Friday, May 15, 2009


The horse Incitatus, appointed by the Roman Emperor Caligula to be a Consul and a priest, and the American lawyer Elliott Abrams, formerly charged with overseeing the U.S government's human rights activities and presently a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council share the distinction of having received two of the most inappropriate political appointments in history.

Horses are generally not well qualified to hold public office and American officials are generally not well qualified to oversee anything related to human rights, but Abrams is not a typical American official. His behavior has been so inappropriate that his continuing affiliation with The Holocaust Memorial Council is an impediment to that organization's mandate and an insult to it constituents.

In his role as President Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, a role perhaps comparable to Sudan's Minister for Human Rights, Abrams was the chief apologist for the U.S's human rights record at a time when some of the worst atrocities of Lain America's dirty wars were taking place. The role was critical, public resentment over human rights abuses had to be mitigated if arms shipments and political support for Latin America's pro-American fascist regimes was to continue.

Abrams's first crisis came in early 1982 when reports of a massacre of a thousand civilians the previous December in the village of El Mozote by the Atlacatl Battalion, a U.S trained Salvadorian death squad, reignited the debate over military aid to El Salvador. Abrams, along with conservative groups such as Accuracy in Media (AIM), quickly declared reports of the massacre an politically motivated exaggeration of a firefight. Abrams was instrumental in lobbying Congress not to slash $100 million of military aid to El Salvador following the massacre declaring "[t]he Administration's record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement," he went on to deny that any massacre had taken place, and lavish praise on the Atlacatl Battalion its "discipline". Largely as a result of Abrams's damage control the "fabulous achievement" in El Salvador continued. 75,000 people would die before the war ended in 1992, 85% of them at the hands of U.S backed government forces.

Ten years later Abrams continued to defend his prior stance saying "If it had really been a massacre and not a firefight, why didn’t we hear right off from the FMLN? I mean, we didn’t start hearing about it until a month later." About the same time a U.N sanctioned Truth Commission found:

"There is full proof that on 11 December 1981, in the village of El Mozote, units of the Atlacatl Battalion deliberately and systematically killed a group of more than 200 men, women and children, constituting the entire civilian population that they had found there the previous day and had since been holding prisoner. . .

"there is [also] sufficient evidence that in the days preceding and following the El Mozote massacre, troops participating in "Operation Rescue" massacred the non-combatant civilian population in La Joya canton, in the villages of La Rancheria, Jocote Amatillo y Los Toriles, and in Cerro Pando canton."

El Salvador is only one of Abrams "fabulous accomplishments". Abrams frequently clashed with human rights groups over Guatemala as well. There the U.S trained, armed, and supported the military forces that terrorized that nation for decades. After the "civil war" ended in 1996 reports by the Archbishop's office for Human Rights and a UN sponsored Historical Clarification Commision implicated the U.S supported government forces in over 400 separate massacres, and over 90% of the conflict's atrocities. From the time the U.S overthrew Guatemala's democratic government in 1954 until the conflict's end in 1996 more than 200,000 people were killed, 93% of them victims of a genocide against the indigenous Mayan people.

One of the victims was Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas, a human rights activist, with the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM) the Mutual Support Group for relatives of the disappeared. On April 4, 1985 she was abducted, along with her brother and two year old son, in the parking lot of a shopping center. She was tortured along with her family members, raped, and then killed. The bodies of the three were found in their car, gently rolled into a ditch, the government and the U.S State Department claimed the group had died in a car accident. Her breasts displayed bite marks, her toddler's finger nails had been gouged out, and her underwear was stained with blood. When contacted about the murder by human rights groups Abrams replied that "there's no evidence other than that they died in a traffic accident. No official probe into the deaths was ever launched and the U.S continued with its support for the Guatemalan regime.

Ten years later Reagan's leading human rights official was still defending the Guatemalan generals, casting the massacre of peasant and the Mayan genocide as a cold war battle. When journalist Allan Nairn confronted Abrams about the Guatemalan civil war Abrams dismissed the accusation saying "[i]t is ludicrous, it is ludicrous to respond to that kind of stupidity. This guy thinks we were on the wrong side in the cold war. Maybe he personally was on the wrong side. I am one of the many
millions of Americans who..." before calling Nairn a crackpot.

Abrams was also involved with the Reagan administration's covert terrorist war in Nicaragua, he helped supply Contra forces and attempted to smuggle funds to the Contras through Brunei's government, though a clerical error sent $10 million in money intended for the rebels into the wrong Swiss bank account, Abrams later avoided prison time for the Iran-Contra scandal by pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress. He was pardoned by President George Bush.

Abrams has consistently been an apologist for brutal Latin American military dictatorships, he has defended and denied some of the worst atrocities of the dirty wars, and his record should disqualify him from any public service. It is a disgrace and an insult to the memory of everyone whose human rights have been abused that a man charged with defending and denying the massacres of one totalitarian regime should be affiliated with an organization committed to remembering the victims of another. Out of respect for human rights and recognition of the organization's mission the United States Holocaust Memorial Council should immediately remove Elliot Abrams from his position. When the victims of genocides and massacres in Latin American needed an advocate Abrams's comments were worse than silence, silence is the most respectful thing he can offer the victims of the Holocaust.

No comments: