Saturday, January 28, 2006

Dying of Innocence at GITMO

Hunger Strikers Close to Death
By Sarah Baxter
The London Times

Sunday 22 January 2006

Despite force feeding by the American military, several hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay may be close to death, according to lawyers acting for the detainees.

The condition of two emaciated Yemeni hunger strikers who have been refusing solid food since August is causing particular concern. There are also fears for the life of a hospitalised Saudi prisoner.

The wife of a British resident and hunger striker, Shaker Aamer, visited the Commons last week to appeal to MPs for help. Aamer's wife, 31, who lives in London with her four children and has asked for her name to be withheld, said: "This is the time to do something. My husband is not going to last."

Aamer has been on hunger strike since November 2. Although he has lost weight, he is stronger than some other prisoners taking part in the protest at their detention without trial.

According to a report to be released tomorrow by the prisoners' rights group Reprieve, the Yemenis, identified as Abu Bakah al-Shamrani and Abu Anas, are said by detainees to be gravely weak. Shamrani weighs only 70lb (5 stone).

Reprieve claims Camp Echo, which is comprised of isolation cells, has been turned into a "force feeding institution" away from other prisoners and its gravel path paved with concrete so the hunger strikers can be moved around in wheelchairs.

The military said last week the number of hunger strikers had declined to 22 after a peak at Christmas and that 17 were being fed by "tube".

Lieutenant-Colonel Jeremy Martin, spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantánamo, declined to give the number of detainees in hospital and said the hunger strikers were "malnourished" but "clinically stable". He denied their lives were at imminent risk.

The US law firm Paul Weiss, which represents three Saudi detainees, has received increasingly alarming weekly medical reports about the condition of one of them, who is in the camp hospital.

On a trip to Guantánamo last month, Paul Weiss's lawyers were prevented from visiting the hospital and told their clients did not wish to see them. "We are concerned they may be in a life-threatening condition," said one of the lawyers, Jana Ramsay. "They are normally glad to see us."

The prisoners being force fed have a permanent tube in the nose, which descends to the stomach and is attached to another tube for feeding. If they do not rip it out, the US military say they are consenting to be fed even if the tube was inserted under duress.

Aamer was visited this month by his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of Reprieve. In "obvious pain", he pulled his tube out of his nose so it could be examined. According to Stafford Smith, it was 43in long and was stained red from having been in Aamer's stomach.

Aamer has vowed to continue his hunger strike until he is given a fair trial or released. He said in a statement: "The British government refuses to help me. What is the use of my wife being British?" He said he held the British government as well as the Americans "responsible for my death".


Robert Parry, "An OLD STORY MADE NEW"

* The Kerry-Weld Cocaine War

By Robert Parry

WASHINGTON -- The sudden uproar over a decade-old story -- cocaine smuggling linked to the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contra rebels -- could reverberate with special intensity in Massachusetts, where the controversy has the potential for affecting the outcome of a close Senate race.

That race pits John Kerry, the Democratic senator who led the investigation into contra drugs, against Republican William Weld, the chief of the Justice Department's criminal division when the contra-drug allegations were emerging as a national issue and when the Iran-contra scandal broke in the fall of 1986.

In new testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Oct. 23, one of Kerry's former investigators, Jack Blum, fingered Weld as the "absolute stonewall" who blocked the Senate's access to vital evidence linking the contras and cocaine. "Weld put a very serious block on any effort we made to get information," Blum told a crowded hearing room. "There were stalls. There were refusals to talk to us, refusals to turn over data."

Weld has denied those charges and insisted that he conscientiously pursued the allegations. In that position, the governor has been helped by the main Massachusetts papers, particularly The Boston Globe, which have largely accepted Weld's word. Indeed, instead of digging into Weld's official drug-war actions in late 1986 and during 1987, the Globe has gone on the offensive against Kerry -- for sleeping at the homes of friends during his divorce a decade ago.

Yet, an investigation by The Consortium has uncovered new evidence that buttresses Blum's charge that Weld stonewalled the contra-cocaine allegations. Information also emerged revealing a cozy relationship between Weld and top Globe reporters in Washington during the mid-1980s.

A review of Weld's Justice Department phone logs and calendars, from fall 1986 to spring 1987, revealed Weld scheduling squash matches with the Globe's Bob Healy and speaking to the Globe's Steve Kurkjian far more than to any other journalist, even those who regularly covered the Justice Department. Kurkjian wrote the recent investigative story slamming Kerry's acceptance of friends' hospitality during his divorce.

More importantly, however, during the current Senate campaign, the Globe has given scant coverage to Weld's record of downplaying -- and trying to discredit -- the flood of contra-cocaine allegations that inundated his office in late 1986 and early 1987.

When Weld assumed control of the criminal division in September 1986, requests for contra-cocaine evidence already were pending from Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively. In support of Kerry's probe, Lugar and Pell were requesting information on more than two dozen names of individuals connected to the contra operation and suspected of drug trafficking.

'Just Stonewalling'
One of Weld's top deputies, Mark Richard, expressed concern about the Justice Department's failure to respond to that request, as the Reagan administration sought to shield the contras from negative publicity. "In the September [1986] time frame, a new assistant attorney general [Weld] comes on board," Richard testified in a deposition. "I must confess I was concerned. I was concerned not so much that there were going to be hearings [about contra-connected drug trafficking].

"I was concerned that we were not responding to what was obviously a legitimate congressional request. We were not refusing to respond in giving explanations or justifications for it. We were seemingly just stonewalling what was a continuing barrage of requests for information. That concerned me to no end."

Richard said he raised his worries with Weld directly. "I impressed upon the new assistant attorney general that this, in my judgment, was an issue that had to be addressed. We had responsibility across section lines. ...To my knowledge, we just were not saying we're not going to give it. We're not saying we're going to give it. We're just not saying anything."

As part of the Reagan team, Weld continued to snub the Senate and its demands for action on the contra-drug issue. On Sept. 26, 1986, Kerry brought Weld an 11-page "proffer" statement from a female FBI informant who had told the senator that Colombian cocaine kingpin Jorge Ochoa had bragged about his payments to the contras. The informant, Wanda Palacio, also claimed to have witnessed the loading of cocaine onto CIA-connected planes twice in Barranquilla, Colombia.

Weld brushed aside the allegations, even though some of the woman's most important charges found powerful corroboration. Palacio had claimed, for instance, that one of the shipments was aboard a Southern Air Transport plane that landed in Barranquilla in early October 1985. When one of Oliver North's secret contra supply planes was then shot down over Nicaragua on Oct. 5, 1986, Palacio identified a photo of the co-pilot, Wallace Sawyer, as one of the cocaine smugglers in Barranquilla.

'Diseased Blankets'
As it turned out, Sawyer's flight logs, which were recovered from the Nicaraguan crash, showed that Sawyer had flown a Southern Air Transport plane into Barranquilla three times in early October 1985, just as Palacio had alleged. [For more details, see The Consortium, Oct. 28, 1996, or The Nation, Oct. 21, 1996] Nevertheless, Weld would continue to reject Palacio's testimony. When asked about the Palacio case recently, Weld described the woman's credibility as equal to "a wagon load of diseased blankets."

But as internal Justice records reveal, Palacio was only one of many witnesses turned away when they linked the contras, the CIA and cocaine. The documents also show that under Weld's leadership, the criminal division continued to withhold information requested by the Senate in fall 1986.

Those delays finally prompted an angry response from Lugar and Pell, two of the most mild-mannered members of the U.S. Senate. On Oct. 14, 1986, the two senators complained that they had been waiting more than two months for information that the Justice Department had promised "in an expeditious manner."

"To date, no information has been received and the investigation of allegations by the committee, therefore, has not moved very far," Lugar and Pell wrote. "This has led to concern about Justice's willingness to provide information, its responsiveness to our requests and its readiness to cooperate with our investigation. We're disappointed that the Department has not responded in a timely fashion and indeed has not provided any materials."

That bipartisan volley caught the Justice Department's attention, but Weld continued to drag his heels. Weld called two meetings which bogged down over peripheral issues, according to Weld's deputy, Richard. "I remember being frustrated because he [Weld] was spending so much time on one [fraud] case," Richard explained in a sworn deposition.

Though still not forthcoming with the Senate, Weld was getting nervous, the records reveal. On Oct. 16, 1986, he sent a memo to another assistant, Victoria Toensing, ordering her to "get me a copy of Sen. Kerry's stmt re DOJ not investigating Nicaragua." By Nov. 6, another memo indicated that Weld had opened a special "Nicaragua" file. He wrote in still another memo that "Nicaragua is front burner."

By Nov. 11, Weld was lamenting in writing to his staff that "delay looks awful." He wanted to know where court records from a major San Francisco contra-cocaine criminal case were. That was the so-called Frogman case which had caught Norwin Meneses, a Nicaraguan contra fund raiser, smuggling cocaine by sea into the Bay Area. The federal prosecutor had returned $36,020 seized in that case when one of the defendants submitted letters from contra leaders who insisted that the money was really their property.

Though the Frogman case records were among the files sought by Congress, a former Kerry investigator told The Consortium that Weld's office never delivered those records to the Senate.

Just Saying No
According to other internal Justice Department documents, Weld continued to just say no when it came to Senate requests for advancing the contra-cocaine inquiries. Later in November 1986, Weld personally edited a letter to Kerry denying federal protection to Wanda Palacio, the woman who claimed to have witnessed Medellin cartel cocaine shipments connected to the CIA and the contras. "The Department ... does not provide protection for an informant," the letter read. "It protects a person providing information who agrees to become a witness." But by rejecting Palacio as not credible, Weld had blocked her attempts to become a federal witness.

Into 1987, Weld and his criminal division continued the pattern of failing to follow leads from other potentially valuable CIA-cocaine witnesses, such as George Morales who alleged before the U.S. Senate that the Colombian cartel had given a ton of cocaine which the contras smuggled into the United States through Costa Rica.

But a blind eye toward contra cocaine allegations was apparently common inside the Reagan administration. In May 1987, the U.S. attorney for northern Indiana notified the Justice Department that an FBI agent in Illinois had decided that one convict "was not used in a drug prosecution in Springfield, Ill., because he allegedly told the agents that he had offloaded arms in Nicaragua." The teletype, found among Weld's records on file at the National Archives, did not explain why the Nicaraguan connection would exclude use of the witness in a drug case.

Meanwhile, in 1987 and again in 1988, the CIA insisted that it had conducted investigations into the allegations of contra drug smuggling and had found no evidence implicating the contras or the spy agency. Even today, those CIA reports are being cited by mainstream newspapers as they seek to refute new allegations by The San Jose Mercury News that contra cocaine trafficking fueled the crack epidemic that swept American cities in the 1980s.

But at the Oct. 24, 1996, hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA inspector general Frederick Hitz conceded that the first CIA probe had lasted only 12 days. The second probe took only three days before concluding that "all allegations implying that the CIA condoned, abetted or participated in narcotics trafficking are absolutely false," he said.

Hitz also acknowledged that in the past two months he has been unable to collect the large volume of relevant documents that would allow him even to begin a credible investigation. Hitz's admission directly undercut the reliability of the previous CIA probes, which the mainstream media had relied on heavily to attack the Mercury News story.

Friends in High Places
Weld's friendships with key Washington journalists also helped him fend off contra-cocaine damage to his reputation in the late 1980s. Not only was Weld pals with prominent Boston Globe writers, he had a close personal relationship with Newsweek bureau chief Evan Thomas and other influential members of the press corps from the Harvard alumni set.

That story of a pro-Weld press remains pretty much the same today. The Globe hits Kerry for alleged decade-old ethical lapses after his marriage break-up, while Weld escapes any serious scrutiny over whether he shirked his public duty to enforce criminal drug smuggling laws for political reasons.

Weld also has been one of the chief beneficiaries from the big-media attacks on the Mercury News contra-crack series. Over the past two weeks, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times joined The Washington Post in bashing that series, while continuing to accept the CIA's word about little or no contra drug trafficking. The new attacks, however, contained many of the same biases and factual shortcomings as did the Post articles. [See The Consortium, Oct. 28 for more details.]

Still, the public confusion over the validity of the contra-cocaine charges has limited the damage to Weld's strong Senate campaign. The result on Nov. 5, therefore, could be the removal of Kerry, the chief contra-drug investigator, and his replacement with the Reagan official who kept the stonewall in place.

(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

June 8, 2000
CIA Admits Tolerating Contra- Cocaine Trafficking in 1980s

By Robert Parry

In secret congressional testimony, senior CIA officials admitted that the spy agency turned a blind eye to evidence of cocaine trafficking by U.S.-backed Nicaraguan contra rebels in the 1980s and generally did not treat drug smuggling through Central America as a high priority during the Reagan administration.

“In the end the objective of unseating the Sandinistas appears to have taken precedence over dealing properly with potentially serious allegations against those with whom the agency was working,” CIA Inspector General Britt Snider said in classified testimony on May 25, 1999. He conceded that the CIA did not treat the drug allegations in “a consistent, reasoned or justifiable manner.”

Still, Snider and other officials sought to minimize the seriousness of the CIA’s misconduct – a position echoed by a House Intelligence Committee report released in May and by press coverage it received. In particular, CIA officials insisted that CIA personnel did not order the contras to engage in drug trafficking and did not directly join in the smuggling.

But the CIA testimony to the House Intelligence Committee and the body of the House report confirmed long-standing allegations – dating back to the mid-1980s – that drug traffickers pervaded the contra operation and used it as a cover for smuggling substantial volumes of cocaine into the United States.

Deep in the report, the House committee noted that in some cases, “CIA employees did nothing to verify or disprove drug trafficking information, even when they had the opportunity to do so. In some of these, receipt of a drug allegation appeared to provoke no specific response, and business went on as usual.”

Former CIA officer Duane Clarridge, who oversaw covert CIA support for the contras in the early years of their war against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government, said “counter-narcotics programs in Central America were not a priority of CIA personnel in the early 1980s,” according to the House report.

The House committee also reported new details about how a major Nicaraguan drug lord, Norwin Meneses, recruited one of his principal lieutenants, Oscar Danilo Blandon, with promises that much of their drug money would go to the contras. Meneses and Blandon were key figures in a controversial 1996 series in the San Jose Mercury News that alleged a “dark alliance” between the CIA and contra traffickers.

That series touched off renewed interest in contra-drug trafficking and its connection to the flood of cocaine that swept through U.S. cities in the 1980s, devastating many communities with addiction and violence. In reaction to the articles by reporter Gary Webb, U.S. government agencies and leading American newspapers rallied to the CIA’s defense.

Like those responses, the House Intelligence Committee report attacked Webb’s series. It highlighted exculpatory information about the CIA and buried admissions of wrongdoing deep in the text where only a careful reading would find them. The report’s seven “findings” – accepted by the majority Republicans as well as the minority Democrats – absolved the CIA of any serious offenses, sometimes using convoluted phrasing that obscured the facts.

For instance, one key finding stated that “the CIA as an institution did not approve of connections between contras and drug traffickers, and, indeed, contras were discouraged from involvement with traffickers.” The phrasing is tricky, however. The use of the phrase “as an institution” obscures the report’s clear evidence that many CIA officials ignored the contra-cocaine smuggling and continued doing business with suspected drug traffickers.

The finding’s second sentence said, “CIA officials, on occasion, notified law enforcement entities when they became aware of allegations concerning the identities or activities of drug traffickers.” Stressing that CIA officials “on occasion” alerted law enforcement about contra drug traffickers glossed over the reality that many CIA officials withheld evidence of illegal drug smuggling and undermined investigations of those crimes.

Normally in investigations, it is the wrongdoing that is noteworthy, not the fact that some did not participate in the wrongdoing.

A close reading of the House report reveals a different story from the “findings.” On page 38, for instance, the House committee observed that the second volume of the CIA’s inspector general’s study of the contra-drug controversy disclosed numerous instances of contra-drug operations and CIA knowledge of the problem.

“The first question is what CIA knew,” the House report said. “Volume II of the CIA IG report explains in detail the knowledge the CIA had that some contras had been, were alleged to be or were in fact involved or somehow associated with drug trafficking or drug traffickers. The reporting of possible connections between drug trafficking and the Southern Front contra organizations is particularly extensive.

“The second question is what the CIA reported to DOJ [Department of Justice]. The Committee was concerned about the CIA’s record in reporting and following up on allegations of drug activity during this period. … In many cases, it is clear the information was reported from the field, but it is less clear what happened to the information after it arrived at CIA headquarters.”

In other words, the internal government investigations found that CIA officers in Central America were informing CIA headquarters at Langley, Va., about the contra-drug problem, but the evidence went no farther. It was kept from law enforcement agencies, from Congress and from the American public. Beyond withholding the evidence, the Reagan administration mounted public relations attacks on members of Congress, journalists and witnesses who were exposing the crimes in the 1980s.

In a sense, those attacks continue to this day, with reporter Gary Webb excoriated for alleged overstatements in the Mercury News stories. As a result of those attacks, Webb was forced to resign from the Mercury News and leave daily journalism. No member of the Reagan administration has received any punishment or even public rebuke for concealing evidence of contra-cocaine trafficking. [For details on the CIA’s internal report, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Besides confirming the CIA’s internal admissions about contra-drug trafficking and the CIA’s spotty record of taking action to stop it, the House committee included in its report the Reagan administration’s rationale for blacking out the contra-cocaine evidence in the 1980s.

“The committee interviewed several individuals who served in Latin America as [CIA] chiefs of station during the 1980s,” the report said. “They all personally deplored the use and trafficking of drugs, but indicated that in the 1980s the counter-narcotics mission did not have as high a priority as the missions of reporting on and fighting against communist insurrections and supporting struggling democratic movements.

“Indeed, most of those interviewed indicated that they were, effectively speaking, operating in a war zone and were totally engaged in keeping U.S. allies from being overwhelmed. In this environment, what reporting the CIA did do on narcotics was often based on one of two considerations: either a general understanding that the CIA should report on criminal activities so that law enforcement agencies could follow up on them, or, in case of the contras, an effort to monitor allegations of trafficking that, if true, could undermine the legitimacy of the contras cause.”

In other words, the CIA station chiefs admitted to the House committee that they gave the contras a walk on drug trafficking. “In case of the contras,” only monitoring was in order, as the CIA worried that disclosure of contra-drug smuggling would be a public relations problem that “could undermine the legitimacy of the contra cause.”

The House report followed this CIA admission with a jarring – and seemingly contradictory – conclusion. “The committee found no evidence of an attempt to ‘cover up’ such information,” the report said.

Yet, that “no cover-up” conclusion flew in the face of both the CIA inspector general’s report and the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general. Both detailed case after case in which CIA and senior Reagan administration officials intervened to frustrate investigations on contra-connected drug trafficking, either by blocking the work of investigators or by withholding timely evidence.

In one case, a CIA lawyer persuaded a federal prosecutor in San Francisco to forego a 1984 trip to Costa Rica because the CIA feared the investigation might expose a contra-cocaine tie-in. In others, Drug Enforcement Administration investigators in Central America complained about obstacles put in their path by CIA officers and U.S. embassy officials. [For more details, see Lost History.]

