When John Negroponte Was Mullah Omar

By Hans, Dennis | National Catholic Reporter, July 2, 2004 | Go to article overview

When John Negroponte Was Mullah Omar


Hans, Dennis, National Catholic Reporter


Remember Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, the Islamist movement that misgoverned the failed state of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001? He and the Taliban played host to Osama bin Laden, providing him and his al-Qaeda organization a safe haven from where they could plot terror attacks and train recruits who came to Afghanistan from every corner of the globe.

Well, it turns out that Mullah Omar has much in common with John Negroponte, the veteran U.S. diplomat who has become our new ambassador to Iraq, where he'll oversee the largest embassy and CIA station in the world.

Up till now, the most important foreign posting in Negroponte's career was to Honduras. From 1981 to '85 he was the most powerful figure in that nation perhaps as powerful as Mullah Omar would one day be in Afghanistan. Long before Omar welcomed and protected bin Laden and alQaeda, Negroponte arranged for Honduras to provide bases and sanctuary for a terrorist group every bit as deadly: the Nicaraguan contras.

President Ronald Reagan hailed the contras as "the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers." But contemporaneous reports by reputable human rights groups gave the lie to that line.

Precise body counts are hard to come by, but the contras may well have killed more defenseless souls in the 1980s than al-Qaeda has killed in its decade of terror--albeit one slit throat at a time, sometimes with the victim's wife and kids looking on, rather than 3,000 blown up one day in New York and 2,000 another day in Africa, among other al-Qaeda atrocities.

Negroponte was dispatched to Honduras in 1981 to replace U.S. Ambassador Jack Binns, who had provoked the wrath of the Reagan administration with his concerns over escalating torture and killings by Honduran security forces. Clearly, Binns was not the man to supervise what would soon become the largest U.S. embassy in Central America and the transformation of a large swath of Honduras into a sanctuary and training ground for killers.

Reagan's unstated policy toward Nicaragua in 1981 was "regime change," although he pretended that the actual goal was halting an alleged flow of Weapons of Minimal Destruction. With Congress strongly opposed at that time to regime change, presidential honesty was not an option.

Small arms allegedly flowed from Nicaragua, overland through Honduras and on to El Salvador, where Marxist guerrillas had the audacity to resist a U.S.-backed military dictatorship that, in 1981 alone, killed perhaps 15,000 civilians. But in another parallel to the present, the arms flow was largely illusory, particularly by the time Negroponte arrived in Honduras.

The contras were led by former officers of the Nicaraguan National Guard --itself a terror-prone, U.S.-trained outfit that had killed 30,000 to 40,000 civilians from 1977-79 in a vain attempt to prop up our longtime client dictator, Anastasio Somoza.

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