The Amazing Grace of Elliot Abrams, Part 1

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Thu Sep 4 18:27:33 MDT 2003

The popular hymn "Amazing Grace" was written in
repentance by John Newton of London (1725-1807),
a captain of a slave ship, plying the slave trade. The "Amazing
Grace" of Elliot Abrams is a different, deadlier story.


Iran remains controversial in the Bush administration, which is divided
over whether to force "regime change" in Teheran, or cultivate reformist
elements. The hawks promote covert intelligence operations to foment
discontent in Iran and mobilise young people. They have also mooted a
pre-emptive strike against nuclear facilities, if Iran does not submit to
weapons inspections. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has argued for a
congressional mandate for regime change in Iran similar to the 1998 Iraq
Liberation Act. "We'll never have true stability in the region as long as
the Iranian regime remains in power," he said recently at the American
Enterprise Institute. "We're riding a horse and we're in the middle of the
stream. We've got to press on to the other side."

Nevertheless, the chiefs are not advocating a new war for now, and
"regime change" in Iran is still not official US policy.  While Bush is keen
 to liberate Iran from alleged "muslim tyranny" (rather ridiculous in view
of the murderous policies Americans have supported and funded in Iran
in the past), the Iran government has also assisted the American
campaign against al-Qa'eda; active intervention by America would
antagonise the population and therefore strengthen rather than weaken
the regime they want to topple. Powell's diplomats think is a question
of time: if the Iraqis have success with a representative government,
this will stimulate the movement for civil liberties in Iran. If on the
other hand the Iraqi conflict deepens, and costs go up to high, they
will have to think again.

Meanwhile the  Bush administration has rejected all diplomatic overtures
 from Iranian UN  ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif to resolve the
 notion of direct talks about Iran's nuclear programme. The hawks hope that
Elliot Abrams will somehow resist moves from State Department diplomats
and the CIA to make deals with the Teheran government, of the type
which would lead to a policy stance more acceptable to the USA.


Abrams, a native New Yorker, graduated BA from Harvard College in 1969
and gained an MSc in economics (international relations) from the London
School of Economics in 1970.  He criticized the Vietnam War and the
Cambridge police for using force to end a 1969 student, but opposed the the
militant tactics employed by Students for a Democratic Society. 'He was
culturally straight and had short hair,' recalls a former roommate, Steven
Kelman, now a professor of public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School
of Government. 'Elliott was the only person I knew who threw his blue jeans
out when they started to fade.' Kelman thinks that Abrams, as a bright
young kid from the Hollis Hills neighborhood of Queens, reared in the
progressive Jewish tradition, was 'traumatized' by his experiences of campus
politics at Harvard. 'There is a part of him that is still fighting the
student radicals of the '60s,' he said. 'He doesn't like people whom he sees
as anti-American, or down on the United States.' After Harvard, Abrams
followed a classic neo-conservative trajectory, taking a job with Sen. Henry
M.  Jackson, a hawkish Washington Democrat. 'They hit it off more or less
immediately,' said Richard N. Perle, himself a Pentagon official during the
Reagan administration who introduced Abrams to Jackson.

Abrams got his Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School in 1973, and worked
as attorney in New York and Washington, D.C. and for four years for the US
Senate, including as assistant counsel to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee
on Investigations in 1975; special counsel to the hawkish democrat Sen.
Henry M. 'Scoop' Jackson in 1975-76, who favoured tough foreign policy and a
liberal domestic policy. Next, he was a special counsel to Sen. Daniel P.
Moynihan in 1977; and Moynihan's Chief of Staff from January 1979 through
May 1979. Abrams joined the neo-conservative aristocracy in March 1980
through his marriage to Rachel Decter, daughter of conservative pundits
Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter (They have three children).  By the
time Ronald Reagan was elected president later that year, Abrams had become
a Republican.


>From 1981 until 1989 Abrams served as Assistant Secretary of State, in the
US Department of State for human rights and humanitarian affairs, and he
supervised United States participation in the United Nations.  His job was
to implement the Reagan doctrine of 'rolling back communism' in Central
America. For Abrams, fighting communism and promoting human rights were
identical. Although he criticized Pinochet's regime, he played down or
ignored human rights violations by pro-American governments in Central
America. Talking to human rights activist Aryeh Neier on ABC's 'Nightline'
in 1984, Abrams insisted that widely reported massacres by right-wing death
squads in El Salvador 'never happened.' 'Elliott was willing to distort and
misrepresent the truth in order to promote the policy adopted by the
administration,' Neier said. 'His approach was that the ends justified the
means.' Abrams has replied to past criticism by Neier by describing his
human rights work as 'garbage' and 'completely politicized.'  Right-wingers
hailed Abrams as a hero for his championship of the Nicaraguan contras.
"Arbitrary deprivation of life" was a 1984 term designated for use in the
US. State Department reports to describe friendly governments such as those
in El Salvador and Chile, because, as Assistant Secretary of State Elliot
Abrams put it, "we found the term 'killing' too broad."