In classified testimony to the House committee, CIA Inspector General Snider acknowledged that the CIA’s handling of the contra-cocaine evidence was “mixed” and “inconsistent.” He said, “While we found no evidence that any CIA employees involved in the contra program had participated in drug-related activities or had conspired with others in such activities, we found that the agency did not deal with contra-related drug trafficking allegations and information in a consistent, reasoned or justifiable manner.”

Even in this limited admission, Snider’s words conflicted with evidence published in the CIA inspector general’s report in October 1998. That report, prepared by Snider’s predecessor Frederick Hitz, showed that some CIA personnel working with the contras indeed were implicated in drug trafficking. The tricky word in Snider’s testimony was “employees,” that is, regular full-time CIA officers.

Both the CIA report and the House report acknowledged that a CIA “contractor” known by the pseudonym Ivan Gomez was involved in drug trafficking. In the early 1980s, the CIA sent Gomez to Costa Rica to oversee the contra operation. Later, Gomez admitted in a CIA polygraph that he participated in his brother’s drug business in Florida.

In separate testimony, Nicaraguan drug smuggler Carlos Cabezas fingered Gomez as the CIA’s man in Costa Rica who made sure that drug money went into the contra coffers.

Despite the seeming corroboration of Cabezas’s allegation about Ivan Gomez’s role in drug smuggling, the House committee split hairs again. It attacked Cabezas’s credibility and argued that the Gomez drug money could not be connected definitively to the contras. “No evidence suggests that the drug trafficking and money laundering operations in which Gomez claimed involvement were in any way related to CIA or the contra movement,” the House report said.

What the report leaves out is that one reason for this lack of proof was that the CIA prevented a thorough investigation of Ivan Gomez’s drug activities by withholding the polygraph admission from the Justice Department and the U.S. Congress in the late 1980s. In effect, the House committee now is rewarding the CIA for torpedoing those investigations.

In one surprise disclosure, the House committee uncovered new details about the involvement of Nicaraguan drug smuggler Oscar Danilo Blandon in trafficking intended to support the contras financially. Blandon, a central figure in the Mercury News series, said he was drawn into the drug business because he understood profits were going to the contra war.

In a deposition to the House committee, Blandon described a meeting with Nicaraguan drug kingpin Norwin Meneses at the Los Angeles airport in 1981. “It was during this encounter, according to Blandon, that Meneses encouraged Blandon to become involved with the drug business in order to assist the contras,” the House report stated.

“We spoke a lot of things about the contra revolution, about the movement, because then he took me to the drug business, speaking to me about the drug business that we had to raise money with drugs,” said Blandon. “And he explained to me, you don’t know, but I am going to teach you. And, you know, I am going to tell you how you will do it. You see, you keep some of the profit for you, and some of the profit we will help the contra revolution, you see. … Meneses was trying to convince me with the contra revolution to get me involved in drugs. Give a piece of the apple to the contras and a piece of the apple to him.”

Blandon accepted Meneses’s proposal and “assumed the money he had given Meneses was being sent by Meneses to the contra movement. However, Blandon stated that he had no firsthand knowledge that this was actually occurring,” the House report said.

Though Blandon claimed ignorance about the regular delivery of cocaine cash to the contras, other witnesses confirmed that substantial sums went from Meneses and other drug rings to the contras. A Justice Department investigation discovered several informants who corroborated the flow of money.

One confidential informant, identified in the Justice report only as “DEA CI-1,” said Meneses, Blandon and another cohort, Ivan Torres, contributed drug profits to the contras.

Renato Pena, a money-and-drug courier for Meneses, also described sharing drug profits with the contras, while acting as their northern California representative. Pena quoted a Colombian contact called “Carlos” as saying “We’re helping your cause with this drug thing. … We’re helping your organization a lot.”

The Justice report noted, too, that Meneses’s nephew, Jairo, told the DEA in the 1980s that he had asked Pena to help transport drug money to the contras and that his uncle, Norwin Meneses, dealt directly with contra military commander Enrique Bermudez.

The Justice report found that Julio Zavala and Carlos Cabezas ran a parallel contra-drug network. Cabezas said cocaine from Peru was packed into hollow reeds which were woven into tourist baskets and smuggled to the United States. After arriving in San Francisco, the baskets went to Zavala who arranged sale of the cocaine for contra operatives, Horacio Pereira and Troilo Sanchez. Cabezas estimated that he gave them between $1 million and $1.5 million between December 1981 and December 1982.

Another U.S. informant, designated “FBI Source 1,” backed up much of Cabezas’s story. Source 1 said Cabezas and Zavala were helping the contras with proceeds from two drug-trafficking operations, one smuggling Colombian cocaine and the other shipping cocaine through Honduras. Source 1 said the traffickers had to agree to give 50 percent of their profits to the contras.

The House report made no note of this corroborating evidence published in the DOJ report.

The broader contra-cocaine picture was ignored, too. The evidence now available from government investigations over the past 15 years makes clear that many major cocaine smuggling networks used the contra operation, either relying on direct contra assistance or exploiting the relationship to gain protection from U.S. law enforcement.

Sworn testimony before an investigation by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, in the late 1980s disclosed that the contra-drug link dated back to the origins of the movement in 1980. Then, Bolivian drug lord Roberto Suarez invested $30 million in several Argentine-run paramilitary operations, according to Argentine intelligence officer Leonardo Sanchez-Reisse.

The Suarez money financed the so-called Cocaine Coup that ousted Bolivia’s elected government in 1980 and then was used by Argentine intelligence to start the contra war against Nicaragua’s leftist government. In 1981, President Reagan ordered the CIA to work with the Argentines in building up the contra army.

According to Volume Two of the CIA report, the spy agency learned about the contra-cocaine connection almost immediately, secretly reporting that contra operatives were smuggling cocaine into South Florida.

By the early 1980s, the Bolivian connection had drawn in the fledgling Colombian Medellin cartel. Top cartel figures picked up on the value of interlocking their operations with the contras. Miami-based anti-Castro Cubans played a key matchmaker role, especially by working with contras based in Costa Rica.

U.S. agencies secretly reported on the work of Frank Castro and other Cuban-American contra supporters who were seen as Medellin operatives. With the Reagan administration battling Congress to keep CIA money flowing to the contras, there were no high-profile crackdowns that might embarrass the contras and undermine public support for their war.

No evidence was deigned good enough to justify sullying the contras’ reputation. In 1986, for example, Reagan’s Justice Department rejected the eyewitness account of an FBI informant named Wanda Palacio. She testified that she saw Jorge Ochoa’s Colombian organization loading cocaine onto planes belonging to Southern Air Transport, a former CIA-owned airline that secretly was flying supplies to the contras. Despite documentary corroboration, her account was dismissed as not believable.

Another contra-cocaine connection ran through Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega, who was recruited by the Reagan administration to assist the contras despite Noriega’s drug-trafficking reputation. The CIA worked closely, too, with corrupt military officers in Honduras and El Salvador who were known to moonlight as cocaine traffickers and money-launderers.

In Honduras, the contra operation tied into the huge cocaine-smuggling network of Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros. His airline, SETCO, was hired by the Reagan administration to ferry supplies to the contras. U.S. government reports also disclosed that contra spokesman Frank Arana worked closely with lieutenants in the Matta Ballesteros network.

Though based in Honduras, the Matta Ballesteros network was regarded as a leading Mexican smuggling ring and was implicated in the torture-murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena.

The CIA knew, too, that the contra-cocaine taint had spread into President Reagan’s National Security Council and into the CIA through Cuban-American anti-communists who were working for two drug-connected seafood companies, Ocean Hunter of Miami and Frigorificos de Puntarenas in Costa Rica. One of these Cuban-Americans, Moises Nunez, worked directly for the NSC.

In 1987, the CIA asked Nunez about allegations tying him to the drug trade. “Nunez revealed that since 1985, he had engaged in a clandestine relationship with the National Security Council,” the CIA contra-drug report said. “Nunez refused to elaborate on the nature of these actions, but indicated it was difficult to answer questions relating to his involvement in narcotics trafficking because of the specific tasks he had performed at the direction of the NSC.”

The CIA had its own link to the Frigorificos/Ocean Hunter operation through Felipe Vidal, a Cuban-American with a criminal record as a narcotics trafficker. Despite that record, the CIA hired Vidal as a logistics coordinator for the contras, the CIA report said. When Sen. Kerry sought the CIA’s file on Vidal, the CIA withheld the data about Vidal’s drug arrest and kept him on the payroll until 1990.

These specific cases were not mentioned in the House report. They also have gone unreported in the major news media of the United States.

Now, with the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committees joining with their Republican counterparts, the official verdict on the sordid contra-drug history has been delivered – a near full acquittal of the Reagan administration and the CIA. The verdict is justified as long as no one reads what’s in the government's own reports.

Oh, Did you say, "FILIBUSTER"? More Bush History

When Republicans Loved a Filibuster

By Robert Parry
January 27, 2006

Supporters of George W. Bush are lambasting Sen. John Kerry for a threatened filibuster against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. But 15 years ago, their attitude was different as backers of George H.W. Bush wielded the filibuster to block a probe into Republican secret dealings with Iran that could have doomed the Bush Dynasty.

In 1991, the Democratic-controlled Senate was planning an investigation into whether Republicans had conducted secret negotiations with Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist regime during the 1980 campaign, when Jimmy Carter was still President and Iran was holding 52 Americans hostage.

The unresolved hostage crisis destroyed Carter’s reelection hopes and gave an important boost to Ronald Reagan when the hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981, immediately after he was sworn in as President and George H.W. Bush became Vice President.

