The Trump Blows

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:09

    Bush was showing that there's nothing like $56 million to let you say whatever the hell you like. Congressional Republicans grimaced and bit their tongues. ("I'm not sure we've been on the road to Gomorrah," House Speaker Denny Hastert muttered.) Like Clinton with the Democrats, Bush showed he doesn't care much about the electoral prospects of his fellow party-mates, not even when the House Republicans are expected to face a tough time retaining their five-member majority. This was quality entertainment for Democrats, who saw it as evidence of yet more Republican disarray (added to the House Republican leadership losing control of the HMO legislation, as a chunk of Republicans provided the winning majority to a Democrat-favored bill allowing patients to sue negligent HMOs). But today's glee can be tomorrow's gloom. Bush's Republican-bashing renders it harder for Dems to attack him as a toadying tool of the right. There is his opposition to abortion rights, support of the GOP's budget-busting tax cuts and affection for the gun-uncontrol positions of the NRA. But in politics, impression usually supersedes policy stances, and W is doing a bang-up job of creating an image for general election voters.

    Remember the senior Bush's pitch for a "kinder and gentler" nation, a timely call that came after the bitter ideological battles of the Reagan years? W is aiming in the same direction. Right now, "kinder and gentler II" may discomfit Tom DeLay, a nasty fellow who is the Republican truly in charge (but not in control) of the House, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, causing Democrats to titter. The last laugh, though, is a long time off.

    CIA Covers The secret-keepers of the CIA have been busy lately. In February, President Clinton ordered federal agencies to retrieve and review for declassification all documents relating to human rights abuses, terrorism and other acts of political violence in Chile between 1968 and 1978. This move came after Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator who overthrew the democratically elected Salvador Allende in 1973, was arrested in England. Pinochet was apprehended in response to a Spanish request for his extradition so he could face charges of crimes against humanity (3000 people were "disappeared" by Pinochet's regime). And on Friday a British judge ruled that Pinochet can be extradited, a decision that will be appealed. Since the CIA had tried to foment a coup against Allende in 1970 and was involved in all sorts of anti-Allende skullduggery leading up to the bloody coup led by Pinochet, the agency obviously had a lot of work to do in response to Clinton's order. But on Friday, when the U.S. government released the second batch of documents collected under the White House directive, a set of records was missing: those detailing the CIA's underhanded involvement in Chile. The CIA has been making public its reporting on events that occurred in Chile?such as riots, plots and strikes against Allende?but not material indicating that the CIA helped stir up these anti-Allende activities. Or that it may have been involved in the murder of an American journalist.

    There is no question that the CIA possesses papers detailing its shameful interventions in Chile. For years, Peter Kornbluh, an analyst at the nongovernmental National Security Archive, has been compiling a list. He has pored over transfer lists of CIA documents the agency forwarded to the Justice Dept. (which twice conducted investigations related to CIA misconduct in Chile) and collected the titles of Chile-related documents. This past summer Kornbluh's 13-year-old son, Gabriel, went through the report of the Church Committee, a Senate committee that probed the CIA in the mid-70s, and extracted dozens of references to specific CIA documents regarding its ops in Chile. When covert agencies are faced with requests for information that might be embarrassing, standard operating procedure is to deny they have relevant records. Thanks to the Kornbluhs, the CIA cannot do that in this instance.

    But that hasn't stopped the agency from trying to cover its backside. The agency, citing a 1984 law, has claimed that the CIA does not have to search its files for the documents on the Kornbluh list?which Kornbluh graciously shared with the CIA. That legislation did give the CIA a big pass. It said the agency, when handling a Freedom of Information Act request, does not have to look through the files of its operations division, the wing that does the stuff?paramilitary operations, propaganda, espionage, etc.?that you see in the movies. And the operations division is where the key Chile documents presumably reside. (The wily lawyers at the CIA were able to slip into Clinton's order a provision stating that the agencies were to retrieve only documents subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.) But the 1984 law did establish exceptions to the no-search clause, such as when the search concerns an operation officially acknowledged by the U.S. government; when that operation is the subject of an investigation for impropriety or illegality; and when documents pertaining to the operation have been taken from the operations division and placed in files elsewhere. The Chile case meets each of these standards. Still, the agency has been misciting the law to avoid even locating the documents identified by Kornbluh and the National Security Archive. In a letter to CIA Chief George Tenet, Thomas Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, referred to how the agency, in its first release of Chile-related material, ducked and covered: "Not a single document was released on known [CIA] operations supporting the Pinochet regime after the coup; not a single page on programs designed to bolster the Chilean secret police; not a word of Headquarters' decision memoranda relating to Chile... The CIA released only 2000 pages of records dated between 1973 and 1978. This is but a fraction of what it has in its vast secret archives. Moreover, the documents that were released were heavily redacted. So many pages were removed from so many documents and so many sections deleted that all critical evidence on US activities in Chile appears to have been systematically censored."