In July 1985 President Reagan appointed him as assistant secretary of state
for inter-American affairs, with an unanimous vote by the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee and the United States Senate.  In the role, in his own
words, Abrams, in his own words, "supervised U.S. policy in Latin America
and the Caribbean.". With Oliver North, Abrams helped evade congressional
restrictions on aid to the contras through the Nicaraguan Humanitarian
Assistance Office, and he delivered subsidies to firms like Setco and
Frigorificos de Puntarenas which CIA admits were dealing drugs. He worked
with Albert Carone who was North's, Casey's and Bush's paymaster and bagman
with the Mafia.  He played a key role in the US relationship to Manuel
Noriega, and  then lied about the whole deal to the US Congress. Foreign
policy at that time included backing the contras - a surrogate army
dedicated to overthrowing the democratically elected Sandinista government
of Nicaragua. It also involved funding the military thugocracy of El
Salvador and supervising its war against a popular leftist rebellion. Abrams
provided cover for the genocidal policies of the Guatemalan government and
embraced the government of Honduras while it perpetrated serial human rights
abuses through Battalion 3-16, a U.S.-trained "intelligence unit" turned
death squad. He provided assistance for Unita in Angola.

Abrams at this time billed himself as a "gladiator" for the Reagan Doctrine
in Central America. His speciality was massacre denial, and he called his
enemies "vipers". During a Nightline appearance in 1985, he was asked about
reports that the US-funded Salvadoran military had slaughtered civilians at
two sites the previous summer. Abrams insisted that no such events had
occurred. And had the US Embassy and the State Department conducted an
investigation? "My memory," he said, "is that we did, but I don't want to
swear to it, because I'd have to go back and look at the cables." There was
no State Department inquiry; Abrams, in his lawyerly fashion, was being


In 1981, when two American journalists reported that an elite, US-trained
military unit had massacred hundreds of villagers in El Mozote, Abrams told
told Congress that the reports carried in the New York; Times and Washington
Post were "Communist propaganda", as he fought for more US aid to El
Salvador's military. The massacre was real. A thousand unarmed Salvadoran
peasants, including 139 children, were killed by U.S.-trained contra troops.
In 1993 a UN truth commission examined 22,000 atrocities that occurred
during the twelve-year civil war in El Salvador, and attributed 85 percent
of the abuses to the Reagan-assisted right-wing military and its death-squad
allies. Abrams declared, "The Administration's record on El Salvador is one
of fabulous achievement." Tell that to the survivors of El Mozote.
According to congressional records, under Abram's supervision, the Contras
"raped, tortured, and killed unarmed civilians, including children," and
that "groups of civilians, including women and children, were burned,
dismembered, blinded and beheaded."

The Salvadoran Truth commission testified about the massacre in a
congressional hearing of the House Western Hemisphere subcommittee. Chairman
Robert G. Torricelli (D-New Jersey) vowed to review for possible perjury
"every word uttered by every Reagan administration official" in
congressional testimony on El Salvador. Abrams denounced Torricelli's words
as "McCarthyite crap." The Reagan administration knew about El Mozote and
other human rights violations all along. Abrams, however, carefully denied
knowledge of the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero,
committed shortly after the cleric denounced government terror. "Anybody who
thinks you're going to find a cable that says that Roberto d'Aubuisson
murdered the archbishop is a fool," Abrams was quoted in a March 21, 1993
article in the Washington Post. But the U.S. embassy in San Salvador
sent at least two such cables to Washington nailing d'Aubuisson, the
right-wing politician who was the chief architect of the plot against
 The December 21, 1981 cable notes: "A meeting, chaired by Maj.
Roberto d'Aubuisson, during which the murder of Archbishop
Romero was planned. During the meeting, some of the participants
drew lots for the privilege of killing the archbishop."


It wasn't lying about mass murder that caused Abrams political problems, but
Iran. With NSC chief North, he hatched a plot to sell weapons illegally to
Iran so that the proceeds could be channeled to the Contras in secret. After
a contra resupply plane was shot down in 1986, Abrams, Oliver North and the
CIA's Alan Fiers, were summoned several times before Congressional
committees but Abrams withheld information on the Administration's illegal
connection to a secret and private contra-support network. Abrams also hid
from Congress the fact that he had flown to London (using the name "Mr.
Kenilworth") to solicit a $10 million contribution for the contras from the
Sultan of Brunei.

