Iran Contra Scandal

“I agreed to sell TOWs anti-tank missiles to Iran
Ronald Reagan, diary entry, January 17, 1986

Ronald Reagan was inaugurated into the most powerful office in the world January 20, 1981. What he accomplished during his eight year tenure will be remembered for a very long time. Through the good, the bad, and the ugly, Reagan weathered all the storms. Perhaps the greatest tempest of "The Reagan Years" was Iran-Contra. Yet, Reagan managed to emerge without a scratch in his teflon image, untarnished to this day (some would argue). Should the President of the United States be allowed to lie about the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, ignore his country's foreign policy and moral and social values without suffering the consequences?

Since the Cold War started after World War II, Iran had been a fairly stable state, thanks to the United States government which installed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1953 as leader of the country. The government of Iran was therefore closely tied to America and it took little trouble to disturb the US. Jimmy Carter was once quoted as saying that the Shah and Iran was “an island of stability in one of the most troubled areas of the world.” At the time of his statement, this was true to an extent, but as always in the Middle East, this stability did not last. In February of 1979 while Carter was still President, a group of fundamentalist militants drove the Shah’s government out. This group was lead by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The ousting of the stable Shah did not sit well with the United States, but to make matters worse the fundamentalists seized the US embassy in Teheran and took 66 hostages. Carter quickly placed a general embargo on Iran, which included all forms of weapons.

Ronald Reagan was lucky his first day in office. At the same time he was giving his inauguration speech, the 66 hostages taken at the US embassy were released, after 444 days of captivity. This did not exactly make Carter look good, but Reagan of course reaped the benefits. Right from the start Reagan took an anti-terrorist stance, claiming that, “The US gives terrorists no rewards, no guarantees, we make no concessions. We make no deals.” Little did the public know that this was in fact almost a complete lie.

Things started taking a turn for the worse late in 1983. On October 23, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever recorded was driven into the US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon and detonated, killing 241 marines. The bomb was connected to an Iranian terrorist group. This event caused America to reevaluate current embargoes on Iran.

Unfortunately, the US was not the only country to provide weapons to Iran. Worried that Iran would win the war against Iraq and threaten the supply of oil from the Persian Gulf, and still upset over the bombing of the marine barracks, the US worked to halt all weapon imports into Iran. In December of 1983 Ronald Reagan initiated Operation Staunch which urged all 41 nations involved in supplying Iran with weapons to, “stop transferring arms to Iran because of the broader interests of the international community.” The “international community” the US referred to being themselves.

Despite these efforts, the war between Iraq and Iran continued, and so did the terrorism. In March of 1984, William Buckley, a CIA station chief, and a few others were captured by Iranian terrorists. Buckley was eventually killed a year later. In June of 1985 TWA flight 847 was hijacked and 29 Americans were held hostage by terrorists, again, connected with Iran in some way. The terrorist community seemed to be mocking Reagan’s promises to stop them.

A failed rescue mission in which two US helicopters collided after refueling in the desert only served to make matters worse. The image of helicopter wreckage strewn across the desert had a lasting effect on the American people.

Something had to be done, and Ronald Reagan had to do it, but he did not have many options. By 1984, Operation Staunch and US embargoes had made Iran desperate for arms. Operatives throughout the Middle East started receiving offers from Iranians to buy or trade American weapons. According to John M. Poindexter, the first person to ever suggest an arms deal with Iran was an Israeli official, but Robert McFarlane (National Security Advisor to the President) and William Casey (CIA director) both pushed Reagan to reopen diplomatic relations with Iran. Casey longed for the old Iran before Khomeini and also wished to recover Buckley who was taken in 1984. McFarlane had been suggesting opening channels to Iran as early as 1981.

John Poindexter when asked about the topic stated that, “The geographic and ethnic importance of Iran make it of strategic importance to the United States... The US can not afford to write off any country of such importance to us. We must strive to bring about change and gain the confidence of those elements that we feel can make it happen.”