A decade after those events, some Democrats wanted to get to the bottom of recurring allegations that George Bush Sr., a former CIA director, had joined clandestine negotiations with Iran in fall 1980 that may have delayed release of the hostages for political gain, what was called the “October Surprise” mystery.

Meanwhile, Republicans were worried that a full-scale October Surprise investigation might implicate Bush in near-treasonous talks with an enemy state and devastate his 1992 reelection campaign. Confirmation of the allegations also would have eviscerated the legitimacy of the Reagan-Bush era.

So, in November 1991, Republican leaders used the filibuster to block funding for the investigation. The Democrats mustered 51 votes – a majority – but fell short of the 60 votes needed for cloture. A fully funded investigation was prevented.

Historical Marker

The Republican success in blocking a full Senate probe received little attention at the time, but represented an important historical marker. It was an early indication of how neoconservative journalists, then rising inside the national news media, could collaborate with Republicans to shape the information reaching the American people.

The preponderance of evidence now suggests that in 1980, Republicans – most likely including Ronald Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey and then-vice presidential nominee George H.W. Bush – did negotiate with representatives of Iran’s Islamic government behind Carter’s back. [For details, see’s “The Imperium’s Quarter Century” or Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

But exposure of those secret dealings, a prequel to the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostage schemes of 1985-86, would not only have sunk George H.W. Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992. The revelations would have exposed collaboration by Israel’s right-wing Likud government in the October Surprise scheme. Likud wanted Carter ousted in 1980 because he had pressured Israel to make major concessions to the Palestinians. [See David Kimche's The Last Option.]

If revealed, the truth had the potential to hurt some very powerful people – and to change the direction of American history.

So, as the October Surprise secrets began to spill out in 1991, the increasingly neoconservative New Republic, which had strong ties to the Likud bloc in Israel, swung into action, publishing a cover story in fall 1991 that purported to debunk the October Surprise allegations.

At the center of the New Republic article – and a similar one published by Newsweek – was a complex alibi for the whereabouts of Casey on a key weekend in July 1980 when one witness, Iranian businessman Jamshid Hashemi, alleged that Casey met with Iranian emissaries in Madrid.

ABC’s “Nightline” had discovered that Casey had taken an unannounced trip to London on that July 1980 weekend for a World War II historical conference – and there appeared to be enough time in Casey’s schedule for a side trip to Madrid.

However, in their debunking articles, the New Republic and Newsweek cited attendance records for the World War II conference, supposedly accounting for enough of Casey’s time to exclude the two-day meeting in Madrid that Hashemi had described.

The two magazine articles had enormous effect on Washington’s conventional wisdom, which had been caught off-guard five years earlier by the Iran-Contra disclosures and would have looked even sillier if the history of the 1980 election also needed to be rewritten – with Reagan and George Bush Sr. as the villains. So the debunking articles were warmly received by influential Washingtonians.

Eventually, however, the New Republic and Newsweek debunking stories would be shown to be false. The magazines had misinterpreted the London conference attendance records and had put Casey at a crucial conference session, which he had actually skipped.

Inside Newsweek, investigative reporter Craig Unger later told me that he had been shocked by the magazine’s disingenuous work on the “window” of Casey’s known whereabouts. “They knew the window was not real,” Unger said of his Newsweek editors. “It was the most dishonest thing that I’ve been through in my life in journalism.”

But the falsity of the New Republic and Newsweek articles was not known in November 1991 when the Senate considered funding a thorough investigation of the October Surprise charges. Indeed, the two bogus stories represented the centerpiece of the Republican argument against proceeding with the investigation.

Dole’s Filibuster

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole led the fight against the October Surprise investigation, much as he had spearheaded attempts to discredit the work of Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, who was slowly deconstructing the Republican cover-up of the Iran-Contra scandal.

On Nov. 22, 1991, Dole mounted a filibuster against any independent Senate inquiry of the allegations that the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostage deals had been, in effect, the second act of secret Republican negotiations with Iran’s radical mullahs. Dole invoked party discipline to defeat a cloture vote on funding for the probe.

Though denied the money, a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee still sponsored a small-scale investigation, with attorney Reid Weingarten hired as the lead investigator. But Weingarten found the lack of money only one of the limitations on his investigative efforts, he later told me.

As the probe proceeded, Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Jesse Helms summoned Weingarten into a closed-door meeting in which McConnell brow-beat Weingarten with personal insults. For his part, Helms barred Weingarten’s investigators from interviewing witnesses outside Washington.

Though hamstrung by lack of funds and Republican obstructions, Weingarten did make some significant discoveries.

Weingarten obtained testimony corroborating claims that Casey had known Cyrus Hashemi, Jamshid Hashemi’s brother who allegedly also took part in the Madrid meetings. Plus, the Senate investigators found that some FBI wiretaps of Cyrus Hashemi in 1980 might have been intentionally erased.

Weingarten found, too, that key Casey records – his 1980 passport and several pages from his personal calendar – were missing and that the Casey family was withholding documents. (Casey, who was Reagan’s first CIA director, had died in 1987.)

But, running out of money, the best Weingarten could do was conclude that Casey had been “fishing in troubled waters” on the hostage issue and was engaged in “informal, clandestine, and potentially dangerous efforts on behalf of the Reagan campaign to gather intelligence on the volatile and unpredictable course of the hostage negotiations.”

The House Probe

Thanks to the Dole filibuster, most of the October Surprise investigation was delivered into the friendlier hands of a House task force, where Republican Rep. Henry Hyde battled the probe from the inside while Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton tried to be as accommodating to George H.W. Bush as possible.

Hamilton even agreed to blackball one Democratic staff investigator because the Republicans didn’t want him involved and because the staffer thought the October Surprise allegations might just be true. The investigator, House Foreign Affairs Committee chief counsel Spencer Oliver, had written a memo questioning another dubious alibi that had been used to “clear” George H.W. Bush of suspicion.

Though the Senate filibuster succeeded in limiting the investigation of how the Reagan-Bush era began, it did not spare George Bush Sr. from defeat in 1992. Amid growing public suspicion that Bush had lied about his claim to be “out of the loop” on the Iran-Contra scandal, Bush lost to Democrat Bill Clinton.

In the weeks after Clinton’s victory, the House October Surprise task force tidied up the history of 1980 by sweeping inconvenient facts under the rug.

In December 1992 and January 1993, new evidence poured into the task force corroborating allegations of Republican complicity in secret contacts with Iran in 1980. But the information was mostly kept from the American people.

There was little incentive for either side to fight for the truth. The Republicans on the House task force wanted to protect the Reagan-Bush legacy and the Democrats no longer saw any political imperative in exposing wrongdoing by George H.W. Bush.

Though the Democrats didn’t understand the significance at the time, their collaboration in the October Surprise cover-up opened the door for a Bush Restoration eight years later. One of George W. Bush’s few credentials for being President was his father’s reputation as an honorable politician.

So the Republican filibuster in 1991 served a crucial political function by undermining an investigation that might have eliminated the electoral viability of the Bush Family.

The Alito Nomination

Now, 15 years later, a back story of George W. Bush’s nomination of right-wing jurist Samuel Alito is that the U.S. Supreme Court could end up being the final arbiter of attempts to investigate wrongdoing by the current President Bush.

With Alito joining reliable pro-Republican votes – Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy – Bush will have an important card up his sleeve should a legal question about the President’s right to keep secrets from Congress or a prosecutor ever wind its way to the high court.

This time, ironically, a Democratic filibuster might be the only way to prevent the Bush family from concealing more chapters of America’s history.

[For more on the October Surprise mystery, peruse’s archives or see Parry’s narrative of the 1991-92 investigation, Trick or Treason., or his account of the latest evidence in Secrecy & Privilege.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

David Rockefeller & October Surprise Case

By Robert Parry
April 15, 2005

Adapted from Parry's Secrecy & Privilege

On March 23, 1979, late on a Friday afternoon, Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller and his longtime aide Joseph Verner Reed arrived at a town house in the exclusive Beekham Place neighborhood on New York’s East Side. They were met inside by a small, intense and deeply worried woman who had seen her life turned upside down in the last two months.

Iran’s Princess Ashraf, the strong-willed twin sister of the Iran’s long-time ruler, had gone from wielding immense behind-the-scenes clout in the ancient nation of Persia to living in exile – albeit a luxurious one. With hostile Islamic fundamentalists running her homeland, Ashraf also was troubled by the plight of her ailing brother, the ousted Shah of Iran, who had fled into exile, first to Egypt and then Morocco.

Now, she was turning for help to the man who ran one of the leading U.S. banks, one which had made a fortune serving as the Shah’s banker for a quarter century and handling billions of dollars in Iran’s assets. Ashraf’s message was straightforward. She wanted Rockefeller to intercede with Jimmy Carter and ask the President to relent on his decision against granting the Shah refuge in the United States.

A distressed Ashraf said her brother had been given a one-week deadline to leave his current place of refuge, Morocco. “My brother has nowhere to go,” Ashraf pleaded, “and no one else to turn to.” [David Rockefeller, Memoirs]

Spurned Appeals

Carter had been resisting appeals to let the Shah enter the United States, fearing that admitting him would endanger the personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and other U.S. interests. In mid-February 1979, Iranian radicals had overrun the embassy and briefly held the staff hostage before the Iranian government intervened to secure release of the Americans.

Carter feared a repeat of the crisis. Already the United States was deeply unpopular with the Islamic revolution because of the CIA’s history of meddling in Iranian affairs. The U.S. spy agency had helped organize the overthrow of an elected nationalist government in 1953 and the restoration of the Shah and the Pahlavi family to the Peacock Throne. In the quarter century that followed, the Shah kept his opponents at bay through the coercive powers of his secret police, known as the SAVAK.

As the Islamic Revolution gained strength in January 1979, however, the Shah’s security forces could no longer keep order. The Shah – suffering from terminal cancer – scooped up a small pile of Iranian soil, boarded his jet, sat down at the controls and flew the plane out of Iran to Egypt.

A few days later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an ascetic religious leader who had been forced into exile by the Shah, returned to a tumultuous welcome from crowds estimated at a million strong, shouting “Death to the Shah.” The new Iranian government began demanding that the Shah be returned to stand trial for human rights crimes and that he surrender his fortune, salted away in overseas accounts.

The new Iranian government also wanted Chase Manhattan to return Iranian assets, which Rockefeller put at more than $1 billion in 1978, although some estimates ran much higher. The withdrawal might have created a liquidity crisis for the bank which already was coping with financial troubles.

Ashraf’s personal appeal put Rockefeller in what he described, with understatement, as “an awkward position,” according to his autobiography Memoirs.

“There was nothing in my previous relationship with the Shah that made me feel a strong obligation to him,” wrote the scion of the Rockefeller oil and banking fortune who had long prided himself in straddling the worlds of high finance and public policy. “He had never been a friend to whom I owed a personal debt, and neither was his relationship with the bank one that would justify my taking personal risks on his behalf. Indeed, there might be severe repercussions for Chase if the Iranian authorities determined that I was being too helpful to the Shah and his family.”

Later on March 23, after leaving Ashraf’s residence, Rockefeller attended a dinner with Happy Rockefeller, the widow of his brother Nelson who had died two months earlier. Also at the dinner was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a long-time associate of the Rockefeller family.

Discussing the Shah’s plight, Happy Rockefeller described her late husband’s close friendship with the Shah, which had included a weekend stay with the Shah and his wife in Teheran in 1977. Happy said that when Nelson learned that the Shah would be forced to leave Iran, Nelson offered to pick out a new home for the Shah in the United States.

The dinner conversation also turned to what the participants saw as the dangerous precedent that President Carter was setting by turning his back on a prominent U.S. ally. What message of American timidity was being sent to other pro-U.S. leaders in the Middle East?

‘Flying Dutchman’

The dinner led to a public campaign by Rockefeller – along with Kissinger and former Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman John McCloy – to find a suitable home in exile for the Shah. Country after country had closed their doors to the Shah as he began a humiliating odyssey as what Kissinger would call a modern-day “Flying Dutchman,” wandering in search of a safe harbor.

Rockefeller assigned his aide, Joseph Reed, “to help [the Shah] in any way he could,” including serving as the Shah’s liaison to the U.S. government. McCloy, one of the so-called Wise Men of the post-World War II era, was representing Chase Manhattan as an attorney with Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy. One of his duties was to devise a financial strategy for staving off Iran’s withdrawal of assets from the bank.

Rockefeller also pressed the Shah’s case personally with Carter when the opportunity presented itself. On April 9, 1979, at the end of an Oval Office meeting on another topic, Rockefeller handed Carter a one-page memo describing the views of many foreign leaders disturbed by recent U.S. foreign policy actions, including Carter’s treatment of the Shah.

“With virtually no exceptions, the heads of state and other government leaders I saw expressed concern about United States foreign policy which they perceived to be vacillating and lacking in an understandable global approach,” Rockefeller’s memo read. “They have questions about the dependability of the United States as a friend.” An irritated Carter abruptly ended the meeting.

Temporary Havens

Despite the mounting pressure from influential quarters, Carter continued to rebuff appeals to let the Shah into the United States. So the Shah’s influential friends began looking for alternative locations, asking other nations to shelter the ex-Iranian ruler.

Finally, arrangements were made for the Shah to fly to the Bahamas and – when the Bahamian government turned out to be more interested in money than humanitarianism – to Mexico.

“With the Shah safely settled in Mexico, I had hopes that the need for my direct involvement on his behalf had ended,” Rockefeller wrote in Memoirs. “Henry [Kissinger] continued to publicly criticize the Carter administration for its overall management of the Iranian crisis and other aspects of its foreign policy, and Jack McCloy bombarded [Carter’s Secretary of State] Cyrus Vance with letters demanding the Shah’s admission to the United States.”

When the Shah’s medical condition took a turn for the worse in October, Carter relented and agreed to let the Shah fly to New York for emergency treatment. Celebrating Carter’s reversal, Rockefeller’s aide Joseph Reed wrote in a memo, “our ‘mission impossible’ is completed. … My applause is like thunder.”

When the Shah arrived in New York on October 23, 1976, Reed checked the Shah into New York Hospital under a pseudonym, “David Newsome,” a play on the name of Carter’s undersecretary of state for political affairs, David Newsom.

Embassy Crisis

The arrival of the Shah in New York led to renewed demands from Iran’s new government that the Shah be returned to stand trial.

In Teheran, students and other radicals gathered at the university, called by their leaders to what was described as an important meeting, according to one of the participants whom I interviewed years later.

The students gathered in a classroom which had three blackboards turned toward the wall. A speaker told the students that they were about to undertake a mission supported by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader and the de facto head of the government.

“They said it would be dangerous and that anyone who didn’t want to take part could leave now,” the Iranian told me. “But no one left. Then, they turned around the blackboards. There were three buildings drawn on the blackboards. They were the buildings of the U.S. embassy.”

The Iranian said the target of the raid was not the embassy personnel, but rather the embassy’s intelligence documents.

“We had believed that the U.S. government had been manipulating affairs inside Iran and we wanted to prove it,” he said. “We thought if we could get into the embassy, we could get the documents that would prove this. We hadn’t thought about the hostages. We all went to the embassy. We had wire cutters to cut through the fence. We started climbing over the fences. We had expected more resistance. When we got inside, we saw the Americans running and we chased them.”

Marine guards set off tear gas in a futile attempt to control the mob, but held their fire to avoid bloodshed. Other embassy personnel hastily shredded classified documents, although there wasn’t time to destroy many of the secret papers. The militant students found themselves in control not only of the embassy and hundreds of sensitive U.S. cables, but dozens of American hostages as well.

An international crisis had begun, a hinge that would swing open unexpected doors for both American and Iranian history.

Hidden Compartments

David Rockefeller denied that his campaign to gain the Shah’s admittance to the United States had provoked the crisis, arguing that he was simply filling a vacuum created when the Carter administration balked at doing the right thing.

“Despite the insistence of journalists and revisionist historians, there was never a ‘Rockefeller-Kissinger behind-the-scenes campaign’ that placed ‘relentless pressure’ on the Carter administration to have the Shah admitted to the United States regardless of the consequences,” Rockefeller wrote in Memoirs. “In fact, it would be more accurate to say that for many months we were the unwilling surrogates for a government that had failed to accept its full responsibilities.”

But within the Iranian hostage crisis, there would be hidden compartments within hidden compartments, as influential groups around the world acted in what they perceived to be their personal or their national interests.

Rockefeller was just one of many powerful people who felt that Jimmy Carter deserved to lose his job. With the hostage crisis started, a countdown of 365 days began toward the 1980 elections. Though he may have been only dimly aware of his predicament, Carter faced a remarkable coalition of enemies both inside and outside the United States.

In the Persian Gulf, the Saudi royal family and other Arab oil sheiks blamed Carter for forsaking the Shah and feared their own playboy life styles might be next on the list for the Islamic fundamentalists. The Israeli government saw Carter as too cozy with the Palestinians and too eager to cut a peace deal that would force Israel to surrender land won in the 1967 war.

European anti-communists believed Carter was too soft on the Soviet Union and was risking the security of Europe. Dictators in the Third World – from the Philippines and South Korea to Argentina and El Salvador – were bristling at Carter’s human rights lectures.

Inside the United States, the Carter administration had made enemies at the CIA by purging many of the Old Boys who saw themselves as protectors of America’s deepest national interests. Many CIA veterans, including some still within the government, were disgruntled. And, of course, the Republicans were determined to win back the White House, which many felt had been unjustly taken from their control after Richard Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972.

This subterranean struggle between Carter, trying desperately to free the hostages before the 1980 election, and those who stood to benefit by thwarting him became known popularly as the “October Surprise” controversy.

The nickname referred to the possibility that Carter might have ensured his reelection by arranging the hostage return the month before the presidential election as an October Surprise, although the term came ultimately to refer to clandestine efforts to stop Carter from pulling off his October Surprise.

CIA Old Boys

When the hostage crisis wasn’t resolved in the first few weeks and months, the attention of many disgruntled CIA Old Boys also turned toward the American humiliation in Iran, which they found doubly hard to take since it had been the site of the agency’s first major victory, the restoration of the Shah to the Peacock Throne.

A number of veterans from that operation of 1953 were still alive in 1980. Archibald Roosevelt was one of the Old Boys from the Iranian operation. He had moved on to become an adviser to David Rockefeller at Chase Manhattan Bank.

Another was Miles Copeland, who had served the CIA as an intermediary to Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser. In his autobiography, The Game Player, Copeland claimed that he and his CIA chums prepared their own Iranian hostage rescue plan in March 1980.

When I interviewed Copeland in 1990 at his thatched-roofed cottage outside Oxford in the English countryside, he said he had been a strong supporter of George H.W. Bush in 1980. He even had founded an informal support group called “Spooks for Bush.”

Sitting among photos of his children who included the drummer for the rock group, The Police, and the manager for the rock star, Sting, Copeland explained that he and his CIA colleagues considered Carter a dangerous idealist.

“Let me say first that we liked President Carter,” Copeland told me “He read, unlike President Reagan later, he read everything. He knew what he was about. He understood the situation throughout the Middle East, even these tenuous, difficult problems such as Arabs and Israel.

