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Former death squad man to run Iraq

Kevin Ovenden | 21.04.2004 20:11 | London

George Bush has chosen a replacement for Paul Bremer as governor-in-chief in Iraq. It is John Negroponte, the mastermind behind the death squads of Central America. Negroponte could give lessons to the most brutal dictatorships in the world on how to organise death squads, assassinate opponents and terrorise popular movements into submission.

He did all that during the US's dirty war in Central America in the 1980s when he was "ambassador" to Honduras. Now he is to become "ambassador" to Iraq in June. Don't let the innocent-sounding title fool you. He'll not be sorting out lost passports and traveller's cheques. Negroponte will lead the spies, "counter-insurgency squads", and the real political power in Iraq from the US "embassy".

Bush now admits that huge concentrations of US troops will remain in Iraq for many years. Even if the phoney "handover" to a US-picked puppet regime goes ahead on 30 June, US corporations will dominate the economy.The Pentagon will unleash repression from 14 military bases. The profits from Iraq's vast natural resources will flow to Bush's friends in the oil industry. Astride it all will be Negroponte, ruling from Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace.

It was under the diplomatic cover of "ambassador" that Negroponte organised right wing death squads in Central America. They left tens of thousands of people dead in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua as they murdered to prop up pro-US dictatorships under President Ronald Reagan. The internationally respected New York Times credits John Negroponte with "carrying out the covert strategy of the Reagan administration to crush the Sandinista government in Nicaragua" during his tenure as US ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985.

He oversaw the growth of military aid to Honduras from $4 million to $77.4 million a year. Much of that money was funnelled to the death squads in neighbouring Nicaragua and El Salvador. In early 1984 two US mercenaries, Thomas Posey and Dana Parker, contacted Negroponte, stating they wanted to supply arms to the Contra death squads in Nicaragua. Documents show that Negroponte connected the two with a contact in the Honduran military.

Other documents uncovered a scheme of Negroponte and the then vice-president George Bush Sr to funnel Contra aid money through the Honduran government. Negroponte concealed murder, kidnapping and torture by a CIA equipped and trained Honduran military unit, Battalion 3-16. According to the Baltimore Sun the unit "used shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves."

The death squads in the tiny country of El Salvador murdered 40,000 in one year alone. They included archbishop Oscar Romero, gunned down while he performed mass. Negroponte personally covered up the murder of 32 Salvadorean nuns who fled to Honduras in 1981. His friends in the death squads tortured them then crammed them into helicopters from which they were tossed to their deaths. Everything that Saddam Hussein's regime stood accused of was unleashed by Negroponte. Human rights organisations lost count of the rapes and tortures. They reported how the Contras would cut off women's breasts in Nicaragua. Negroponte had learnt his trade in Vietnam. There the Pentagon used chemical weapons which continue to poison the soil today.

At the US embassy in Vietnam he coordinated pro-US death squads from 1964 to 1968. They, along with indiscriminate military force, were the US's response to a popular independence movement. From 1969 he was aide to Henry Kissinger, who oversaw the saturation bombing of Vietnam and the extension of the war into neighbouring Cambodia and Laos. Incredibly, Negroponte was so hawkish that Kissinger sacked him in 1973 when it became clear the US would have to negotiate with the Vietnamese liberation movement. But Bush has rehabilitated the monster.

"The idea that someone hand in glove with the Contras should take over as effectively the colonial administrator in Iraq would be astonishing were it not for what we have come to expect from Bush's White House," says Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition. It will inflame the already growing resistance in Iraq."

There is only one way to stop the Bush gang bringing the slaughter of Central America and Vietnam to Iraq and the wider Middle East. It is, in the words of veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, for "all foreign soldiers to leave Iraq" and to give the country back to its people. Twenty years ago every member of the New Labour cabinet opposed Negroponte's murder gangs. Now they and their supporters are on the same side as the godfather of the death squads against the Iraqi people.

Kevin Ovenden