Finally in 1985 Reagan bought the idea and expressed approval of arms shipments to Iran as a measure to acquire some leverage and influence with the “moderate” groups in Iran. This was in fact a straight arms-for-hostages deal. On August 2, Ronald Reagan approved an initial shipment of 100 US TOW missiles to Iran. These weapons were shipped from Israel and the Isrealis were promised that their stock would be replenished. A month later, 408 US TOW missiles were again shipped from Israel to Iran. The next day an American hostage was released by terrorists in Lebanon. This early success helped fuel the initiative into the next year.

At the same time as the terrorist situations in the Middle East, a problem was brewing in Central America. The communist government in Nicaragua caused some fear in the administration. Reagan was a die-hard anti-communist and the Nicaraguan Sandinista communist government bothered him greatly. This was also true for William Casey, head of the CIA. Reagan had Casey organize a guerrilla movement that could fight against the Sandinistas and their unhumanitarian treatment of the Nicaraguan people.

The CIA became highly involved with the guerrillas, “freedom fighters” as Reagan liked to call them, in a short period of time. Training manuals for sabotage and assassination were provided by the CIA. Arms and money were provided as well. At the same time Ronald Reagan was declaring a “war on drugs”, he approved the use of Manuel Noriega as a “conduit” for money to the freedom fighters, the same Noriega that was connected with the Medellin drug cartel. Reagan overlooked Noriega’s drug involvement for the time being since he was aiding the US. Noriega was simply in it for personal gain and he reaped the benefits of handling large amounts of US money to the freedom fighters.

The CIA even went so far as to mine Nicaraguan harbors, an event that eventually made it into the American press. This did not please Congress and they placed a $24 million spending cap on funding to the guerrillas. Eventually the Boland act was passed by Congress making it illegal for intelligence agencies to support the guerrillas. Reagan called Congress “a meddlesome committee of 535” and told his staff to work around the law.


At this time the National Security Council, of which McFarlane was director, decided to consider themselves a non-intelligence based agency, and continued support for the guerrillas as Reagan wanted. The passage of the Boland II act that “clearly ends US support for the war in Nicaragua.” did not seem to phase Reagan or the NSC staff either. Enter Oliver North, a marine lieutenant colonel who was assigned to the NSC staff. North was put in charge of keeping the freedom fighters, referred to as contras by some, together. Through a system suggested by McFarlane of private and foreign contributions, North raised money to support the Contras. Foreign countries providing aid were repaid in disguise as other projects.

North borrowed another idea from the Department of Defense. The Pentagon had a basement project known as the Special Operations Department. This group was comprised of highly trained marines, the best equipment, and could be deployed at a moment’s notice. North took this idea and combined it with his money effort to the contras to form the Enterprise. Before long the Enterprise, which consisted of arms merchants, former CIA and Pentagon operatives, and former armed forces personnel, had built up a large base with their own funding, Swiss bank accounts, navy, air force, and private companies.

The Enterprise became a private organization that did not have to abide by US laws, but which was available to the President as a military or financial source. “They carried out their missions through a network of shadowy figures who operated in the netherworld of third world intrigues and revolutionary movements, skirting or actually dealing with terrorists, hostage takers, and drug dealers.” Richard Secord, a former Air Force general headed the Enterprise, and persuaded the Saudi government to donate moneys that the Enterprise used to buy and distribute weapons to the contras. The Saudi’s were given a Swiss bank account number in which they could place a monthly million-dollar “gift” to the contras without detection by anyone.

Invariably, money brought the Iran initiative and the plight of the contras together. North came up with the “neat idea” to divert money earned from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan guerrillas when the first sale produced a few hundred thousand dollars of profit. This idea was welcomed by both Poindexter (who had become National Security Advisor after McFarlane had resigned) and Reagan. Although the majority of the money which was made from the arms deals went to the Enterprise, a good three or four million made it to the contras.