“But the way we saw Washington at that time was that the struggle was really not between the Left and the Right, the liberals and the conservatives, as between the Utopians and the realists, the pragmatists. Carter was a Utopian. He believed, honestly, that you must do the right thing and take your chance on the consequences. He told me that. He literally believed that.”

Copeland’s deep Southern accent spit out the words with a mixture of amazement and disgust. To Copeland and his CIA friends, Carter deserved respect for a first-rate intellect but contempt for his idealism.

“Most of the things that were done [by the United States] about Iran had been on a basis of stark realism, with possibly the exception of letting the Shah down,” Copeland said. “There are plenty of forces in the country we could have marshaled. … We could have sabotaged [the revolution, but] we had to establish what the Quakers call ‘the spirit of the meeting’ in the country, where everybody was thinking just one way. The Iranians were really like sheep, as they are now.”

Altar of Ideals

But Carter, troubled by the Shah’s human rights record, delayed taking decisive action and missed the moment of opportunity, Copeland said. Infuriating the CIA’s Old Boys, Carter had sacrificed an ally on the altar of idealism.

“Carter really believed in all the principles that we talk about in the West,” Copeland said, shaking his mane of white hair. “As smart as Carter is, he did believe in Mom, apple pie and the corner drug store. And those things that are good in America are good everywhere else.”

Veterans of the CIA and Republicans from the Nixon-Ford administrations judged that Carter simply didn’t measure up to the demands of a harsh world.

“There were many of us – myself along with Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, Archie Roosevelt in the CIA at the time – we believed very strongly that we were showing a kind of weakness, which people in Iran and elsewhere in the world hold in great contempt,” Copeland said. “The fact that we’re being pushed around, and being afraid of the Ayatollah Khomeini, so we were going to let a friend down, which was horrifying to us. That’s the sort of thing that was frightening to our friends in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt and other places.”

But Carter also bent to the moral suasions of the Shah’s friends, who argued on humanitarian grounds that the ailing Shah deserved admission to the United States for medical treatment. “Carter, I say, was not a stupid man,” Copeland said. Carter had even a greater flaw: “He was a principled man.”

So, Carter decided that the moral act was to allow the Shah to enter the United States for treatment, leading to the result Carter had feared: the seizure of the U.S. Embassy.

Frozen Assets

As the crisis dragged on, the Carter administration cranked up the pressure on the Iranians. Along with diplomatic initiatives, Iran’s assets were frozen, a move that ironically helped David Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank by preventing the Iranians from cleaning out their funds from the bank’s vaults.

In Memoirs, Rockefeller wrote that the Iranian “government did reduce the balances they maintained with us during the second half of 1979, but in reality they had simply returned to their historic level of about $500 million,” Rockefeller wrote. “Carter’s ‘freeze’ of official Iranian assets protected our position, but no one at Chase played a role in convincing the administration to institute it.”

In the weeks that followed the embassy seizure, Copeland said he and his friends turned their attention to figuring a way out of the mess.

“There was very little sympathy for the hostages,” Copeland said. “We all have served abroad, served in embassies like that. We got additional pay for danger. I think, for Syria, I got fifty percent extra in salary. So it’s a chance you take. When you join the army, you take a chance of getting in a war and getting shot. If you’re in the diplomatic service, you take a chance on having some horror like this descend on you.

“But on the other hand, we did think that there were things we could do to get them out, other than simply letting the Iranians, the students, and the Iranian administration know that they were beating us,” Copeland said. “We let them know what an advantage they had. That we could have gotten them out is something that all of us old professionals of the covert action school, we said from the beginning, ‘Why don’t they let us do it?’”

According to The Game Player, Copeland met his old friend, ex-CIA counter-intelligence chief James Angleton, for lunch. The famed spy hunter “brought to lunch a Mossad chap who confided that his service had identified at least half of the ‘students,’ even to the extent of having their home addresses in Teheran,” Copeland wrote. “He gave me a rundown on what sort of kids they were. Most of them, he said, were just that, kids.”

Periphery Strategy

The Israeli government was another deeply interested player in the Iran crisis. For decades, Israel had cultivated covert ties with the Shah’s regime as part of a Periphery Strategy of forming alliances with non-Arab states in the region to prevent Israel’s Arab enemies from focusing all their might against Israel.

Though losing an ally when the Shah fell and offended by the anti-Israeli rhetoric from the Khomeini regime, Israel had gone about quietly rebuilding relations with the Iranian government. One of the young Israeli intelligence agents assigned to this task was an Iranian-born Jew named Ari Ben-Menashe, who had immigrated to Israel as a teen-ager and was valuable because he spoke fluent Farsi and still had friends in Iran, some of whom were rising within the new revolutionary bureaucracy.

In his own 1992 memoirs, Profits of War, Ben-Menashe said the view of Israel’s Likud leaders, including Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was one of contempt for Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

After the Shah fell, Begin grew even more dissatisfied with Carter’s handling of the crisis and alarmed over the growing likelihood of an Iraqi attack on Iran’s oil-rich Khuzistan province. Israel saw Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as a far greater threat to Israel than Iran’s Khomeini. Ben-Menashe wrote that Begin, recognizing the realpolitik needs of Israel, authorized shipments to Iran of small arms and some spare parts, via South Africa, as early as September 1979.

After the U.S. hostages were taken in November 1979, the Israelis came to agree with Copeland’s hard-headed skepticism about Carter’s approach to the hostage issue, Ben- Menashe wrote. Even though Copeland was generally regarded as a CIA “Arabist” who had opposed Israeli interests in the past, he was admired for his analytical skills, Ben-Menashe wrote.

“A meeting between Miles Copeland and Israeli intelligence officers was held at a Georgetown house in Washington, D.C.,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “The Israelis were happy to deal with any initiative but Carter’s. David Kimche, chief of Tevel, the foreign relations unit of Mossad, was the senior Israeli at the meeting. … The Israelis and the Copeland group came up with a two-pronged plan to use quiet diplomacy with the Iranians and to draw up a scheme for military action against Iran that would not jeopardize the lives of the hostages.”

In late February 1980, Seyeed Mehdi Kashani, an Iranian emissary, arrived in Israel to discuss Iran’s growing desperation for aircraft spare parts, Ben-Menashe wrote. Kashani, whom Ben-Menashe had known from their school days in Teheran, also revealed that the Copeland initiative was making inroads inside Iran and that approaches from some Republican emissaries had already been received, Ben-Menashe wrote.

“Kashani said that the secret ex-CIA-Miles-Copeland group was aware that any deal cut with the Iranians would have to include the Israelis because they would have to be used as a third party to sell military equipment to Iran,” according to Ben-Menashe. In March, the following month, the Israelis made their first direct military shipment to Iran, 300 tires for Iran’s F-4 fighter jets, Ben-Menashe wrote.

Rescue Plans

In the 1990 interview at his house in the English countryside, Copeland told me that he and other CIA old-timers developed their own hostage-rescue plan. Copeland said the plan – which included cultivating political allies within Iran and using disinformation tactics to augment a military assault – was hammered out on March 22, 1980, in a meeting at his Georgetown apartment.

Copeland said he was aided by Steven Meade, the ex-chief of the CIA’s Escape and Evasion Unit; Kermit Roosevelt, who had overseen the 1953 coup in Iran; and Archibald Roosevelt, the adviser to David Rockefeller.

“Essentially, the idea was to have some Iranians dressed in Iranian military uniform and police uniform go to the embassy, address the students and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing a marvelous job here. But now we’ll relieve you of it, because we understand that there’s going to be a military force flown in from outside. And they’re going to hit you, and we’re going to scatter these [hostages] around town. Thanks very much.”

Copeland’s Iranians would then move the hostages to the edge of Teheran where they would be loaded onto American helicopters to be flown out of the country.

To Copeland’s chagrin, his plan fell on deaf ears in the Carter administration, which was developing its own rescue plan that would rely more on U.S. military force with only modest help from Iranian assets in Teheran. So, Copeland said he distributed his plan outside the administration, to leading Republicans, giving sharper focus to their contempt for Carter’s bungled Iranian strategy.

“Officially, the plan went only to people in the government and was top secret and all that,” Copeland said. “But as so often happens in government, one wants support, and when it was not being handled by the Carter administration as though it was top secret, it was handled as though it was nothing. … Yes, I sent copies to everybody who I thought would be a good ally. …

“Now I’m not at liberty to say what reaction, if any, ex-President Nixon took, but he certainly had a copy of this. We sent one to Henry Kissinger, and I had, at the time, a secretary who had just worked for Henry Kissinger, and Peter Rodman, who was still working for him and was a close personal friend of mine, and so we had these informal relationships where the little closed circle of people who were, a, looking forward to a Republican President within a short while and, b, who were absolutely trustworthy and who understood all these inner workings of the international game board.”

By April 1980, Carter’s patience was wearing thin, both with the Iranians and some U.S. allies. After discovering that the Israelis had made a secret shipment of 300 tires to Iran, Carter complained to Prime Minister Begin.

“There had been a rather tense discussion between President Carter and Prime Minister Begin in the spring of 1980 in which the President made clear that the Israelis had to stop that, and that we knew that they were doing it, and that we would not allow it to continue, at least not allow it to continue privately and without the knowledge of the American people,” Carter’s press secretary Jody Powell told me. “And it stopped” – at least temporarily.

Questioned by congressional investigators a dozen years later, Carter said he felt that by April 1980, “Israel cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes I found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House Task Force, which had examined the October Surprise controversy. Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.”

Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski also recognized the Israeli hostility. In an interview, Brzezinski told me that the Carter White House was well aware that the Begin government had “an obvious preference for a Reagan victory.”

