Iran-Contra 25 years on
November 28, 2011 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Peter Kornbluh, of the National Security Archive, has written an article about Iran-Contra coinciding with the release of the Reagan/Bush 'criminal liability' evaluations(contains video of Reagan's testimony). Confused about what exactly the Iran-Contra affair was? Here you go.

Complete Iran-Contra Hearings(via)
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8 part 1 part 2 part 3
Day 9
Day 10 part 1 part 2 part 3
Day 11 part 1 part 2
Day 12 part 1 part 2
Day 13 part 1 part 2
Day 14
Day 15 part 1 part 2
Day 16
Day 17
Day 18 part 1 part 2
Day 19
Day 20 part 1 part 2
Day 21
Day 22
Day 23
Day 24
Day 25
Day 26
Day 27
Day 28 part 1 part 2
Day 29
Day 30
Day 31
Day 32
Day 33
Day 34
Day 35
Day 36
Day 37
Day 38
Day 39 part 1 part 2
Day 40

Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran/Contra Affair
posted by AElfwine Evenstar (43 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A

No? I'll show myself out.
posted by zamboni at 11:49 AM on November 28, 2011 [20 favorites]


I was working in an office with a TV during the Iran-Contra hearings and was quite mesmerized by Oliver North and by Fawn Hall. They were great.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:51 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sounds like your recall of Iran-Contra is a lot more comprehensive than Reagan's was.
posted by DU at 11:52 AM on November 28, 2011 [23 favorites]


I'm a little shocked that nowhere in the top level of the Brown website does it simply say what the big issue was. Basically, the Reagan administration illegally sold arms to Iran and planned to use the money gained to fund the contra groups opposed to the elected government in Nicaragua. There were supposed to be enough indirect levels of middlemen or intermediaries or whatever to insulate the Administration bigwigs from any consequences, but they were caught. Ultimately most of the criminals were pardoned by the next Republican president.

Is that so hard?
posted by zomg at 11:56 AM on November 28, 2011 [32 favorites]


Mixter also found that Reagan's public misrepresentations of his role in Iran-Contra operations could not be prosecuted because deceiving the press and the American public was not a crime.

I've often thought that every Presidential press conference and official speech should be done under oath.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:58 AM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sounds like your recall of Iran-Contra is a lot more comprehensive than Reagan's was.

He was "the great communicator", not "the great remember-er".
posted by Hoopo at 11:58 AM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Basically, the Reagan administration illegally sold arms to Iran and planned to use the money gained to fund the contra groups opposed to the elected government in Nicaragua.

You need to add in the fact that he was selling them the arms in exchange for American hostages that the Iranians held, and that Congress had made it illegal for the administration to fund the Contras--so that funding was a direct violation of Congressional law. It was truly one of the epic clusterfucks of American foreign policy and breathtaking in its contempt of the law.

But Reagan was losing his marbles and North was telegenic and no one got a blow job so impeachment never really got put on the table.

Christ the tone of this post makes me feel old, by the way.
posted by yoink at 11:59 AM on November 28, 2011 [14 favorites]


A Schoolhouse Rock-ish adaptation of Iran-Contra.
posted by griphus at 12:01 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was working in an office with a TV during the Iran-Contra hearings and was quite mesmerized by Oliver North and by Fawn Hall. They were great.

If I read a book that featured two characters named Oliver North and Fawn Hall, I would laugh at the absurdity of the names.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:02 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hello!! People!! Reagan was not liable! DUH!

This dude says so:

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the prosecutors who investigated the Iran-contra affair concluded two decades ago that neither President Ronald Reagan nor his vice president, George Bush, was criminally liable in the scandal, according to reports made public Friday.

So get over it.
posted by spicynuts at 12:07 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


But Reagan was losing his marbles

I was pretty young at the time, and I don't know a tremendous amount about Alzheimer's, but Reagan's inability to recall things during his testimony always seemed like a bit of a coincidence given his later health. I half wonder if maybe the Alzheimer's hadn't set in much earlier than the public was lead to believe, and we really had something like the Woodrow Wilson situation, where people other than the president were really calling the shots.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:09 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I read a book that featured two characters named Oliver North and Fawn Hall, I would laugh at the absurdity of the names.

Fawn Hall looked like someone who would be named Fawn Hall. That's part of what made her interesting, because she actually came across as being very competent and no nonsense. I liked her. Oliver North told the truth about things that no one wanted to hear the truth about, and he did so in very forthright way, as in, "You asked, so I'm telling you."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:12 PM on November 28, 2011


I half wonder if maybe the Alzheimer's hadn't set in much earlier than the public was lead to believe, and we really had something like the Woodrow Wilson situation, where people other than the president were really calling the shots.

If so, it happened at a particularly convenient time.
posted by zomg at 12:14 PM on November 28, 2011


Oliver North told the truth about things that no one wanted to hear the truth about

Oliver North was under a limited immunity agreement which meant that he couldn't be prosecuted for anything he coughed up in the hearings unless the prosecution was able to demonstrate that they had developed their evidence entirely independently of that testimony. His "openness" in the hearings was completely tactical. Where it served to make future prosecution difficult he was candid and where it did not he was completely obstructive.

