California Congressman Tom Lantos has never been accused of understatement. But he may have set a new personal record for bombast when, as quoted in the September 30, 2002 edition of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, he told Minister of Knesset Colette Avital, “My dear Colette, you won’t have any problem with Saddam. We’ll be rid of the bastard soon enough. And in his place we’ll install a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for us and for you.”
After U.S. activists publicized the story, Lantos called it a “total fabrication”. He added, “I am amused by the comments Ha’aretz attributes to me, because they fly in the face of my lifetime of work. I am a firm supporter of democracy.”
Since I have been working with Lantos’ anti-war/pro-civil liberties challenger Maad Abu-Ghazalah, I e-mailed MK Colette Avital for clarification. I received the following response:
” I can confirm that the story is accurate. In fact, I myself was surprised and pained by Congressman Lantos’ comments. Since he is a friend of Israel and I have had a long friendship with him, I did not want to react to his denial, or to further embarrass him. Sincerely, Colette Avital, M.K.”
For readers of John MacArthur’s excellent “Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War,” this latest duplicity comes as no surprise. MacArthur details how, as Chairman of the Human Rights Caucus in 1990, Lantos helped organize hearings at which the infamous “baby incubator” invention was peddled to the U.S. congress and public. Lantos introduced a Kuwaiti woman who claimed to have witnessed Iraqi soldiers killing babies by ripping them from incubators in a Kuwait hospital. He neglected to mention that the young woman was the Kuwaiti Ambassador’S daughter and her testimony had been manufactured by public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, under contract to the Kuwaiti Royal Family. Hill and Knowlton thoughtfully provided rent-free office space and financial support to Congressman Lantos’ Human Rights Foundation.
As point man among the Democrats for Bush II’S war plans, Lantos worked equally hard in recent hearings to sell the younger Bush’S insane “pre-emptive” war, seeming physically unable to stop making overheated references to Nazi Germany and World War II on a daily basis. He outlined his vision by saying, “I foresee the total crushing of extremist Islamists and their allies,” adding Bush’s campaign should go on as long as it takes “to destroy all terrorist groups” and to create “regime changes in countries that harbor them.”
This enthusiastic cheerleading for global carnage has generated a backlash of support for Abu-Ghazalah, a Palestinian-American running in protest of post-September 11 warmongering and crackdowns on civil liberties. As an American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) activist, Abu-Ghazalah also opposes Lantos’ lock step support for IDF attacks on Palestinian civilians (during the bloody siege of Jenin last April, Lantos said that the U.S. should 3let Israel finish the job2). But Lantos has ignored Abu-Ghazalah’S challenge to debate the merits of war on Iraq; when a reporter asked him what he thought of Maad’s characterization of him as a “war hawk,” Lantos huffed, “I won’t dignify that with a response.”
Given the advantages in name recognition and fund raising machinery accorded an 11-term congressman, Lantos also won’t dignify his constituents with many home district appearances. His time not taken up with pro-war blustering in Congress has largely been spent helping his daughter Katrina Swett’s campaign in New Hampshire’s 2nd district. As reported in Roll Call, Lantos registered his own re-election campaign as a political action committee in New Hampshire, and since June has given more than $34,000 to New Hampshire politicians, some of whom have then sung Swett’S praises. Democratic colleagues in Congress who received money from Lantos have also contributed thousands to the Swett campaign.
Like his commitment to installing a new dictator in Iraq, none of this shows much evidence that Lantos is “a firm supporter of democracy.” Indeed, he is one of only two Northern California Representatives (with Ellen Tauscher) to buck the overwhelmingly anti-war sentiment of the voting public. Activists in the Bay Area’s 12th District have held bi-weekly demonstrations outside the armchair warrior’S San Mateo base, noisy, spirited affairs that have included a sit-in where 9 people were arrested and a visit from an official UN B.S. inspector, whose detector found alarmingly high levels of B.S. emanating from the direction of Lantos’ office. The most recent protest involved a contest for potential Saddam replacements in which participants got their pictures taken on a mattress with a Lantos lookalike (these and other visual manifestations of Citizens for Regime Change in San Mateo / San Francisco can be viewed at <www.insanereagan.com>).
As with the broader U.S. public, people in the 12th district are beginning to catch on that regime change starts at home. But the day when we don’t have Tom Lantos to kick around anymore cannot come soon enough.
BEN TERRALL can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org