Desert One

Encircled by growing legions of enemies, the Carter administration put the finishing touches on its own hostage-rescue operation in April. Code named “Eagle Claw,” the assault involved a force of U.S. helicopters that would swoop down on Teheran, coordinate with some agents on the ground and extract the hostages.

Carter ordered the operation to proceed on April 24, but mechanical problems forced the helicopters to turn back. At a staging area called Desert One, one of the helicopters collided with a refueling plane, causing an explosion that killed eight American crewmen.

Their charred bodies were then displayed by the Iranian government, adding to the fury and humiliation of the United States. After the Desert One fiasco, the Iranians dispersed the hostages to a variety of locations, effectively shutting the door on another rescue attempt, at least one that would have any chance of returning the hostages as a group.

By summer 1980, Copeland told me, the Republicans in his circle considered a second hostage-rescue attempt not only unfeasible, but unnecessary. They were talking confidently about the hostages being freed after a Republican victory in November, the old CIA man said.

“There was no discussion of a Kissinger or Nixon plan to rescue these people, because Nixon, like everybody else, knew that all we had to do was wait until the election came, and they were going to get out,” Copeland said. “That was sort of an open secret among people in the intelligence community, that that would happen. … The intelligence community certainly had some understanding with somebody in Iran in authority, in a way that they would hardly confide in me.”

Copeland said his CIA friends had been told by contacts in Iran that the mullahs would do nothing to help Carter or his reelection.

“At that time, we had word back, because you always have informed relations with the devil,” Copeland said. “But we had word that, ‘Don’t worry.’ As long as Carter wouldn’t get credit for getting these people out, as soon as Reagan came in, the Iranians would be happy enough to wash their hands of this and move into a new era of Iranian-American relations, whatever that turned out to be.”

In the interview, Copeland declined to give more details, beyond his assurance that “the CIA within the CIA,” his term for the true protectors of U.S. national security, had an understanding with the Iranians about the hostages. (Copeland died on January 14, 1991, before I could interview him again.)

Secret Meetings

Much of the controversy over the October Surprise mystery has centered on several alleged secret meetings in Europe between senior Republicans – including then-Reagan campaign chief William Casey and Reagan’s running mate George H.W. Bush – and Iranian officials, including senior cleric Mehdi Karrubi.

A variety of witnesses, including Iranian officials and international intelligence operatives, have described these contacts, which have been denied by Bush and other top Republicans. Though official U.S. investigations have generally sided with the Republicans, a substantial body of evidence – much of it which was kept hidden from the American people – actually supports the October Surprise allegations. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Evidence from Reagan-Bush campaign files also points to undisclosed contacts between the Rockefeller group and Casey during Carter’s hostage negotiations.

According to a campaign visitor log for September 11, 1980, David Rockefeller and several of his aides who were dealing with the Iranian issue signed in to see Casey at his campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

With Rockefeller were Joseph Reed, whom Rockefeller had assigned to coordinate U.S. policy toward the Shah, and Archibald Roosevelt, the former CIA officer who was monitoring events in the Persian Gulf for Chase Manhattan and who had collaborated with Miles Copeland on the Iran hostage-rescue plan. The fourth member of the party was Owen Frisbie, Rockefeller’s chief lobbyist in Washington.

In the early 1990s, all the surviving the participants – Rockefeller, Reed and Frisbie – declined to be interviewed about the Casey meeting. Rockefeller made no mention of the meeting in Memoirs.

Henry Kissinger, another Rockefeller associate, also was in discreet contact with campaign director Casey during this period, according to Casey’s personal chauffeur whom I interviewed. The chauffeur, who asked not to be identified by name, said he was sent twice to Kissinger’s Georgetown home to pick up the former Secretary of State and bring him to Arlington, Virginia, for private meetings with Casey, meetings that were not recorded on the official visitor logs.

Iranian Allegation

On September 16, 1980, five days after the Rockefeller visit to Casey’s office, Iran’s acting foreign minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh publicly cited Republican interference on the hostages.

“Reagan, supported by Kissinger and others, has no intention of resolving the problem,” Ghotbzadeh said. “They will do everything in their power to block it.”

In the weeks before Election 1980, FBI wiretaps picked up other evidence that connected Rockefeller associates with two of the key suspects in the October Surprise mystery, Iranian banker Cyrus Hashemi and longtime Casey business associate John Shaheen.

According to the FBI wiretaps hidden in Hashemi’s New York offices in September 1980, Hashemi and Shaheen were involved in the intrigue surrounding the Iran hostage crisis while simultaneously promoting murky financial schemes.

Hashemi was supposedly acting as an intermediary for President Carter for secret approaches to Iranian officials about getting the hostages released. But Hashemi also appears to have been playing a double game, serving as a backchannel for the Reagan-Bush campaign, through Shaheen, who had known Casey since their World War II days together in the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s forerunner.

The FBI wiretaps revealed that Hashemi and Shaheen also were trying to establish a bank with Philippine interests in either the Caribbean or in Hong Kong. In mid-October 1980, Hashemi deposited “a large sum of money” in a Philippine bank and planned to meet with Philippine representatives in Europe, an FBI intercept discovered.

The negotiations led Shaheen to an agreement with Herminio Disini, an in-law of Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, to establish the Hong Kong Deposit and Guaranty Company. Disini also was a top moneyman for Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

The $20 million used as starting capital for the bank came through Jean A. Patry, David Rockefeller’s lawyer in Geneva, Switzerland. But the original source of the money, according to two Shaheen associates I interviewed, was Princess Ashraf, the Shah’s twin sister.

Reagan’s Victory

On November 4, 1980, one year to the day after the Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, Ronald Reagan routed Jimmy Carter in the U.S. presidential elections. In the weeks after the election, the hostage negotiations continued.

As Reagan’s Inauguration neared, Republicans talked tough, making clear that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t stand for the humiliation that the nation endured for 444 days under Carter. The Reagan-Bush team intimated that Reagan would deal harshly with Iran if it didn’t surrender the hostages.

A joke making the rounds of Washington went: “What’s three feet deep and glows in the dark? Teheran ten minutes after Ronald Reagan becomes President.”

On Inauguration Day, January 20, 1981, just as Reagan was beginning his inaugural address, word came from Iran that the hostages were freed. The American people were overjoyed. The coincidence in timing between the hostage release and Reagan’s taking office immediately boosted the new President’s image as a tough guy who wouldn’t let the United States be pushed around.

The reality, however, appears to have been different, with U.S. weapons soon flowing secretly to Iran through Israel and participants in the October Surprise mystery seeming to get in line for payoffs.

The bank deal that Cyrus Hashemi and John Shaheen had discussed for months took final shape two days after Reagan’s Inauguration. On January 22, 1981, Shaheen opened the Hong Kong Deposit and Guaranty Bank with $20 million that had been funneled to him through Jean Patry, the Rockefeller-connected lawyer in Geneva who was fronting for Princess Ashraf.

Why, I asked one of Shaheen’s associates, would Ashraf have invested $20 million in a bank with these dubious characters? “It was funny money,” the associate answered. He believed it was money that the Islamic revolutionary government was claiming as its own.

A second Shaheen associate said Shaheen was particularly secretive when asked about his relationship with the deposed princess. “When it comes to Ashraf, I’m a cemetery,” Shaheen once said.

From 1981 to 1984, Hong Kong Deposit and Guaranty pulled in hundreds of millions of petrodollars. The bank also attracted high-flying Arabs to its board of directors.

Two directors were Ghanim Al-Mazrouie, an Abu Dhabi official who controlled 10 percent of the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and Hassan Yassin, a cousin of Saudi financier Adnan Khashoggi and an adviser to BCCI principal Kamal Adham, the former chief of Saudi intelligence.

Though Cyrus Hashemi's name was not formally listed on the roster of the Hong Kong bank, he did receive cash from BCCI, al-Mazrouie’s bank. An FBI wiretap of Hashemi's office in early February 1981 picked up an advisory that “money from BCCI [is] to come in tomorrow from London on Concorde.” (In 1984, the Hong Kong Deposit and Guaranty collapsed and an estimated $100 million disappeared.)

Langley Meeting

Early in the Reagan-Bush administration, Joseph Reed, the aide to David Rockefeller, was appointed and confirmed as the new U.S. ambassador to Morocco. Before leaving for his posting, he visited the CIA and its new director, William Casey. As Reed arrived, CIA official Charles Cogan was getting up and preparing to leave Casey’s office.

Knowing Reed, Cogan lingered at the door. In a “secret” deposition to the House Task Force in 1992, Cogan said he had a “definite memory” of a comment Reed made about disrupting Carter's “October Surprise” of a pre-election release of the 52 American hostages in Iran.

But Cogan said he couldn’t recall the precise verb that Reed had used. “Joseph Reed said, ‘we’ and then the verb [and then] something about Carter's October Surprise,” Cogan testified. “The implication was we did something about Carter's October Surprise, but I don't have the exact wording.”

One congressional investigator, who discussed the recollection with Cogan in a less formal setting, concluded that the verb that Cogan chose not to repeat was an expletive relating to sex – as in “we f--d Carter’s October Surprise.”

During Cogan’s deposition, David Laufman, a Republican lawyer on the House Task Force and a former CIA official, asked Cogan if he had since “had occasion to ask him [Reed] about this” recollection?

Yes, Cogan replied, he recently had asked Reed about it, after Reed moved to a protocol job at the United Nations. “I called him up,” Cogan said. “He was at his farm in Connecticut, as I recall, and I just told him that, look, this is what sticks in my mind and what I am going to say [to Congress], and he didn't have any comment on it and continued on to other matters.”

