Iran-Contra Affair

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The Iran-Contra Affair (also called the Iran-Contra Matter and Iran-gate) was one of the largest political scandals in the United States during the 1980s. <ref>Template:Cite web</ref> It involved several members of the Reagan Administration who in 1986 helped sell arms to Iran, an avowed enemy, and used the proceeds to fund the Contras, an anti-communist guerrilla organization in Nicaragua. <ref>*Template:Cite web </ref>

After the arms sales were revealed in November 1986, President Ronald Reagan appeared on national television and denied that they had occurred.<ref>*Template:Cite web </ref> But a week later, on November 13, he returned to the airwaves to affirm that weapons were indeed transferred to Iran. He denied that they were part of an exchange for hostages. <ref name=reaganspeech>Template:Cite web</ref>

Contents

[edit] The affair

The affair connected two quite disparate matters; on the one hand was arms sales to Iran, and on the other funding of Contra militants in Nicaragua. Direct funding had been made illegal through the Boland Amendment. The affair emerged when a Lebanese newspaper reported that the U.S. sold arms to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages by Hezbollah. Emails sent by Oliver North to John Poindexter support this.<ref name=mail>"[...]a single transaction which wd be preceded by a release of hostages" Template:Cite web</ref> However, the then Israeli ambassador to the U.S. claims that the reason was to establish links with elements of the military in Iran. Moreover, the arms sales apparently were under way already by 1980.<ref name = chomsky>Template:Cite web</ref> It is also noteworthy that the Contras did not receive all of their finances from arms sales, but also through their own, unrelated, drug trafficking.<ref name="archive">Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Hostage taking

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Middle East faced frequent hostage-taking incidents by organizations. In 1979, Iranian students took hostage 63 employees of the United States embassy in Iran. On January 20, 1981, the same day Ronald Reagan became President, the hostages were freed following the Algiers Accords. Hostage taking in the Middle East did not end there, however.<ref name="Tuck">Template:Cite journal </ref> In 1983, members of Al-Dawa ("The Call"), an exiled Iraqi political party turned militant organization, were imprisoned for their part in a series of truck bombs in Kuwait. In response to the imprisonment, an ally of Al-Dawa, Hezbollah took 30 hostages, <ref>Template:Cite web </ref> six of whom were American. Hezbollah demanded the release of the prisoners for these hostages. Members of the Reagan Administration believed that by selling arms to Iran, Iran would influence the Hezbollah kidnappers in Lebanon to release their hostages. At the time, Iran was in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War and could find few nations willing to supply it with weapons. <ref name="GSO">Template:Cite web </ref> The sale of arms would also, according to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, improve strained relations with Iran.[1] For that reason, weapons were transferred to Iran. The administration stated that President Reagan was unaware of the transfer until attorney general, Edwin Meese, announced it to the media.[citation needed]

[edit] First arms sale

In summer 1985, <ref name="Avery">Template:Cite web </ref> Michael Ledeen, a consultant of Robert McFarlane, asked Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres for help in the sale of arms to Iran. The Israeli government required that the sale of arms meet the approval of the United States government, and when it was convinced that the U.S. government approved the sale by Robert McFarlane, Israel obliged by agreeing to sell the arms. <ref name="JVL">Template:Cite web </ref> In July 1985, Israel sent American-made BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles. Reverend Benjamin Weir was subsequently released; despite the fact that arms were being sold to Iran, only Weir was released. This resulted in the failure of Ledeen's plan <ref name="Tuck"/> with only three shipments through Israel. <ref name="JVL"/>

[edit] Subsequent dealings

Robert McFarlane resigned in December 1985<ref name="GSO2">Template:Cite web </ref>. He was replaced by Admiral John Poindexter. On the day of McFarlane's resignation, Oliver North, a military aide to the United States National Security Council (NSC), proposed a new plan for selling arms to Iran. This time, there were two new ideas. Instead of selling arms through Israel, the sale was to be direct. Second, the proceeds from the sale would go to the Contras at a markup. Oliver North wanted a $15 million markup, while contracted Iranian arms broker Manucher Ghorbanifar added a 41% markup of his own. <ref>Template:Cite web </ref> Other members of the NSC were in favor of North's plan. John Poindexter authorized the plan, and it went into effect. <ref name="Avery"/>

At first, the Iranians refused to buy the arms at the inflated price because of the excessive markup imposed by North and Ghorbanifar, but the arms were eventually sold in February with the shipment of 1000 TOW missiles to Iran. From May to November 1986, there were additional shipments of miscellaneous weapons and parts.[citation needed] Reagan claimed that the total of all arms sales was less than a planeload,<ref name=reaganspeech/> but given the volume of weapons this is highly unlikely.

[edit] The Contras

The plan went ahead, and proceeds from the arms sales went to the Contras, a group engaged in an insurgency against the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The diversion was coordinated by Oliver North of the National Security Council. Supporting the Contras financially was an effort to assist them in their fight against the Nicaraguan government.

Both the sale of weapons to Iran and the funding of the Contras attempted to circumvent stated Administration policy and legislation passed by Congress, known as the "Boland Amendment", enacted over concerns of widespread human rights abuses by the Contras.<ref>Template:Cite web </ref> Administration officials argued that regardless of the Congress restricting the funds for the Contras, or any affair, the President (the administration) could carry on by seeking alternative means of funding such as private entities and foreign governments.<ref name = fisher>Template:Cite journal</ref>

[edit] Drug money

A more consistent source of funding for the Contras came from Latin American cocaine trafficking, much of which resulted in large quantities of the drug entering the United States for consumption. Released on April 13, 1989, the Kerry Committee report concluded that members of the U.S. State Department "who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking...and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers." <ref name = "whiteout"> Cockburn, Alexander, Jeffrey St. Clair (1998). Whiteout, the CIA, drugs and the press. New York: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-258-5. </ref>

Furthermore, "the Contra drug links included...payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies." Houses of the Congress began to raise questions about the drug-related allegations associated with the Contras, causing a review in the spring of 1986 of the allegations by the State Department, in conjunction with the Justice Department and relevant U.S. intelligence agencies.<ref name="report">Template:Cite web</ref>

As reported in The Wall Street Journal on January 29, 1997 <ref>Template:Cite web</ref>, activities at the Mena, Arkansas airport allegedly involved then-governor Bill Clinton in a coverup of illegal drug-trading activity. The Wall Street Journal article goes on to state:

At the center of the web of speculation spun around Mena are a few undisputed facts: One of the most successful drug informants in U.S. history, smuggler Barry Seal, based his air operation at Mena. At the height of his career he was importing as much as 1,000 pounds of cocaine per month, and had a personal fortune estimated at more than $50 million. After becoming an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, he worked at least once with the CIA, in a Sandinista drug sting. He was gunned down by Colombian hit men in Baton Rouge, La., in 1986; eight months later, one of his planes--with an Arkansas pilot at the wheel and Eugene Hasenfus in the cargo bay--was shot down over Nicaragua with a load of Contra supplies.

[edit] Discovery and scandal

Image:North.jpg
Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver North testifying at the Iran-Contra hearings.

While not accomplishing the intended purpose of releasing the hostages in Lebanon, the aborted deal caused political strife in the United States when the details became public knowledge.

The Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa exposed the arrangement on November 3, 1986.[citation needed] This was the first public reporting of the weapons-for-hostages deal. The operation was discovered only after an airlift of guns was downed over Nicaragua. Eugene Hasenfus, who was captured by Nicaraguan authorities, initially alleged in a press conference on Nicaraguan soil that two of his coworkers, Max Gomez and Ramon Medina, worked for the CIA.<ref name= nyt-has1> "IN SUMMARY; Nicaragua Downs Plane and Survivor Implicates C.I.A", New York Times.</ref> He later said he did not know whether they did or not.<ref name =nyt-has2> Template:Cite news,</ref>The Iranian government confirmed the Ash-Shiraa story, and ten days after the story was first published, President Ronald Reagan affirmed the truth of the matter. In a televised speech, on November 13, Reagan confirmed the sale of weapons to Iran, but denied it was in exchange for hostages. Reagan maintained his Administration would never conduct such deals. "Our government has a firm policy not to capitulate to terrorist demands.... We did not—repeat, did not—trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we,".

The scandal was compounded when on November 21, Oliver North and his secretary Fawn Hall shredded pertinent documents. US Attorney General Edwin Meese admitted on November 25 that profits from weapons sales to Iran were made available to assist the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. On the same day, John Poindexter resigned, and Oliver North was fired.<ref name = sacking>"WHITE HOUSE SHAKE-UP: A TASK IS HANDED TO STATE DEPT.; Poindexter and North Have Limited Options", New York Times.</ref> Poindexter was replaced by Frank Carlucci on December 2, 1986. <ref name="Timeline">Template:Cite web </ref>

[edit] Tower Commission

On November 25, 1986, President Reagan, faced with mounting pressure from Congressional Democrats and the media, announced the creation of a Special Review Board looking into the matter and the next day assigned former Senator John Tower, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to serve as members; this Presidential Commission would take effect on December 1 and became known as the Tower Commission. The commission was the first presidential commission to review and evaluate the National Security Council. The objectives of the Tower Commission were to inquire into "the circumstances surrounding the Iran-Contra matter, other case studies that might reveal strengths and weaknesses in the operation of the National Security Council system under stress, and the manner in which that system has served eight different Presidents since its inception in 1947." <ref>Template:Cite web </ref>

President Reagan appeared before the Tower Commission on December 2, 1986, to answer questions. His answers were not entirely consistent, and he was (allegedly) plagued with poor memory, because the questions were regarding details that occurred months and years prior. <ref name="Timeline"/> His memory may also have been affected by a physiological disorder that he was subsequently diagnosed with, Alzheimer's disease.