In 1986 the sales to Iran continued. In February North arranged a deal of 1000 TOW missiles which brought a profit of $6 to $10 million which Secord could use for the contras. Yet hostages still remained in captivity and by this time William Buckley, the CIA station chief, had been tortured and killed. The Iran-Contra connection was in full bloom.

The Iranians demanded more weapons still, and even intelligence data on Iraq. In May of ‘86 McFarlane (who had resigned, but was still involved in the operation) and North flew to Teheran, the capitol of Iran, in person in an attempt to calm things. Using fake passports, they carried a small shipment of missile parts, .357 pistols, and suicide pills should they be captured. Mcfarlane made an offer involving yet another shipment, this time of HAWK missile parts, for the exchange of all Americans held in Beirut. The Iranians were not cooperative, and the adventurers left, accomplishing nothing.

In June Congress finally allowed Reagan to resume aid to the contras, but they specified that the money would not be available for four months. North set to work to secure another arms deal to aid the contras until the congressional money would be available. When the Iranians released Father Lawrence Jenco in July, North got approval from Reagan and Poindexter to go ahead with a shipment of HAWK missile parts. It was now August and the sales to Iran had been going on for more then a year.

After negotiating with another contact in Iran, North had Israel ship 500 more TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran and in November hostage David Jacobsen was liberated from Beirut. At this point things began to fall apart for the Reagan Administration and the “neat” operation they had been conducting.

In early October Sandinista soldiers shot down a cargo plane carrying weapons to the guerrillas and only one crew member survived. He confessed to being part of a secret American government program to aid the contras. A few days later a press conference was held in which the crew member named CIA employees. Top CIA officials made attempts to deny the story and William Casey told North what he had to do with the contra-aid program: “shut it down and clean it up”.

A month later the Iranian end of the scandal began to break as well. A small Lebanese magazine Al Shiraa printed a sketchy article depicting the arms-for-hostages deals on November 3. US reporters were soon uncovering the details.

In the month of November, North, Casey, and Poindexter released false information to the press and to Congress. They attempted to place blame on the Secretary of State who had opposed the deal from the beginning and they suggested that Israel had “masterminded” the entire operation. At first, administration officials thought that things would blow over if they laid low, but it soon became apparent that the media was not letting go. Reagan, in an attempt to improve his image, asked Attorney General Edwin Meese to conduct an investigation.

During the inquiry by Meese, little was uncovered. He took no notes, he moved extremely slowly, and North, Poindexter, and McFarlane were able to clean up before the big guns entered the picture. North, Poindexter, and Fawn Hall (a NSC secretary) supposedly held what they referred to as a “shredding party,” destroying over 5,000 pages of incriminating documents about the operation, the Enterprise, and God knows what else. Even after Meese found a piece of a document that connected the arms sales with $10 to $20 million in funds to the contras, he allowed North access to the NSC office. The investigation seemed a little too relaxed but Poindexter pointed out that Meese carried out the investigation as a friend of the President and “not as Attorney General.” He went on to say that he did not find it surprising that Meese did not take notes.

Reagan eventually held a news conference with Meese in which they described the evidence Meese had found. After suggesting Israel take the blame for starting the arms deals, and getting a flat out “no” reply from them, Reagan made another attempt to save himself, he culled the NSC staff by firing North and pushing Poindexter into resignation.

After Meese’s press conference, Reagan finally appointed an official investigation committee headed by a former senator John Tower to clear everything up. He felt that he either owed at least that to the American people, or that if he did not he would lose a large portion of his credibility. The committee, that became known as the Tower Commission, held hearings in which almost all involved in the Iran-Contra affair testified. Ronald Reagan avoided answering many critical questions and often contradicted himself in his testimony. John Poindexter protected the president by denying any involvement by Reagan. He said of the Iran-Contra operations: “The buck stops here, with me.” Oliver North took the blame, and many others gave false testimony. All in all, the Reagan administration was successful in preserving the teflon image of their president.

Ronald Reagan had weathered this storm though turbulent and brutal it was. He lied about the war on drugs, about the war on terrorism, and even ignored congressionally approved foreign policy. He violated the very beliefs that many Americans held. But did President Ronald Reagan break the law? John M. Poindexter, in a statement he made to me nearly ten years after the events, said it as well as anyone could:

First of all, with regard to Iran-Contra and contrary to what you have probably read, there was nothing illegal about the actions the President took. The so-called violation of the Boland Amendment was never charged, tried or decided by a jury. Arms embargoes are the result of Executive Orders from the President and he can decide to make exceptions and these do not have to be public. He can defer reporting matters to the Congress until he deems it appropriate. The President makes many controversial decisions and his political opponents will often try to cast their differences as `The President has violated the law!’ There will always be confrontation between the President and Congress as each strives to keep control.

And that's mainly it.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order that authorized the CIA to support the Contras in their attempts to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua. Here begins the list of illegal and questionable activities.

Informing Congress about "covert" actions
According to the Hughes-Ryan Act of 1974, which was later added to the US Code (quoting from there), the president cannot "authorize the conduct of a covert1 action by departments, agencies, or entities of the United States Government" without a determination that it is "necessary to support identifiable foreign policy objectives of the United States and is important to the national security of the United States." Even when he has determined this, he cannot simply order/authorize covert action without issuing his determination ("finding") and explanation to Congress "as soon as possible but in no event more than 48 hours after the decision is made" (it also cannot be sent for an action that has already taken place). In the finding he must specify each "department, agency, or entity of the United States Government authorized to fund or otherwise participate in any significant way in such action." Further,

any third party which is not an element of, or a contractor or contract agent of, the United States Government, or is not otherwise subject to United States Government policies and regulations, will be used to fund or otherwise participate in any significant way in the covert action concerned, or be used to undertake the covert action concerned on behalf of the United States

must also be specified. (That the finding "may not authorize any action that would violate the Constitution or any statute of the United States" should go without saying.) The Intelligence Authorization Act of 1981 does provide for more "secrecy," in that only the heads of certain committees and the majority leaders of each house need to be notified, rather than all of Congress. In any case, they were not notified, either.

Additionally, funding is conditional in that

No funds appropriated for, or otherwise available to, any department, agency, or entity of the United States Government may be expended, or may be directed to be expended, for any covert action...unless and until a Presidential finding required...has been signed or otherwise issued....

Reagan did not inform Congress of the "authorized" covert action taking place in Nicaragua, funded and armed (and in some cases trained) through the CIA.

"Intervention"
In January 1984, mines were placed in Sandino harbor in Nicaragua. This was a violation of International Law. The Sandinistas (who were the acknowledged government of the country, however one feels about them) took the case to the International Court of Justice. They won, the court ruling that the US support of the Contras "amounts to an intervention of one state in the internal affairs of the other" (206.10.173.197). This also violated the charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) of which the US is a member. In the charter (Article 15) "no state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state." Having ratified it, it is considered binding law. According to the Constitution (Article VI): "all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land." Of course, Congress had not been informed of this action along with the others and it condemned the act.

Boland Amendment
Because of the mining incident and certain other acts of sabotage and destruction (other mines, communications, an arms depot) led to Congress passing the first version of the Boland Amendment (to the War Powers Act). The amendment was to prohibit any military support/funding/supplying with arms or matériel given "for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua." Those involved chose to interpret the wording to mean that it only applied to "intelligence" agencies and continued funding through the National Security Council (that the Director of Central Intelligence is the intelligence adviser, shows how close to the line things were being played).

The NSC (Oliver North had been assigned to the council in 1981) is chaired by the president, regular attendees (all according to the government's own website at www.whitehouse.gov/nsc) are the "Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs." This seems to undermine claims of several of the higher ups of not knowing anything about it. Of course whether there was justification for the interpretation is practically a moot point, given the other violations.

"We're complying with it fully"
Support also continued under the guise that it was not aid to be used to overthrow the government—despite arms and money going to an acknowledged revolutionary group whose purpose was to overthrow the government (but they seemed not to sweat the details). In a news conference in 1983, Reagan was asked point blank if the US was "directly or indirectly supplying, arming or training insurgents" to which Reagan flatly stated "We are complying with the law, the Boland Amendment, which is the law. We're complying with it fully." Or his interpretation of it. Even if one contends the Boland Amendment is invalid, the president clearly stated that it was considered to be law and further that "we're complying with it fully." Reagan openly asserts it to be law at the same time he is violating it.

When asked "does that mean we are not arming or supplying any of the dissidents along the border...?" he replied first with a long attempt to bypass the question by explaining just how terrible the Sandinista government was (as opposed, say, to the brutal Somoza regime that had been fully supported by the US) then finally stating that "anything that we're doing in the area is simply trying to interdict the supply lines which are supplying the guerillas in El Salvador."2 (A lie, the answer is "Yes.") Later he goes on about how formidable the Nicaraguan army was (akin to President George Bush's exaggerations about the Iraqis in the Gulf War) and that he didn't think it "reasonable to assume that that kind of force [the Contras] could nurse any ambitions that they can overthrow the government with that great military force."

Again asked if the US was "doing anything to overthrow the government there," he again stated that "No, because that would be violating the law." When asked if the War Powers Act and the Boland Amendment "unduly restrict your authority as the Chief Executive?" He responded with "I think any legislation which restricts the relation—or confines itself to the relationship of a single country, our relationship with a single country, yes, is restrictive on the obligations that the Constitution imposes on the President." 3 When the president swears that he "will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and I will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States" while taking the oath of office, one would assume that includes the laws of the nation. Also recall that the constitution compels ratified treaties to be accepted as the "supreme law of the land."

Dealing with Drug Dealers
In 1984, after seeing that support of the Contras continued, a second version of the Boland Amendment was passed. This time all military/paramilitary aid was prohibited. At that point the CIA and Department of Defense began pulling out people they had in the area. The NSC continued its support. Now they needed "covert" means for funding and supporting their "covert" operations.

One way was to work with known drug traffickers. The drug cartels were already being used as a way to get munitions and money to the Contras—as testified in 1988, General Paul Gorman stated that "If you want to move arms or munitions in Latin America, the established networks are owned by the cartels." They and others provided planes and airstrips. Weapons would be brought in to neighboring countries (primarily Honduras and Costa Rica) where they could be transported to the group. At the same time, drugs were also shipped around Central America and to the United States.

It got to the point that this "infrastructure" of planes, pilots, and landing strips, according to the Senate Committee Report on Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy, "used by the Contras and that used by drug traffickers was potentially interchangeable, even in a situation in which the U.S. government had itself established and maintained the airstrip involved." Drug traffickers even used the strips when they weren't carrying arms because they knew that the war was "protected."

The aforementioned report concluded that

On the basis of this evidence, it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter.

In other words, agents of the US government were well aware of the illegal activity and were turning a blind eye to it in order to use the traffickers to (illegally) fund the Contras. The report also found these "drug links" included:

  • Involvement in narcotics trafficking by individuals associated with the Contra movement
  • Participation of narcotics traffickers in Contra supply operations through business relationships with Contra organizations.
  • Provision of assistance to the Contras by narcotics traffickers, including cash, weapons, planes, pilots, air supply services and other materials, on a voluntary basis by the traffickers
  • Payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies
Showing that they were aware of things (and lying previously about how much they did), the CIA's Central American Task Force Chief testified in 1987 about Contra/drug trafficker connections, saying that "it is not a couple of people. It is a lot of people" and that "we knew that everybody around Pastora was involved in cocaine... His staff and friends (redacted) they were drug smugglers or involved in drug smuggling." The report found that "U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies [failed] to respond properly to allegations concerning criminal activity relating to the Contras."

It also found a series of denials, refusals to testify, and some evidence from a prosecutor that had been "advised that some officials in the Justice Department had met in 1986 to discuss how 'to undermine' Senator Kerry's attempts to have hearings regarding the allegations." This was adamently denied.

Later (1996), Oliver North stated that claims about Contra drug-trafficking was "absolute garbage." A page in his notebook dated "9 AUG 1985" specifically reads:

Honduran DC-6 which
is being used for
runs out of New Orleans
is probably being used
for drug runs into U.S

Perhaps he changed his mind. "Plausible deniability."

The Independent Counsel's Report
The Independent Counsel charged with investigating the Iran-Contra activities concluded that:

  • the sales of arms to Iran contravened United States Government policy and may have violated the Arms Export Control Act
  • the provision and coordination of support to the contras violated the Boland Amendment ban on aid to military activities in Nicaragua
  • the policies behind both the Iran and contra operations were fully reviewed and developed at the highest levels of the Reagan Administration
  • although there was little evidence of National Security Council level knowledge of most of the actual contra-support operations, there was no evidence that any NSC member dissented from the underlying policy keeping the contras alive despite congressional limitations on contra support;
  • the Iran operations were carried out with the knowledge of, among others, President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Director of Central Intelligence William J. Casey, and national security advisers Robert C. McFarlane and John M. Poindexter; of these officials, only Weinberger and Shultz dissented from the policy decision, and Weinberger eventually acquiesced by ordering the Department of Defense to provide the necessary arms; and
  • large volumes of highly relevant, contemporaneously created documents were systematically and willfully withheld from investigators by several Reagan Administration officials.
  • following the revelation of these operations in October and November 1986, Reagan Administration officials deliberately deceived the Congress and the public about the level and extent of official knowledge of and support for these operations
  • In addition, Independent Counsel concluded that the off-the-books nature of the Iran and contra operations gave line-level personnel the opportunity to commit money crimes

Violations of the Arms Export Act and the Boland Amendment were not charged because they were "not criminal statutes and do not contain any enforcement provisions." It also noted that two who had their convictions turned over on appeal (North and Poindexter) had it done so "on constitutional grounds that in no way cast doubt on the factual guilt of the men convicted." North's was overturned because it was decided that "trial witnesses were tainted by North's nationally televised, immunized testimony before Congress" and Poindexter also on "immunization issues."

It also

[emphasized] that both the Iran and contra operations, separately, violated United States policy and law. The ignorance of the "diversion" asserted by President Reagan and his Cabinet officers on the National Security Council in no way absolves them of responsibility for the underlying Iran and contra operations.

After certain events that led to the leaking of the story and questions and allegations, the report continues, "senior Reagan Administration officials engaged in a concerted effort to deceive Congress and the public about their knowledge of and support for the operations Further, it concluded that the

President's most senior advisers and the Cabinet members on the National Security Council participated in the strategy to make National Security staff members McFarlane, Poindexter and North the scapegoats whose sacrifice would protect the Reagan Administration in its final two years. In an important sense, this strategy succeeded. Independent Counsel discovered much of the best evidence of the cover-up in the final year of active investigation, too late for most prosecutions.

The "conspiracy to defraud the United States" charges (against four of the people, including North and Poindexter) were:

(1) supporting military operations in Nicaragua in defiance of congressional controls;
(2) using the Iran arms sales to raise funds to be spent at the direction of North, rather than the U.S. Government; and
(3) endangering the Administration's hostage-release effort by overcharging Iran for the arms to generate unauthorized profits to fund the contras and for other purposes.

The first was dismissed because the "Reagan Administration refused to declassify information necessary to North's defense" but concluded that trial on the count "would have disclosed the Government-wide activities that supported North's Iran and contra operations." Explaining why the administration was not forthcoming.

