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A Parting Human Rights Crime

The Clintons and Colombia

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR and ALEXANDER COCKBURN

If ever there was a couple 
who left a sour taste in the mouth by the manner of their parting it was surely 
Bill and Hillary Clinton. From time to time, against our better judgment, we’ve tried to summon some sympathy for them, and time after time they’ve brusquely brought us back to Earth
with some bleak reminder of their all-round rottenness.

Try 
Colombia. Less than 48 hours before Bill Clinton quit the White House, with a legal 
deal covering his own ass, his administration announced that it would employ
 a highly questionable legal interpretation of “Plan Colombia”–the
 $1.3 billion in aid going mostly to the Colombian military. The interpretation 
allowed the administration to dodge entirely any certification or waiver of
 human rights conditions attached to the aid, thus circumventing the whole certification 
process in providing money to the Colombian government.

Now, these human rights certifications were the object of fierce lobbying by human
 rights groups all through the year 2000. After the certification was added, proponents of the
 plan tried to undermine human rights stipulations by adding the “waiver” 
option to the aid. You can argue that the experience of similar lobbying in
the 1980s over aid to Central America should have instructed the groups in the 
folly of expecting any administration to honor such commitments, but this doesn’t
 diminish the squalor and cynicism of what the Clinton team did in its dying 
hours.

In August of 2000, Clinton waived four of the five human rights criteria laid out by Congress 
to release the first chunk of $781.5 million. A certification or waiver was
also required for the second installment of $56.4 million. Two Democratic senators, Paul Wellstone and Tom Harkin, called on Clinton as late as last week to reject 
a waiver for the second slice because the Colombian government had “failed 
to make significant progress” on human rights.

But the State Deptartment’s 
Richard Boucher said the Clinton administration had decided that because the 
second slice of aid was not included in “regular funds,” but rather 
in an emergency spending bill, the certification and waiver process did not
apply.

With virtually no opportunity for the human rights community to
respond, the Clinton administration effectively created a way to avoid the
whole question of human rights in Colombia.

As 
Jack Laun of the Colombia Support Network said bitterly, “This unilateral 
interpretation trivializes the role of Congress in allocating funds and undermines
the work of countless human rights organizations that have testified time and
again to the need to consider human rights abuses in Colombia.”

There’s
 bipartisanship for you, in the deeper sense. George Bush the Elder left office 
in 1993, having signed Christmas pardons for Reagan-Bush era officials who’d 
broken the law by breaching congressional prohibition on aid to the Nicaraguan 
Contras. Here we have Clinton and Madeleine Albright doing a last-minute end run around
 a modest congressional roadblock against sending U.S. dollars destined in considerable 
part to Colombia’s paramilitary death squads.

One final parting shot, taken while no one was watching, just to show you where they really stand.

This is a fragment from a book project that Alex and I had been working on about the lingering influence of the Clintons after the White House years, tentatively titled Clintons in Exile, that may yet see the light of day.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of NatureGrand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.