The report published by the Tower Commission, known as the Tower Commission Report, was delivered to the President on February 26, 1987. It criticized the actions of Oliver North, John Poindexter, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and others. It did not determine that the President had knowledge of the extent of the program, although it argued that the President ought to have had better control of the National Security Council staff. The wording of the report surprised some since it was expected to have been weak in its criticism of the President. Instead, it heavily criticized President Reagan for not properly supervising his subordinates or being aware of their actions. The U.S. Congress issued its own report on November 18, 1987, indicating that "If the president did not know what his national security advisers were doing, he should have." [2]" The congressional report stated that the President bore "ultimate responsibility" for wrongdoing by his aides, and his Administration exhibited "secrecy, deception and disdain for the law." A major result of the Tower Commission was the consensus that Reagan should have listened to his National Security Advisor more, thereby placing more power in the hands of that chair. The National Security Advisor was to be seen as an "honest broker" and not someone who would use their position to further their political agenda.

Some doubted the intentions of the Tower Commission and believed that it was a political stunt.[citation needed] The commission limited its criticism of Vice President George Bush.[citation needed] Subsequently, the head of the commission, John Tower, was nominated to the position of Secretary of Defense by Bush when he became President. He was not confirmed by the Senate. Brent Scowcroft was named National Security Advisor. <ref>Template:Cite web </ref>

[edit] Aftermath

Oliver North and John Poindexter were indicted on multiple charges on March 16, 1988.<ref name = indictment>PHILIP SHENON. "NORTH, POINDEXTER AND 2 OTHERS INDICTED ON IRAN-CONTRA FRAUD AND THEFT CHARGES", New York Times.</ref> North, indicted on 12 counts, was found guilty by a jury of three minor counts. The convictions were vacated on appeal on the grounds that North's Fifth Amendment rights may have been violated by the indirect use of his testimony to Congress which had been given under a grant of immunity. In 1990, Poindexter was convicted on several felony counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and altering and destroying documents pertinent to the investigation. His convictions were also overturned on appeal on similar grounds. The Independent Counsel, Lawrence E. Walsh, chose not to re-try North or Poindexter. Weinberger was indicted for lying to the Independent Counsel but was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

Faced with undeniable evidence of his involvement in the scandal, Reagan expressed regret regarding the situation at a nationally televised White House press conference on March 4, 1987. Responding to questions, Reagan stated that his previous assertions that the U.S. did not trade arms for hostages were incorrect. He also stated that the Vice President knew of the plan.

Reagan survived the scandal, and his approval ratings returned to previous levels; as the scandal broke in 1986, "Reagan's approval rating plummeted to 46%", but he later "finished strong with a December 1988 Gallup poll recording a 63% approval rating".<ref name="fair">Template:Cite web </ref>

[edit] George W. Bush appointees

George W. Bush selected some individuals implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal for high-level posts.<ref name = guardianapp>Template:Cite web</ref><ref name = guardianapp2>Template:Cite web</ref> These include

[edit] Contra drug links

See also: CIA and Contra's cocaine trafficking in the US

From the 1980s onward, allegations were made that the Contras were being funded through cocaine distribution.

One of the earliest such allegations was contained in a lawsuit filed in 1986 by two journalists represented by the Christic Institute, alleging that the CIA and other parties were engaged in criminal acts, including financing the purchase of arms with the proceeds of cocaine sales.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> The suit was dismissed; several of the named participants subsequently sued the Christic Institute for libel and won.

Senator John Kerry's 1988 U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report on Contra drug links concluded that "senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Kerry was suspicious of North's connection with Manuel Noriega, Panama's drug baron. According to the National Security Archive, Oliver North had been in contact with Noriega and had met him personally.

In 1992 U.S. President George H.W. Bush pardoned persons involved in the scandal.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

The allegations resurfaced in 1996 when journalist Gary Webb published reports in the San Jose Mercury News<ref>Webb, Gary, Gary Webb. "Iran-Contra articles", San Jose Mercury News, 1996. (in English) </ref>, and later in his book Dark Alliance<ref> Webb, Gary (1998). Dark alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the crack cocaine explosion. Seven Stories. ISBN 1-888363-68-1. </ref>, detailing how Contras had distributed crack cocaine into Los Angeles to fund weapons purchases. These reports were initially attacked by various other newspapers, which attempted to debunk the link, citing official reports that apparently cleared the CIA.

In 1998, CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz published a two-volume report<ref>Template:Cite paper</ref> that substantiated many of Webb's claims, and described how 50 Contras and drug traffickers had been protected from law enforcement activity by the Reagan-Bush administration, and documented a cover-up of evidence relating to these activities. The report also showed that Oliver North and the NSC were aware of these activities. A report later that same year by the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich also came to similar conclusions.

In 2004, Gary Webb allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself twice in the head.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Notes

<references />

[edit] Sources

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Iran-Contra Affair

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