In his testimony to Congress, Abrams made witness history when he declared:
"I never said I had no idea about most of the things you said I had no idea
about." The now 54-year-old Abrams also explained in his autobiography that
he had to inform his young children about the headline announcing his
indictment, so he told them he had to lie to Congress to protect the
national interest. Later at a closed-door hearing, Democratic Senator Thomas
Eagleton blasted Abrams for having misled legislators, threatening that
Abrams's misrepresentations could lead to "slammer time." Abrams disagreed,
saying, "You've heard my testimony." Eagleton cut in: "I've heard it, and I
want to puke." Republican Senator Dave Durenberger complained, "I wouldn't
trust Elliott any further than I could throw Ollie North." Even after Abrams
copped a plea with Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh, he refused to admit
that he'd done anything untoward. Abrams argued that lawmakers who blocked
contra aid would have "blood on their hands" while defending US support for
a human-rights-abusing government in Guatemala. Abrams was formally indicted
by the Iran-Contra special prosecutor for giving false testimony about his
role in illicitly raising money for the Contras but pleaded guilty to two
lesser offenses of withholding information to Congress in order to avoid a
trial and a possible jail term. His credibility for truth-telling was so low
that at one point he was required to take an oath before testifying before
Congressional committees. Abrams  pleaded guilty to withholding information
from Congress and received two years probation and 100 hours community work.


 After Reagan left office in 1989, Abrams, like other prominent
neoconservatives, was not invited to serve in the Bush Sr. administration.
Instead, he became senior fellow of and contributing editor at the Hudson
Institute from 1989 to 1996 (publication: National Review). He also became a
member of the boards of the right-wing Media Research Center, an
organization that opposes any traces of liberalism on TV or in films.
Chairman L. Brent Bozell III publishes the newsletter TV, ETC., with an
advisory board that includes Abrams, Mona Charen, Pete DuPont, and Rush
Limbaugh. Finally, he joined  the Center for Security Policy, a right-wing
think tank described as "the nerve center of the Star Wars lobby." CSP
founder Frank Gaffney said his aim in setting this Center up was to "be the
Domino's Pizza of the policy business" and helped formulate the Strategic
Defense Initiative while assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan
administration. Gaffney described CSP's goal to "be the Domino's Pizza of
the policy business." Abrams kept in touch with Dick Cheney, now Bush's vice
president and was part of the tight-knit neo-conservative foreign-policy
community around one of his early mentors, Richard Perle and former UN
Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
Abrams wrote numerous essays and book reviews that have appeared in
Commentary, The Public Interest, The American Spectator, Policy Review and
other journals. In 1989 Adm. William Crowe Jr. said of Abrams, "This snake's
hard to kill."

Abrams had problems with Congress over the Iran-contra scandal, starring
Oliver North. Abrams was indicted by the Iran-Contra special prosecutor for
giving false testimony about his role in illicitly raising money for the
Contras, but pleaded guilty to two lesser offenses of withholding
information to Congress in order to avoid a trial and a possible jail term.

In 1991, Abrams was forced to admit in court that he had not disclosed his
knowledge of a secret contra supply network, and his solicitation of a $10
million contribution for the contras from the sultan of Brunei.  His
credibility for truth-telling was so low, that at one point he was required
to take an oath before testifying before congressional committees. National
Public Radio quotes Abrams as saying: "I take full responsibility for my
actions and for my failure to make full disclosure to Congress in 1986. I am
proud to have given 12 years serving the United States government and of the
contribution I made in those years, and very happy to have this entire
matter, at long last, behind me." William Kristol (The Weekly Standard) is
quoted as saying by NPR that  "Elliott Abrams is a very competent government
official. He's had his own views on the Middle East, which I think are sort
of mainstream Republican, skeptical of Oslo, moderately hawkish, I would
say; really very much like George Bush's, frankly."


President George H.W. Bush pardoned Abrams along with a number of other
Iran-Contra defendants in 1992. In the congressional investigations, Abrams
was never held accountable for the human rights violations backed, hidden
and funded by the Reagan administration. Instead Abrams was accused of
withholding information from Congress, a Washington euphemism for bald-face
lying. He copped just two counts of withholding information from Congress
(and was granted a Christmas Eve pardon a year later by President George
Bush). Abrams was not pleased with this slap on the wrist. According to a
May 30, 1994 article in Legal Times, he called his prosecutors "filthy
bastards," the proceedings against him "Kafkaesque," and members of the
Senate Intelligence Committee "pious clowns" whose raison d'etre was to ask
him "abysmally stupid" questions. When Oliver North was campaigning for the
Senate in 1994 and was accused of having ignored contra ties to drug
dealers, Abrams backed North and claimed "all of us who ran that program
(...) were absolutely dedicated to keeping it completely clean and free of
any involvement by drug traffickers." Yet in 1998 the CIA's own inspector
general issued a thick report noting that the Reagan Administration had
collaborated with suspected drug traffickers while managing the secret
contra war.


