Now that the manufactured Benghazi scandal has tied in with the manufactured IRS scandal to become the story that our corporate-sponsored media is freaking out about the most, it’s worth looking back at what a real scandal looks like. Most people think of Watergate when they think “scandal,” but by Nixon standards, Watergate was like buying non-fair-trade coffee.
The premise behind the Benghazi scandal is that the president failed to label the attack an “act of terror” and mislead Americans about the attack, both for political reasons. Some conservatives are even calling for impeachment. But if you go back a few years you’ll get to some really juicy stuff.
Surprisingly enough, this list could be longer. Nixon illegally carpet-bombed Cambodia and then supported the Khmer Rouge’s sovereignty when North Vietnam invaded the country. The invasion of Panama was a farce, as was the invasion of Grenada. And what of Abu Gharib, Mai Lai, and Extraordinary Rendition? These crimes are being sucked down the memory hole and into oblivion. Those who follow hyperlinks will note with despair that most of my sources come from foreign media, where most of the reporting on real scandals occurs. Someone should remind us of the crimes of the past.
Consider, for instance, Nixon sabotaging the Paris Peace Accords for blatantly political reasons. Christopher Hitchens wrote in his compact but explosive expose on Henry Kissinger, The Trials of Henry Kissinger: "In the fall of 1968, Richard Nixon and some of his emissaries and underlings set out to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam. The means they chose were simple: they privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one. In this way, they undercut both the talks themselves and the electoral strategy of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The tactic 'worked,' in that the South Vietnamese junta withdrew from the talks on the eve of the election, thereby destroying the peace initiative on which the Democrats had based their campaign."
The recently released Johnson tapes confirm that not only is Nixon partially responsible for the tens of thousands of Americans and Vietnamese who needlessly died after the talks fell apart, but Johnson was aware of the “treason.”
And what about the Iran-Contra affair? Even today, many Americans may be surprised at just what the Reagan administration did: High-level officials secretly sold weapons to Iran through Israel (to get hostages freed for political purposes), and then used the money to illegally fund the Contras in Nicaragua.
Do you remember the Contras? You can be sure the Sandinistas do. Amnesty International reported that the Contras employed “torture, mutilation and summary execution” “systematically” against the Sandinistas. One Contra soldier described the Contras’ methods to The Guardian as follows: “Rosa had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken, their testicles cut off. They were killed by slitting their throats and pulling the tongue out through the slit.”
It turns out we funded and armed the brutes. And when the nation discovered, only one person went to prison: Bill Breeden, a minister who stole a street sign in protest.
After tens of thousands of innocent civilians were maimed by the guerrilla forces that were fighting against the elected government of Nicaragua, the Nicaraguans took the U.S. to the World Court and won. The court found the U.S. "has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use force against another State.” Reagan ignored the decision and the U.S. used its position on the Security Council to block any enforcement of the judgement.
But, what about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups? Well, a little paperwork certainly is annoying, but it’s hardly the worst thing the U.S. government has done to political enemies. Consider COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to disrupt domestic political organizations. The program included reporting members of the Socialist Workers Party to their bosses, a “war” to discredit Martin Luther King, and after spending years subverting the Black Panthers, eventually assassinating a Black Panther leader, Fred Hampton. Read that twice.
Pop Quiz (don’t worry, there’s only one question):
What should Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford say to Indonesian tyrant Suharto when he tells them, “We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action?” (Hint: He is referring to his intention to invade the small Portuguese colony of East Timor.)
Ford replied: We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have.
Kissinger said: You appreciate that the use of U.S.-made arms could create problems.
The next day, the Indonesian army descended on East Timor, armed with American weapons. One hundred thousand East Timorese died in the ensuing genocide.
“What I saw,” says C. Philip Liechty, a senior CIA officer in Indonesia, “was that my own government was very much involved in what was going on in East Timor. We were providing most of the weaponry: helicopters, logistical support, food, uniforms, ammunition, all the expendables the Indonesians needed to conduct this war. You can be 100% certain that Suharto was explicitly given the green light to do what he did.” (Transcript of The Trials of Henry Kissinger, directed by Eugene Jarecki)
Operation MONGOOSE was a 14-year-long covert operation to overthrow Fidel Castro. In the end, all 33 plans failed, many of which involved assassination. The assassination plots often sound like they are straight out of Tom & Jerry. One famous plot was to get Castro to smoke a cigar packed with explosives. Another (and I am having trouble keeping a straight face writing this) was an attempt to get his beard to fall out, subjecting him to ridicule (like a Communist Samson). Other attempts included garnering the assistance of the Mafia so they could restart their profitable gambling racket in Cuba.
Here’s how the BBC describes the regime of Castro: "Cuba under his rule has made impressive domestic strides. Good medical care is freely available for all, there is 98% literacy, and Cuba's infant mortality rates compare favourably with Western nations."
So be warned! Universal health care can be hazardous to your health.
In his recent book, The Way of the Knife, Mark Mazzetti details the dirty little secrets of the U.S. drone program, including the recent discovery that the U.S. killed enemies of the Pakistani government for access to airspace.
Nek Muhammed was killed in June 2004, along with two boys aged 10 and 16. Pakistan claimed credit for the attack, but in fact it was carried out by a CIA Predator drone. Muhammed was not a member of Al-Qaeda, but rather a Pakistani enemy of state. Since then, we’ve become aware that the U.S. anti-terror program stretches across the Middle East and includes secret prisons, extrajudicial torture, and the infamous signature strikes. Across the Middle East it's become hard to tell whether the U.S. is fighting Al-Qaeda or keeping awful regimes in power.
I know that a lot of these crimes are Nixon ones (in a list of Nixon crimes, Watergate isn’t even top five), but given that we might be arming rebels in Syria because of the regime's use of sarin, it’s worth noting that the U.S. developed and executed one of the most egregious acts of chemical warfare: Agent Orange.
Agent Orange was developed as part of our “chemical warfare” program. Orange was intended as a defoliant, but it was contaminated with dioxin, a known cancer-causing agent. It’s worth noting briefly that U.S. troops were assured they were destroying crops that would be used to feed opposition guerrillas. Instead, Agent Orange caused a famine that took thousands of lives because the U.S. government intended to destroy the resolve of the Vietnamese people. In total the U.S. poured between 12 and 18 tons of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people.
Even today, Vietnamese people continue to suffer from Agent Orange. At least one million Vietnamese people live with defects or disabilities stemming from the chemical. They are scarred for life and face severe mental and physical handicaps. (Here are some pictures, but be warned: they are incredibly graphic.) While American servicemen get benefits and compensation, the Vietnamese people have suffered without any remuneration (except for a whopping $43 million cleanup effort that is coming three decades late).
Here’s what a victim of Agent Orange interviewed by The Guardian said: "The use of Agent Orange is an unforgivable crime. It's wiped out future generations and has eradicated untold numbers of families. Children are still being born with deformities. My husband, who was also exposed to Agent Orange, died in 1999 of cancer."