FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

When a Radio Host Interviews a War Criminal, Is It Churlish to Ask About His War Crimes?

A letter to New York’s popular WNYC-NPR radio host Brian Lehrer

Dear Mr Lehrer,

I enjoy your programs. I especially appreciate your intelligent and even-handed treatment of guests, which includes providing enough context and background about them to allow listeners a chance to fairly evaluate how much respect and/or credibility their words deserve.

Regrettably, you did not provide such context or background for Elliott Abrams, when you interviewed him on Monday, October 9, about his new book, Realism and Democracy: American Foreign Policy After the Arab Spring.

It’s true that you did say, near the end of the interview, that Abrams had been convicted on two counts of “misleading Congress” in 1991, and was then pardoned by George W. Bush. But the reference was cryptic, and you passed over it quickly, since you were only using it as a bridge to the question of whether Abrams’s pardon by Bush might be a precedent that would allow Donald Trump to pardon his own friends and relatives (and possibly himself) if indicted during Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Since a conviction for “misleading Congress” doesn’t sound like much, many of your listeners probably thought it was like getting a traffic ticket — that is, small potatoes. And indeed it was small potatoes, especially in Abrams’s case, because it was the result of a plea bargain in which the Justice Department agreed to close its eyes to Abrams’s complicity in horrendous human rights atrocities, encompassing the rape, torture and murder of tens of thousands of indigenous Central American people during the Contra Wars. In return, Abrams agreed to cooperate in fingering his superiors in the Reagan administration. Sort of like giving immunity to a Mafia hit man with 10 or 12 murders under his belt, in return for having him rat out his capo.

Since Abrams’s crimes occurred more than a quarter of a century ago, many of your listeners may have forgotten them, or been too young at the time to have understood them. Therefore, they may have been unaware that Abrams, in every sense of the term, is a war criminal, and that his involvement in genocidal mass murder, by some of the most brutal dictators in modern history, makes his passionate love song, which he sings  to democracy in his latest book, a cruelly ironic joke.

You might, Mr Lehrer, have legitimately asked Abrams (politely, of course, since he was your guest) about the astonishing advice at the core of his book — that America should support democratic governments because “deals with tyrants will not work.” And that “Islamism is an idea that can only be defeated by a better idea: democracy.” Hasn’t Abrams has spent his entire career arranging “deals with tyrants,” and helping to overthrow democratically elected governments all over the world?

For example, there is Abrams’s well documented support for the bloody Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, and his equally bloody successor, “President” Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, whose U.S.-trained and funded troops “herded the entire population [of one village] into the courthouse, raped the women, beheaded the men, and then took the children outside to smash them to death against rocks,” as recounted in Inevitable Revolutions, by the distinguished Cornell University historian Walter LaFeber.

Abrams also helped the Salvadoran military junta cover up the infamous “El Mozote Massacre” of December 11, 1981, in which Salvadoran troops, also U.S.-trained and funded, raped, tortured and butchered over 800 villagers. As reported by Mark Danner, in The New Yorker, government soldiers dragged the entire population of the village from their homes, separated the men from the women and children, then locked them all up overnight. In the morning, they tortured and executed the men. At noon, they raped the women and then machine-gunned them. After that, they raped the girls, and machine-gunned them, too. Girls as young as 10 were raped, with soldiers reportedly heard bragging how they especially liked the 12-year-old girls. Finally, they killed the little children, first by slitting their throats, then hanging them from trees, one child as young as two years old. After butchering the entire population, the soldiers set fire to the buildings. The next day they marched to the village of Los Toriles and carried out a further massacre. Men, women, and children were lined up, robbed, shot, and their homes then set ablaze.

Faced with international revulsion, the Reagan administration launched a cover-up of its role in the Mazote Massacre. That cover-up was yeomanly orchestrated by Elliott Abrams, then Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Although evidence for massacre was overwhelming, Abrams insisted that that no such massacre had taken place, and that — to the contrary — the Salvadoran junta had made great strides in human rights. Even as the mass killings continued, Abrams fought in Congress for increased military aid to Ríos Montt’s murderous regime, demanding that Congress provide it with advanced arms because “[its] human rights progress need[ed] to be rewarded and encouraged.” As Abrams deceitfully told a Congressional investigating committee, “it [the El Mozote Massacre] appears to be an incident that is … being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.” (Citation from A Century of Media, a Century of War, by Robin Andersen.)