I was then and remain utterly amazed that the American people looked at this little slimeball telling them that he'd actively worked to directly flout the law--flamboyantly breaking his oath to uphold the US constitution--and simply because he was telegenic reacted with a collective "who cares."

she actually came across as being very competent and no nonsense

Well, she sure came across like she knew the ins and outs of running a shredder.
posted by yoink at 12:25 PM on November 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


If so, it happened at a particularly convenient time.

People had been openly discussing Reagan's mental lapses for years (literally) before the Iran/Contra hearings. He definitely had good days and bad days, but I don't think anyone was under the impression that Reagan had a solid grip on the details of his Administration's actions during most of his second term. Not that that wasn't a reason to impeach him for what were quite clearly "high crimes and misdemeanors"--but it certainly would have lent a melancholy air to the proceedings.
posted by yoink at 12:29 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I read a book that featured two characters named Oliver North and Fawn Hall, I would laugh at the absurdity of the names.

And the nerdy guy with glasses is actually named Poindexter.
posted by mattbucher at 12:29 PM on November 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


I meant to add re Fawn Hall:

Anyone who could describe the person whose defense boiled down to the infamous claim that "Sometimes you have to go above the law" as "no nonsense" has a very different definition of "nonsense" from mine.
posted by yoink at 12:32 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]



I was then and remain utterly amazed that the American people looked at this little slimeball telling them that he'd actively worked to directly flout the law


Particularly given that nearly everyone of voting age at the time had been adult enough during the Nixon shit to know better. But then again, the Bald Headed Evil One of that debacle became a well regarded talk show host in his own right.
posted by spicynuts at 12:34 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fawn Hall also became addicted to crack in the years after the scandal. Nancy Reagan's revenge.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:40 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


In 1987 I was living in Venezuela, and had a classmate who was the daughter of an Iranian diplomat. We quickly struck up a friendship that pretty much never discussed politics or the relations between the US and Iran until on day she casually said "oh yeah, your government and our government have been calling each other all sorts of names, like criminal, or devil, and so on, and here it turns out they've been dealing with each other in secret the whole time."

I had no clue what she was talking about until the next day, when Iran-Contra was all over the news.

The Republican stance of "It doesn't matter what we do, because we are right" has been going on for a long time.
posted by ambrosia at 12:42 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]



The Republican stance of "It doesn't matter what we do, because we are right" has been going on for a long time.


Right and before Kennedy authorized the Bay of Pigs he said 'this is illegal and not right; only a republican would do this' and then he cancelled it. Or not.
posted by spicynuts at 12:47 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


yoink: Not that that wasn't a reason to impeach him for what were quite clearly "high crimes and misdemeanors"--but it certainly would have lent a melancholy air to the proceedings.

The entirety of the Reagan years from start to finish had a melancholy air to the proceedings for some of us who lived through them. Especially for what they ushered in down the road.
posted by blucevalo at 12:51 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Right and before Kennedy authorized the Bay of Pigs he said 'this is illegal and not right; only a republican would do this' and then he cancelled it. Or not.

Under what statute was the Bay of Pigs invasion "illegal"? It was certainly stupid, but I'm not sure why it was "illegal."

Unless, of course, you mean that it was illegal under international law--but that gets us into pretty murky territory.
posted by yoink at 12:57 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


It was a covert invasion of a sovereign nation without authorization from Congress. Sure, Eisenhower informed the various cabinet positions, but it was not authorized by Congress.
posted by spicynuts at 1:10 PM on November 28, 2011


It was a covert invasion of a sovereign nation without authorization from Congress

It's a nice dream that there is some clear Constitutional definition of what constitutes a state of war and what the exact legal process is before the United States can enter that state--but it's a dream nonetheless.

The Constitution is hopelessly vague on the question and it's almost impossible to imagine any legal cases that could help to clarify the issue (standing, alone, is an almost insuperable problem in any hypothetical case). And if you're thinking of the War Powers Resolution--that post-dates Bay of Pigs considerably.
posted by yoink at 1:21 PM on November 28, 2011


That one time Roosevelt did some stuff, too!
posted by maxwelton at 1:23 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically, the Reagan administration illegally sold arms to Iran and planned to use the money gained to fund the contra groups opposed to the elected government in Nicaragua.

Well at least they were trying to come up with a way to pay for their little insurrection, instead of just adding it to our debt like we do now!

