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Yesterday President Bush named John Negroponte to be the new director of national intelligence. As the man responsible for managing 15 intelligence agencies, we find this appointment extremely alarming due to major unsavory aspects of his professional history centering on the massive misuse of his authority as U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85. In fact, given his calm manner and his proven Machiavellian philosophy, he may be the right man for this new James Bond-slot even if it means the diminishment of democratic principles, which has been the hallmark of his career wherever he has been assigned.
Negroponte’s stint in Honduras was filled with chicanery and deception. As a result of the immensely compromised record he compiled there, rather than being rewarded with this new and elevated position, he should be facing proceedings concerning the role he played in the numerous human rights violations that occurred during his Honduran watch nearly 300 dissidents “disappeared.” Affidavits and testimony by Honduran survivors have reported on his involvement in sanctioning, protecting or covering up these death squads. Also, during the time Negroponte spent at the Tegucigalpa embassy, millions of dollars in bribes were paid to corrupt Honduran officials to allow room for the U.S.-backed contras to stage attacks on the Sandinistas in neighboring Nicaragua.
Negroponte has claimed that he did not recall any human rights violations ever having taken place in the country during his time there, even though his immediate predecessor as ambassador, Jack Binns, had reported a number of them to the State Department and told Negroponte about them before the latter took up his post. Is it really possible that the man now nominated to be the czar of U.S. intelligence had no idea of the death squads and abuses taking place in Honduras even though he was specifically briefed on the subject? Or does he truly suffer from the selective amnesia that he displayed at his hearings to be U.S. ambassador to the UN, when he repeatedly said that he had no memory of and heavily denied that there were any human rights abuses at the time? He would have been much more vigorously questioned by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee if September 11 had occurred shortly before and the Senate was anxious to fill the vacancy that existed there at the time. Negroponte also should be reprimanded for the role he played in influencing former Secretary of State Colin Powell to strong-arm Chile and Mexico to recall their UN ambassadors because of their anti-U.S. stance leading up to the Iraq war.
Throughout Negroponte’s entire professional career he has subscribed to the thesis that the ends justify the means. As a result, Bush had made a brilliant if demonic appointment Negroponte will likely get the job done, but at a insupportable cost to this and other countries’ democratic institutions as he brings his well-tested authoritarian personality to the job.
LARRY BIRNS is director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.