”He didn't offer any explanation to you of what he meant?” asked Laufman.

”No,” answered Cogan.

”Nor did he deny that he had said it?” asked another Task Force lawyer Mark L. Shaffer.

”He didn't say anything,” Cogan responded. “We just continued on talking about other things.”

And so did the Task Force lawyers at this remarkable deposition on December 21, 1992. The lawyers even failed to ask Cogan the obvious follow-up: What did Casey say and how did Casey react when Reed allegedly told Reagan’s ex-campaign chief that “we f--d Carter’s October Surprise.”

Discovered Documents

I found Cogan’s testimony and other incriminating documents in files left behind by the Task Force, which finished its half-hearted investigation of the October Surprise controversy in January 1993.

Among those files, I also discovered the notes of an FBI agent who tried to interview Joseph Reed about his October Surprise knowledge. The FBI man, Harry A. Penich, had scribbled down that “numerous telephone calls were placed to him [Reed]. He failed to answer any of them. I conservatively place the number over 10.”

Finally, Penich, armed with a subpoena, cornered Reed arriving home at his 50-acre estate in Greenwich, Connecticut. “He was surprised and absolutely livid at being served at home,” Penich wrote. “His responses could best be characterized as lashing out.”

Reed threatened to go over Penich's head. In hand-written “talking points” that Penich apparently used to brief an unnamed superior, the FBI agent wrote: “He [Reed] did it in such a way as to lead a reasonable person to believe he had influence w/you. The man's remarks were both inappropriate and improper.”

But the hard-ball tactics worked. When Reed finally consented to an interview, Task Force lawyers just went through the motions.

Penich took the interview notes and wrote that Reed “recalls no contact with Casey in 1980,” though Reed added that “their paths crossed many times because of Reed's position at Chase.” As for the 1981 CIA visit, Reed added that as the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Morocco, he “would have stopped in to see Casey and pay respect.”

But on whether Reed made any remark about obstructing Carter's October Surprise, Reed claimed he “does not specifically know what October Surprise refers to,” Penich scribbled down. [For a text of the Penich notes, click here. To see a PDF file of the actual notes, click here.]

The Task Force lawyers didn’t press hard. Most strikingly, the lawyers failed to confront Reed with evidence that would have impeached his contention that he had “no contact with Casey in 1980.” According to the sign-in sheets at the Reagan-Bush campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, which the Task Force had obtained, Reed saw Casey on September 11, 1980, less than two months before the election.

When the official House Task Force report was issued on January 13, 1993, the Task Force largely cleared the Republicans of the longstanding October Surprise charges, but that conclusion was based on tendentious interpretations of the published evidence and the withholding of many incriminating documents.

Among the evidence that was never shared with the American people was the fascinating connection between the powerful friends of David Rockefeller and the shadowy operatives who had maintained clandestine contacts with the Iranian mullahs during the long hostage crisis.

[For the latest and fullest account of the October Surprise mystery, see Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege from which this story was excerpted.]

Impeach or Indict? Ronnie Dugger

Impeach or Indict Bush and Cheney
By Ronnie Dugger
The Texas Observer

Friday 27 January 2006

The year 2006 will be historic for the nation, and probably for humanity. Texans Bush and Rove and their conspirators in the second Bush presidency have disgraced American democracy at home and in the world with debasements of our nation and our values that have now entered their climactic phase. What part will the rest of us Texans play in this decisive year?

As I have written in a review-essay that appears in the tenth-anniversary spring issue of Yes!, the quarterly of new solutions published in Washington state by David and Frances Korten (, we are living and working in the very days and nights of the American Emergency, the climactic American Crisis. Our elections are bought, and our government is run by and for the major transnational corporations. Bush announced in 2002 his illegal presidential policy that the United States can and will attack other nations first, waging war on them, when he so decides. He is now waging, as if he were doing it in our names, a bloody war of aggression against Iraq, which on the face of it is a crime against humanity under the Nuremberg principles that we and our allies established and enforced with hangings after World War II. The President, the Vice-President, and their factors sold this war to Congress with twistings and lies that were crafted to infuriate and terrorize us about Iraq’s alleged connections to al Qaeda and mass-murder endangerments to us from Iraq itself, all of which literally did not exist. In polls now six of 10 Americans do not believe the president is honest. Yet he has three more years of dictatorial control over our nuclear and other arms and our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps and seems now to be maneuvering to use that control to wage another aggressive war on Iran, with literally incalculable consequences.

We Texans are a major source of this deterioration into crisis. The leading Democrats of the state so dishonored the liberal traditions of their party that in the resulting political vacuum, Bush was elected Governor here, and from Austin he mounted the campaign that a 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court illegally decreed made him President. After that, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, from Sugar Land, crafted his scheme to use corporate money to widen the Republicans’ majority in the Texas delegation to Washington, D.C., battening down right-wing GOP control of the House and the Congress. The third President from Texas and his Republican Congress then waged aggressive war on Iraq, drove the nation into insolvency to further enrich the already rich, and just for good measure tore up the Constitution.

As we in Texas bear guilt for this we have also begun to join the resistance and revolt against it, starting with Cindy Sheehan’s brigades in Crawford. By happy accident the Texas trip-root that now threatens to help bring the Bush presidency crashing down, crushing itself under its own arrogance, hubris, and criminality, is a law against corporate money in Texas elections that was passed a century ago in the state’s populist afterglow. To uphold that law, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has braved ruthless contumely, as he had done often before in order to prosecute public officials he believed had violated the laws. While it is merely seemly to await the outcome of the trial of DeLay and his co-defendants on the charges that they laundered corporate money through Washington to elect Republicans to the House from Texas, in a speech in September Earle declared what he believes his prosecution is all about. "Corporate money in politics" has become "the fight of our generation of Americans....It is our job - our fight - to rescue democracy from the money that has captured it," he said. "The issue that we’re faced with is the role of large concentrations of money in democracy, whether it’s individuals or corporations, the issue is the same."

Since 1994, although the polls show a majority of Texan citizens support progressive reforms such as adequate taxation for equal education for Texas schoolchildren, the leaders of the disappearing Texas Democratic Party and their statewide candidates, finking out on every ethically important political issue, have proved again and again that nothing fails like failure. Rot-gut Republicans have swept every statewide office and achieved mercenary domination of the Texas courts, too. In my opinion, Texas Democrats ought to have concluded by 2002 at the latest that they should be choosing, from among the waves of the on-comers, entirely new sets of state and local party leaders and candidates. For example, rather than be taken in, even a jot, by the torrent of contemptuous abuse directed at Ronnie Earle by Tom DeLay, his lawyers, and that ilk, Texans should be realizing that - just as the dramatic prosecutions of Thomas E. Dewey in New York made him a Republican presidential candidate and now the populist prosecutions of Eliot Spitzer in New York State are making him a national figure - Ronnie Earle has fully qualified himself as a front-rank leader in Texas politics. For another example, this year, in my opinion - shared, by the way, by Jim Hightower - Texans are very fortunate to have running for Attorney General the lifelong labor lawyer and Democratic firebrand David Van Os of San Antonio. The Observer does not make political endorsements, but I may say here for myself alone that David, in my carefully considered personal judgment, is the Ralph Yarborough of his generation.

The national resistance to Bush, Cheney, Rove, et al., is coming into focus, too. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, which is the logical source for impeachment initiatives, has taken the significant step of calling for an investigation of Bush and Cheney with a view to censure, which obviously could metamorphose into impeachment. Tom Daschle, until recently the Minority Leader in the Senate, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, are all calling for investigations of Bush and Cheney. Elizabeth Holtzman writes for impeachment in the current Nation, and the Internet is on fire with initiatives to impeach Bush and Cheney for crimes committed in office, foremost among them lying our nation into a war of aggression. Impeachment is unlikely as long as the House remains firmly in GOP control, but this year it would be gratifying to see citizens seeking the election of House candidates - whether Democrats, Republicans, or independents - who promise explicitly to vote, if elected, to impeach Bush and Cheney.

If impeachment does not become possible, let me broach with you the idea that a grand jury, federal or state, should indict Bush and Cheney for their manifold official crimes. Are we, as we are so often piously assured, "a nation of laws and not of men," or is the President above the law if his party controls the House and can block impeaching him?

The Constitution is silent on whether a seated President and Vice President can be indicted, while in office, for crimes committed while they have held those offices. Constitutional lawyers are congenitally prone to announcing that this cannot be done because it would disrupt the ongoing business of the government. But it is time to do it, if necessary absent impeachment, for exactly that reason - to disrupt the continuation of THIS government.

I have not yet found one constitutional lawyer who can cite a Supreme Court case or any other judicial precedent prohibiting their indictment - if you know of one please let me hear from you. In 1973 Nixon’s attorney general said the President can’t be indicted, but why should Nixon’s attorney general bind us?

Committed to nonviolence, determined, in this post-Gandhi era, against violence, nevertheless we are once again in the position of the Framers of the Constitution. In the post-revolutionary emergency, the Founding Fathers took things in their own hands, violating their clear instructions from the states by proposing to create the United States, which the states then created. In the crisis we are in now we must not be misled by expostulating lawyers or posturing politicians. We the citizens can make up our own minds whether we can indict Bush and Cheney and, if they are convicted, throw them out.

May we close here, then, as we began two centuries and more ago, with the words of Tom Paine. "We have it in our power to begin the world over again," he said. "The birth day of a new world is at hand… We are a people upon experiments. It is an age of revolutions, in which everything may be looked for."

Ronnie Dugger is the founding editor and former publisher of The Texas Observer. Author of presidential biographies and other books and articles, he writes now from his office in Cambridge, Mass.