Negroponte, Senators Lack Curiosity: Intelligence Nominee Avoids Questions about Role in Honduras

By Feuerherd, Joe | National Catholic Reporter, April 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Negroponte, Senators Lack Curiosity: Intelligence Nominee Avoids Questions about Role in Honduras


Feuerherd, Joe, National Catholic Reporter


John Negroponte, the president's nominee to be the first director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee April 12 that he believes "in calling things the way I see them."

Don't buy it, say his many critics, pointing to his four-year tenure as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s. They say he's a see-no-evil kind of guy.

As the nation's top spymaster, it will be Negroponte's job to ferret out the terrorists who aim to do us harm, to uncover the plots concocted by surreptitious operatives. It's important work, requiring bureaucratic skill (there are more than a dozen U.S. intelligence agencies that fall under the newly established office), considerable guile and the ability to make judgments based on frequently fuzzy data.

Negroponte, however, couldn't find evidence of government- and military-engineered human rights abuses in Honduras during his time there. He's a most incurious man.

The background: In the late 1970s and '80s, Honduras' right-wing government feared the spread of left-wing ideology represented by their neighbors, Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua. Following Ronald Reagan's 1980 election, the United States mounted a not-so-covert effort to quash left-wing insurgencies in El Salvador, Argentina, Guatemala and to topple the Sandinistas, who came to power in 1979 following the toppling of the U.S.-backed Somoza regime.

It being the Cold War, the United States was prepared, eager even, to make nice with all manner of ugly customers to combat the Marxist threat to the Western Hemisphere. Our enemy's enemy was our friend.

Honduras--the hemispheric base from which these wars were launched--was key to the strategy. Negroponte, a career foreign service officer, became U.S. ambassador to Tegucigalpa in 1981. State Department documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act--392 memos and cables from Negroponte to his Washington superiors--make clear that the ambassador had many worries during his tenure. Among them: subverting regional peace efforts promoted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and finding ways to fund the Nicaraguan contras after Congress cut off support. No mention, none, about human rights in the host country.

In June 1995, following a 14-month investigation, the Baltimore Sun reported that hundreds of allegedly left-wing Hondurans were "tortured and killed in the 1980s by a secret army unit trained and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency. The intelligence unit, known as Battalion 316, used shock and suffocation devices in interrogations.

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