In his book "Undue Process : A Story of How Political Differences Are Turned
into Crimes" (1992), Abrams defended his actions more systematically,
describing the legal proceedings against him as 'Kafkaesque' and his
prosecutors as 'filthy bastards.' As president of the Center for Ethics and
Public Policy, Abrams called for reconciliation between Jews and
conservative Christians, even although he opposed the Oslo Accords and
called for Washington to "stand by Israel," rather than act as neutral
mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. He also published about the
threats to the Jewish identity in the United States because of assimilation
and intermarriage, arguing that it is important for Jews to understand that
'tomorrow's lobby for Israel has got to be conservative Christians, because
there aren't going to be enough Jews to do it.' His prodigious output
includes "Security and Sacrifice : Isolation, Intervention, and American
Foreign Policy" (1995), "Faith or Fear : How Jews Can Survive in a Christian
America" (1997), "The Godless American Jew : Why American Jews Fear Religion
and Why Only Religion Can Save Them" (1997), "Close Calls : Intervention,
Terrorism, Missile Defense, and 'Just War' Today" (1998), and "Honor Among
Nations : Intangible Interests and Foreign Policy" (1998). In "Faith or
Fear" he bemoans the fact that American Jews are being assimilated into the
larger society and recommends a variant of Jewish separatism.

In his essay in a book, "Present Dangers," published in 2000, lack of
enthusiasm for resuming the "peace process" is clear. According to Abrams,
American interests "do not lie in strengthening Palestinians at the expense
of Israelis, abandoning our overall policy of supporting the expansion of
democracy and human rights, or subordinating all other political and
security goals to the 'success' of the Arab-Israel 'peace process.'" This
view pits him against Powell's State Department which favours a strategy for
peaceful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Abrams's
view--and Rice's and Bush's--is that since September 11, 2001, the war on
terror has a higher priority. But September 11 has also reinforced Bush's
view of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as essentially a terrorist. Abrams
published some more ideological works: "Democracy How Direct? : Views from
the Founding Era and the Polling Era" (2001), "The Influence of Faith :
Religious Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy" (2001), and "Secularism,
Spirituality, and the Future of American Jewry" (1999). Under the Bush
administration, evangelical Christians are an important source of political
support for Israel, and Abrams addresses their concens. In some cases, they
are more fanatical than Jews are themselves in their backing for a Greater
Israel on the basis of Biblical sanctification and holy war against the


In 1997, Abrams was a co-founder of PNAC, the lynchpin of fundamentalist
ideology, which aims to wipe out all political debate with a clear
christian-fundamentalist jihad for God and against "evil". In "Present
Dangers," his first book written under the auspices of PNAC in 2000, Abrams
outlined the new U.S. Mideast policy that called for "regime change" in Iraq
and for cracking down on the Palestinian Authority. PNAC recommended
policies for preserving and expanding U.S. dominance in world affairs.
Foreshadowing the current U.S. policy based on superior military power,
Abrams thought that in the Middle East "our military strength and
willingness to use it" should be the "key factor in our ability to promote
peace."  PNAC focuses on fear and vulnerability to cataclysmic attack and
perceived "threats" and recommends strength and faith as an antidote. The
scenarios may vary, but the  emphasis is on tough, masculine pre-emptive
action to destroy any possible threats. The neo-conservatives feel they won
the Cold War and this invigorates their fundamentalist zeal. There is no
patience with dissent. There is simply good and evil, and evil must be

Referring to the Persian Gulf region, the 2000 PNAC report said, "Indeed,
the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in
Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the
immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence
in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." The
report wanted more money for the military so it can be "able to rapidly
deploy and win multiple simultaneous large-scale wars." It thought southern
Europe, the Middle East, Central- and East Asia were targets for increased
military deployments. Gary Schmitt, one of the report's project co-chairmen
and a former Reagan policy adviser, commented that a U.S. invasion of Iraq
was inevitable. "We will definitely be involved in Iraq for two reasons,"
said Schmitt. "One is because of issues myself, the administration and
others have laid out for a number of years, and two, there isn't a
snowball's chance in hell Saddam will allow inspections that matter." The
PNAC report was based upon a 1992 draft of the Pentagon's Defense Planning
Guidance, which was prepared for then-Defense Secretary Cheney, Wolfowitz
and Libby. At the time Libby and Wolfowitz were part of Cheney's policy
staff. Thomas Donnelly, the main author of the 2000 report, holds a Masters
degree from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
(SAIS), where Wolfowitz was dean and professor. SAIS is also home to foreign
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the author of a 1997 book foretelling current U.S.
conflicts with Iraq and terrorists called "The Grand Chessboard."
Brzezinski, a trustee of the Trilateral Commission, and a member the Center
for Strategic and International Studies think tank, is billed by SAIS as a
Robert E. Osgood professor of American foreign policy.

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