Reports on the nomination of John D. Negroponte, currently U.S. ambassador to Iraq, to be national intelligence director by major news outlets like the Associated Press, USA Today, The Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC News and others all mentioned that critics have questioned Negroponte's role as ambassador to Honduras in allegedly condoning -- or, at least, failing to protest -- human rights abuses by CIA-backed death squads in that country.
But on the February 17 edition of FOX News' Special Report with Brit Hume, chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron referred to such criticism in terms that gave no hint of the gravity of the allegations. After noting that "there are clear signs that he can expect a smooth set of confirmation[s] on Capitol Hill," Cameron reported that "[t]he only partisan criticism noted Negroponte's role as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the '80s, when he played a key role in the Reagan administration's covert disruption of communism in the Nicaragua." Cameron's use of "covert" obscures the fact that the Reagan administration's support for the Contra war against the Sandinistas was "covert" because it was illegal; Congress had outlawed such support in 1982-83.
By contrast, the AP noted that "[h]uman rights groups alleged that Negroponte acquiesced in rights abuses by Honduran death squads funded and partly trained by the CIA."
Later on Special Report, during the "FOX All-Star Panel," syndicated Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer opined that Negroponte's success in avoiding prison for his actions in Honduras is a point in his favor:
KRAUTHAMMER: This guy has a lot of experience as a Foreign Service officer. And for instance, he was the ambassador in Honduras during the Contra war. So he clearly knows how to deal with clandestine operations. That was a pretty clandestine one for several years. And he didn't end up in jail, which is a pretty good attribute for him. A lot of others practically did.
These were the only references to Negroponte's tenure in Honduras during the February 17 edition of Special Report.
Here's how other major news outlets reported on Negroponte's experience in Honduras:
- ANDREA MITCHELL (NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent): "A career diplomat, Negroponte has spent the past 40 years in hot spots from Vietnam to Baghdad. At the UN, he helped make the case against Saddam Hussein. As Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Honduras, he was accused of ignoring death squads and America's secret war against Nicaragua." [NBC Nightly News, 2/17/05]
- DAVID MARTIN (CBS News national security correspondent): "Negroponte emerged unscathed, although he continues to be dogged by accusations he knew too much and protested too little about the activities of Honduran death squads. But no one was ever able to pin anything on him, which, said one of his colleagues, is exactly what the president would want in his intelligence czar." [CBS Evening News, 2/17/05]
- ED HENRY (CNN correspondent): "The allegations were that Ambassador Negroponte at that time, in the early '80s, was involved in this guerrilla war against the Sandinista government, but also that he perhaps knew about or was involved in human rights abuses. Those allegations are going to resurface, as Richard Roth mentioned. It held up his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N. for six months. It's going to come back." [CNN's American Morning, 2/17/05]
- Associated Press (2/17/05):
- The Washington Post (2/18/05):
- USA Today (2/17/05):
- The New York Times (2/18):
- The Boston Globe (2/18/05):
- Los Angeles Times (2/18/05):
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (2/18/05):
- The Baltimore Sun (2/18/05):
- Bloomberg (2/17/05):
- United Press International (2/17/05):
John Negroponte, now U.S. ambassador to Iraq, served as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, a time of intense conflict in Central America in which the United States played a central role. The Reagan administration feared that leftist rebels were leading Central American countries toward totalitarian regimes.
Negroponte assisted the U.S.-backed Contra rebels in their attempt to overthrow Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government. In the process, activists claim, he ignored human rights abuses by the rebels and their Honduran hosts. ...
The new U.S. intelligence chief has denied accusations that his reports to Washington dramatically underplayed human rights problems in Honduras.
During 2001 confirmation hearings for his U.N. ambassadorship -- an appointment that was delayed for six months because of the controversy over his tenure in Honduras -- Negroponte testified that he did not believe death squads were operating in Honduras.
However, a 1993 Honduran government human rights report said 184 suspected leftists had disappeared in government custody, many of them at the hands of a U.S.-trained Honduran army battalion.
His confirmation hearing may revisit his service as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, when the Honduran military's Battalion 3-16, which had received CIA training, took part in the torture and killing of citizens accused of being rebels. Reports filed by Negroponte's embassy at the time did not note the human rights violations.
Negroponte's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2001 was delayed for months because human rights groups protested his role in Honduras. At the hearings, he testified that he did not think the death squads operated in that country. He has said he served "honorably and conscientiously in a manner fully consistent with and faithful to applicable laws and policies."
Negroponte's 2001 confirmation as U.N. ambassador was delayed by criticism of his record as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. Human rights groups charged that he tolerated abuses by "death squads" trained by the CIA. He denied knowing about abuses.
In his previous confirmation hearings, Mr. Negroponte was asked about his time in Honduras in the 1980's. At that time the C.I.A. station and the embassy were accused of turning a blind eye to abuses by the Hondurans, and of shading reports of the situation in the country for political or ideological reasons.
Negroponte was the US ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, and he has faced persistent questions over whether he knowingly allowed human rights abuses conducted by a Honduran death squad that was trained in part by the CIA. Negroponte has denied wrongdoing and testified before a Senate panel that he did not believe the Honduran government was formally involved in the death squad.
While in Honduras, Negroponte was accused of ignoring human rights abuses, including slayings by Honduran death squads, in order to allow the U.S. to continue using the country as a base for its covert campaign against the leftist government in neighboring Nicaragua.
Negroponte denies the accusations, but his nomination renewed criticism from human rights groups and others.
As U.S. ambassador to Honduras' military-run government from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was suspected of a key role in carrying out the covert strategy of the Reagan administration to crush the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Honduras itself was accused of human rights abuses while Negroponte held the ambassador's post. Negroponte's nomination for the U.N. ambassadorship was confirmed by the Senate in September 2001 only after a half-year delay caused mostly by criticism of his record in Honduras.
Central American politicians and human rights activists issued stinging criticism Thursday of Negroponte.
Negroponte did not enjoy universal plaudits. Reed Brody, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, said Negroponte's tenure as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 raised concerns. "He looked the other way when atrocities were occurring. He was the ostrich ambassador; he never saw anything wrong," Brody said.
Brody was referring to human rights violations committed by a CIA-trained Honduran military unit known as Battalion 316. The Sun, which chronicled the atrocities in a 1995 series, said Negroponte, as ambassador, knew about them and concealed them. Negroponte denied the accusation, saying in a statement to The Sun in 1995: "At no time during my tenure in Honduras did the embassy condone or conceal human rights violations."
In May, the Senate voted 95-3 to confirm him as ambassador to Iraq. In casting one of the dissenting votes, Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, said there are questions about whether he covered up human rights abuses while he was ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s during the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
At a 2001 confirmation hearing to be UN ambassador, Negroponte said he followed all "applicable laws and policies'' while serving in Honduras.
The veteran diplomat may face a test in Senate confirmation hearings because he carries some unwanted baggage from a Central America tour, namely charges he ignored human-rights violations and may even have, at least tacitly, allowed the illegal arming of "Contras" to overthrow the Sandinista regime in neighboring Nicaragua under President Reagan. During his time as ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s he was accused of turning a blind eye toward kidnappings and torture in the country. At the time, human-rights groups say, the CIA sponsored the infamous 3-16 battalion of the Honduran army that had a death squad involved in disappearances, rape, kidnappings and torture. Negroponte is said to have done nothing about it.