed by the Senate in September 2001, but that confirmation didn’t come easily. It was delayed a half-year mostly because of criticism of his record in Central America. Negroponte was questioned by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on whether he had acquiesced to human rights abuses by Honduran death squads funded and partly trained by the Central Intelligence Agency. Negroponte testified that he did not believe the abuses were part of a deliberate Honduran government policy. “To this day,” he said, “I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras.”

Concern over his nomination was coupled with Bush’s decision to downgrade the United Nations ambassadorship position by depriving it of Cabinet rank. This decision raised concerns that Bush would be hostile to the UN. If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte will head a US embassy in Baghdad that will be temporarily housed in a palace that belonged to Saddam Hussein. At a White House ceremony to announce the appointment, President Bush praised Negroponte as “a man of enormous experience and skill” who has “done a really good job of speaking for the United States to the world about our intentions to spread freedom and peace.”

To hear or read a transcript of the DemocracyNow! interview with Jim Paul, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum (based at the United Nations), click here.

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