North used two political fundraisers to help raise money (millions) from wealthy Americans. This was illegal due to the use of a tax-exempt organization. The fundraisers pled guilty to "[defrauding] the Government by illegal use of a tax-exempt foundation to raise contributions for the purchase of lethal supplies for the contras. They named North as an unindicted co-conspirator."

President and Vice President
As for Reagan, the report could not find any "credible evidence" that he had violated criminal statutes or prove he was "aware of the diversion" or had "knowledge of the extent of North's control of the contra-resupply network." That said, it noted that his

disregard for civil laws enacted to limit presidential actions abroad specifically the Boland Amendment, the Arms Export Control Act and congressional-notification requirements in covert-action laws created a climate in which some of the Government officers assigned to implement his policies felt emboldened to circumvent such laws.

Reagan had given the directive to keep the Contras "alive 'body and soul'", which North had taken as an "invitation to break the law." Also, his authorization for the sale of arms to Iran remained even after being warned by Weinberger and Shultz that it might violate the law. Even though Poindexter claimed that the decisions were his and he did not tell the president, he felt that Reagan "would have approved."

George Bush was fully aware of the arms sales (despite publicly claiming the contrary). Again the investigation didn't find any proof that he knew of the "diversion" of the money. In 1987 and 1992, Bush refused to turn over a diary that had notes relevant to Iran-Contra. He also refused to be interviewed a final time and when he later pardoned Weinberger, he avoided a trial in which the defense planned to call on him as a witness.

Knowledge?
Many believe Reagan really did not know of the worst of the offenses and that Poindexter (among others) was telling the truth about him not being informed. He is portrayed to be unaware of the implementation of his foreign policy, making him look like the caricature standup comedians made him out to be. Unfortunately it cannot be determined how much he knew, but while absolute proof seems unavailable (much of it deliberately), the evidence suggests he was not quite the buffoon he was made out to be and knew much more than he was telling—democrats and republicans alike were pushing for a resolution that would restore "credibility" to the president. He did willfully violate the Boland Amendment and the Hughes-Ryan Act, as noted, and lied about the nature of the support to the Contras. He was clearly aware of the Iran arms for hostages part of the dealings—this coming from a president who had vociferously proclaimed to the American people that he would not deal with terrorists under any circumstances.

Bush, as former head of the CIA and likely still tied to information through them, seems to have been aware of much, much more than he let on. The refusal to testify and hand over the diary strongly support that. The many pardons of those involved—particularly Weinberger—further suggest covering up involvement or knowledge on some level much higher than admitted.

Further, of all the criminal and borderline criminal (certainly unethical) acts charged, the ones that led to convictions in most of the cases were pertaining to lying to ("perjury" and "false statements") and withholding information from Congress. It seems nearly all involved, at some point, participated in both—whether it could be proven or not. And it seems much effort was put into making that determination unlikely if not impossible.

1The US Code defines "covert action" as "an activity or activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly." Clearly what was involved in Iran-Contra.

2The Sandinistas were helping leftist rebels in El Salvador. Given the United States' strong support economically and militarily of the country's corrupt right-wing government (guilty of atrocious human and civil rights abuses, including but not limited to: "disappearances," extralegal arrests, torture, assassinations, and massacres) it is no wonder this would occur to Reagan (an almost hyperparanoid anticommunist) as a terrible thing, indeed.

3Particularly amusing was his claim that "we are cooperating with the other Central American countries in the region to trying and bring democracy and peace to Central America."

(Sources: www.webcom.com/pinknoiz/covert/irancontra.html quotes taken from there unless otherwise noted; Reagan press conference transcript from www.reagan.utexas.edu/resource/speeches/1983/41483d.htm; US Code can be found at www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode; www.usdoj.gov/oig/c4rpt/appa.htm; http://206.10.173.197/Celeb/Ronald_Reagan_Foreign_Policy.htm; www.milnet.com; www.nytimes/books/97/06/29/reviews/iran-chronology.html)

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.