    It is more than 25 years since the CIA, on the orders of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, declared secret war on Allende, an elected socialist. (Allende died in the coup.) The Cold War is a subject for history class, and the CIA still will not come clean about its shenanigans in Chile. One person pissed off by this bureaucratic intransigence is Joyce Horman, a New Yorker who was married to Charles Horman. As the movie Missing chronicled, Charles, an American journalist, was murdered during the 1973 coup. (Sissy Spacek played Joyce in the movie. Jack Lemmon played Charles' dad, Ed, who died several years ago.) In a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last month, Joyce Horman complained that the CIA in the first release "did not declassify a single document relating to the death of Charles." She noted that this "constitutes a betrayal of what I and other families of American victims believed would be a good faith effort on the part of the Clinton administration to declassify the record and allow us to lay this painful history to rest. The President's tasker [which ordered the declassification review] explicitly states that a declassification review 'would respond to the expressed wishes of the families of American victims of human rights abuses'... [A] review that exempts the very files most likely to contain evidence relevant to our families will be viewed as little more than an exercise in hypocrisy and fraud."

    When the new collection of documents was unveiled Friday, Joyce Horman had far more reason to be outraged. A 1976 State Dept. memo noted there was circumstantial evidence that the CIA "may have played an unfortunate part" in her husband's murder. "At best, [the CIA's role] was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder [by the Chilean military government]," the document said. "At worst, U.S. intelligence was aware [Pinochet's regime] saw Horman in a rather serious light and U.S. officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of [Chilean] paranoia." (Horman worked for a left-leaning news service and may have come across information confirming direct U.S. involvement in the military coup.)

    The CIA documents included in Friday's release, however, contained no references to the Horman case. But after the agency began to receive calls from reporters regarding the State Dept. memo, the CIA found and made public a 1978 letter it had sent the Justice Dept. stating that the "CIA had no prior knowledge of and played no role in either the death of Mr. Horman or in the events surrounding the subsequent disposition of his remains." That was hardly a ringing denial of the charges contained in the State Dept. document. Moreover, another State Dept. record noted that the U.S. embassy official in Chile who handled the Horman case was actually a CIA officer posted under State Dept. cover. So where are his reports? Not in any of the material produced so far by the obstructionists of the agency. Having been embarrassed so thoroughly?and caught in a cover-up?the CIA said it will review its operations division files. But for all Chile-related records? For only Horman-related documents? For only those documents it can use to its advantage? At this point, the agency is not to be trusted.

    The CIA has taken its lumps for standing in the way of the truth. There was a forceful editorial in The New York Times, and The Washington Post last week ran a story headlined "CIA Accused of 'Whitewash' on Pinochet." Both were the result of a marvelous pressure campaign mounted by the National Security Archive, various human rights groups, Joyce Horman and friends and relatives of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt (who were killed in Washington, DC, in 1976 by a car bomb planted by agents of Pinochet's military regime). They all have been urging the Clinton administration to come to terms with this secret past. The question is, will the White House crack the whip against the CIA? (The National Security Agency, the supersecret, mega-eavesdropping outfit, too, needs a boot in the rear to release its own material; it has been systematically withholding documents and may possess the most incriminating records regarding Pinochet's involvement in human rights abuses.)

    Now, spies will by spies. You can't expect them to really believe in openness. Ultimately, the call belongs to Clinton, who throughout his presidency has treated the covert operators too gingerly. Clinton, who is obsessed with his own legacy, is not able to control how he will be recorded in history, but it is within his power to set the historical record straight about this shameful period. Joyce Horman and so many others deserve no less.