As the go-to-guy for U.S.-funded terrorism, Abrams helped arrange the overthrow of democratically elected governments throughout Latin America and the Middle East. Operating out of the White House, as George W. Bush’s Senior Director of the National Security Council for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations, Abrams was, according The Guardian, the crucial figure in the failed 2002 coup against the democratically elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

As assistant secretary of state for Latin America under President Reagan, Abrams was a prominent theoretician of the school known as ‘Hemispherism’, whose primary goal was to eradicate Marxism from the Americas by any means necessary. He conspired with Henry Kissinger and the CIA during the Nixon administration to overthrow the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973, bringing Augusto Pinochet to power and plunging Chile into 17 years of torture, rape and murder. Abrams also oversaw U.S. funding of military coups and death squads in Argentina, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. And in Nicaragua, Abrams worked directly with Oliver North to fund the Contras and destabilize the democratically elected Sandinista government. Abrams also tried to subvert the results of the 2006 democratic elections in the Palestinian territories, undermining any chance of a democratic peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Today, in 2017, deceitful as ever, Abrams, who is currently Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (and was Trump’s first choice for Deputy Secretary of State), has the chutzpah to write in his new book that America should “reject deals with tyrants” – as if deals with tyrants were not Abrams’s stock in trade — and as if so many of the allies of whom he approves were not murderous tyrants oppressing the populations of countries like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Rwanda, Singapore, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda and Uzbekistan — to name a handful. Or that one of our dearest allies is Saudi Arabia, a country that often beheads more people in one week (for such crimes as adultery or “insulting the state”) than Al Qaeda and ISIS have beheaded in all their years of existence.

In a New York Magazine article, Eric Levitz aptly commented that having Elliott Abrams oversee the National Security Council directorate responsible for promoting Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations, as he did under George W. Bush, was “a bit like having Hannibal Lecter oversee the directorate of Homicide Reduction and Veganism.” To which I might add that for Brian Lehrer to have interviewed Elliott Abrams, one of the great monsters of our era, without even bringing up any of the above, is like interviewing Hitler without bringing up Auschwitz – or like interviewing Trump without bringing up pussy-grabbing.

More articles by:

March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
Renee Parsons
The Supreme Court and Dual Citizenship
Eric Draitser
On Ilhan Omar, Assad Fetishism, and the Danger of Red-Brown “Anti-Imperialism”
Elizabeth Keyes
Broadway’s “Hamilton” and the Willing Suspension of Reality-Based Moral Consciousness
David Underhill
Optional Fatherhood Liberates Christians From Abortion Jihad
Nick Pemberton
Is Kamala Harris the Centrist We Need?
Dean Baker
The Wall Street Bailouts, Bernie and the Washington Post
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Blackout
William Astore
America’s Senior Generals Find No Exits From Endless War
Jeff Hauser – Eleanor Eagan
Boeing Debacle Shows Need to Investigate Trump-era Corruption
Ramzy Baroud
Uniting Fatah, Not Palestinians: The Dubious Role of Mohammed Shtayyeh
Nick Licata
All Southern States are Not the Same: Mississippi’s Challenge
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Sly Encouragement of Lawless Violence
Cesar Chelala
Public Health Challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean
March 20, 2019
T.J. Coles
Countdown to “Full Spectrum Dominance”
W. T. Whitney
Re-Targeting Cuba: Why Title III of U.S. Helms-Burton Act will be a Horror Show
Kenneth Surin
Ukania’s Great Privatization Heist
Howard Lisnoff
“Say It Ain’t So, Joe:” the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party
Walter Clemens
Jailed Birds of a Feather May Sing Together
George Ochenski
Failing Students on Climate Change
Cesar Chelala
The Sweet Smell of Madeleine
Binoy Kampmark
Global Kids Strike
Nicky Reid
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Requiem for a Fictional Party
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail