Melissa Joskow / Media Matters
While working for the Reagan administration in the 1980s, National Rifle Association President Oliver North was part of a group of administration officials who allowed the then-dictatorial Taiwanese government to get away with murdering a dissident journalist living in California. Members of Congress later made an issue out of the murder, leading to democratic reforms in Taiwan.
North’s role in attempting to cover up the politically motivated murder of a U.S. citizen with a gun is yet another dark irony of his later ascent to the presidency of NRA, which calls itself the country’s oldest civil rights organization and frequently fearmongers about the prospect of criminal gangs running unchecked.
Henry Liu was shot to death by two men at his home in Daly City, CA, on October 15, 1984. Liu, a naturalized U.S. citizen who worked as a freelance journalist, had been a critic of the Kuomintang party’s rule of Taiwan and was living in the U.S. in part because he hoped to avoid oppression by his home country’s government. It was later revealed that Liu had been murdered by members of a criminal gang on orders of an intelligence official in Taiwan.
Liu’s murder was revisited in an opinion piece by John Pomfret published this week in The Washington Post. The op-ed drew parallels between that incident and the recent murder of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi Arabian government.
Information about Liu’s murder was intercepted by the National Security Agency, but as Pomfret noted, “Both the Reagan White House and Taiwan’s president worried that the investigation could affect U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which in 1984 had soared to more than $1 billion. The White House also wanted Taiwan to contribute to Oliver North’s campaign to fund the contras fighting the Sandinista-led government in Nicaragua.”
According to the 2005 book Lee Teng-hui and Taiwan's Quest for Identity, “Among other measures, [then-president of the Republic of China] Chiang Ching-kuo contributed one million U.S. dollars to Oliver North’s Contra secret Swiss account. Thus, in the eyes of Ronald Reagan’s aides, such as Oliver North and Michael Deaver -- the latter reportedly had once been retained on a $5,000 per month basis by Taiwan government -- Chiang Ching-kuo was just another nice, garden-variety dictator who should be left unmolested.”
North was later criminally prosecuted for his role in the illegal gun-running Iran-Contra scheme.
Some members of Congress did not share the Reagan administration’s goal of letting the Chinese Nationalist Party get away with murder. Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY) launched “congressional hearings to publicize an extensive network of Kuomintang spies in the United States who were monitoring dissidents from Taiwan. Solarz added an amendment to the Arms Export Control Act, banning weapons sales to countries that engage in ‘intimidation and harassment’ of people in America.” These efforts resulted in the criminal prosecution of a Kuomintang government official involved in the murder, and a number of democratic reforms followed in Taiwan.
Commenting after the murder of her husband, Helen Liu told The Associated Press that “America is his ideal country” and that “He always used it as a standard for China and Taiwan. That’s why he criticized both (countries). He enjoyed the freedom he had here, the spiritual life or the material life we had here.”