9/27/2005

Friends of terrorism, Otto Reich in Bush Admin exposes hypocrisy of war on terror, 2/8/02

Over the last year President Bush has attempted to bring back into office people who were discredited during the US interventions in Central America in the 1980s and 1990s. One such appointment was that of Elliott Abrams, who had two convictions in 1991 for misleading Congress about the so-called Iran-contra affair. He was pardoned by President Bush's father in 1992 and now enjoys the title of head of the "office of democracy and human rights". Another was John Negroponte, the former US ambassador to Honduras, who was accused by his predecessor of turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed there against leftists because it was felt necessary to remain on good terms with the Honduran government. Negroponte was quietly confirmed as US ambassador to the UN shortly after September 11. But the third appointment is by far the most controversial and potentially divisive.

Otto Reich is a rightwing Cuban American whose key policy objective is the overthrow of Fidel Castro's regime and whose support base is the Cuban-American community in Florida. President Bush's brother, Jeb, is depending on this community's votes and backing as he runs for re-election as governor of the state later this year.

Otto Reich came to prominence during the Reagan administration when he was appointed head of the office of public diplomacy within the state department. According to the national security archives, Reich used this role to pursue his own agenda to such an extent that in 1987 the Comptroller-General of the US, a Republican appointee, found that some of the efforts of his office were "prohibited, covert propaganda activities ... beyond the range of acceptable agency public information activities". A letter of September 30 1987 concluded that Reich's office had violated "a restriction on the state department's annual appropriations prohibiting the use of federal funds for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorised by Congress".

He staffed his unit with CIA and Pentagon "psychological warfare" specialists and discredited journalists whose work the Reagan administration did not like. His office wrote bogus editorial pieces under the names of Nicaraguan contras and got them published in the mainstream media. He reported directly to Oliver North.

Reich also served as US ambassador to Venezuela and was alleged to have used his influence to try and get a US visa for a convicted terrorist, Orlando Bosch, jailed in Venezuela in 1976 for the bombing of a Cubana airliner with 73 people on board. Bosch had already been convicted of a terrorist attack in Miami on a Polish merchant vessel bound for Cuba and jailed in the US.

According to US justice department records: "the files of the FBI and other government agencies contain a large quantity of documentary information which reflects that, beginning in the early 1960s, Bosch held leadership positions in various anti-Castro terrorist organisations ... Bosch has personally advocated, encouraged, organised and participated in acts of terrorist violence in this country as well as various other countries."

Amazingly, Bosch was granted a pardon by George Bush senior in 1990 and is now in Florida, apparently untroubled by the current president's commitment to rooting out terrorism in all its forms. Although many countries seek Bosch's extradition he remains free, protected by the same government that warns other countries that they are either for or against terrorism.

The Democrats on the Senate foreign relations committee had already made it clear that they would oppose Reich's appointment, not least because of the Bosch factor. So President Bush made a "recess appointment" at the beginning of January, which meant that he could side-step the Senate confirmation and avoid the damaging questions which Reich would be asked.

Friends of terrorism, Otto Reich in Bush Admin exposes hypocrisy of war on terror, 2/8/02

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