/hamburger
posted by Big_B at 1:27 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you want to pick nits and try to support an argument that it's only Republicans who espouse an 'it's fine if we do it cuz we're right' philosophy, go ahead. I'm no Republican. But I also don't believe Democrats walk around with some halo over their heads.
posted by spicynuts at 1:29 PM on November 28, 2011


I was pretty young at the time, and I don't know a tremendous amount about Alzheimer's, but Reagan's inability to recall things during his testimony always seemed like a bit of a coincidence given his later health. I half wonder if maybe the Alzheimer's hadn't set in much earlier than the public was lead to believe, and we really had something like the Woodrow Wilson situation, where people other than the president were really calling the shots.

one of the symptoms of Alzheimers are dramatic personality shifts... it might be one of the great ironies of the age, but what exactly led Reagan, Goldwaterite one of the nastier anti-communists of the second half of the twentieth century, to suddenly and by all accounts sincerely pursue nuclear disarmament with Gorbachev just when the USSR was destabilizing? Maybe the peaceful end of the Cold War is in part due to the disease eating away at Reagan's brain....

or maybe it actually doesn't fucking matter that the president has Alzheimers because he's a puppet anyway...
posted by ennui.bz at 1:36 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


But I also don't believe Democrats walk around with some halo over their heads.

Neither do I. You made a specific claim and I was interested to see if you had some basis for it. If you'd just said "Well, Kennedy screwed up at Bay of Pigs" I couldn't have agreed more.

Nonetheless, it's interesting what screw-ups remain solidly part of someone's image and which ones don't. Reagan has almost completely shed Iran-Contra (a scandal which would have immolated the reputation of most presidents). I think if you asked most Republicans today to name a President who provided arms to a hostile foreign nation in exchange for hostages and they'd guess at several Democratic presidents and several non-Reagan Republican presidents before hitting on the correct answer. It's not just that it hasn't stuck, it's that it goes against everything Reagan has come to stand for in public discourse (like many of the things Reagan actually did, of course).

It's true that the left gives Kennedy a pass on Bay of Pigs in a way that they wouldn't give, say, Nixon a pass for a similar debacle--but it's not true that it has been entirely forgotten. Nor is it true that it is simply written out of our general image of who Kennedy was--in fact we do think of him as a foreign-policy activist and in general as embracing an assertive role for the US military in the Cold War.
posted by yoink at 1:41 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Iran/Contra Scandal = Dick Cheney: The Quickening
posted by Ron Thanagar at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


From spicynuts' link:
The prosecutor, Christian J. Mixter, reached that conclusion in 1991 even though he found that Mr. Reagan was briefed in advance about every weapons shipment sold to Iran in the arms-for-hostages deals in 1985-86...

Mr. Mixter concluded that it would be difficult to prosecute Mr. Reagan for violating the Arms Export Control Act mandating Congressional notification of arms transfers through a third country — Israel in the case of the Reagan White House’s secret arms sales to Iran in 1985. The reason, said Mr. Mixter, was that Mr. Meese had told Mr. Reagan that the National Security Act could be invoked to supersede the export control act.

In 1992, Mr. Mixter’s boss, Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent counsel in the case, obtained a grand jury indictment charging Caspar W. Weinberger, who was defense secretary in the Reagan administration, with concealing his detailed notes of the controversy from investigators.

Mr. Bush pardoned Mr. Weinberger and five other Iran-contra figures shortly before the former defense secretary was to go on trial.
In short, Reagan knew about the scandal, allowed it, and then a followup investigation was dismissed by the next President who was also involved in the coverup. I wonder if that set the precedent for our torture of terrorism suspects — all you have to do is get one person in government to say the illegal thing you want to do isn't illegal, using whatever disingenuous loophole they care to invent, and voilà: you're not breaking the law anymore. Bonus points for abusing executive privilege if your protégé wins the next election.
posted by deanklear at 1:51 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post. The articles filled in some of my fuzzy memories. The Iran-Contra affair will always hold a special place in my heart (hear me out). When the congressional hearings were on TV my grandma was home recuperating from having a VERY large cancerous tumor (ovarian) removed and I spent a bunch of time hanging out with her for a few months there. She was way into politics and current events and so we watched the trial. I would wager I knew more about the whole situation than most any other ten year old. I remember watching and thinking I could come up with better answers than Reagan and that Ollie North was actually coming across pretty well, considering. Looking back, I think I'll stand by ten-year-old-me's assessment.

The best part of this post for me was realizing that my grandma has now been cancer free for almost 25 years (yay!) and is still the part time librarian at the high school and doing aerobics nearly every day at almost 80. She's outlived many of the people involved and she wasn't given a great chance to make it through the trial.

Fun fact: My grandma was a "Nielsen Family" during this time and the entire grid was hours and hours of the congressional hearings/trial with an occasional local news blip thrown in for good measure. I don't think she helped their numbers much.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 2:13 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The 'Contra' part of it was just an afterthought, and the crucial piece of a very important internal cover-up in the Reagan-Bush administrations.

A cover-up of one of the greatest acts of treason in American history.

As summarized by Kevin Phillips, pre-eminent Republican strategist of the Nixon and Reagan years (architect of the GOP's Southern Strategy, and coiner of 'silent majority', as I recall):

In essence, there were ties sought, and then relationships opened with the Ayatollahs and the revolutionary government of Iran, and the allegation is, in these several books, that basically, contact was made by George Bush and Bill Casey, who later became the next CIA director, and had been in the OSS in World War II; and the point was that the Iranian government was being offered money and arms if they held onto the hostages. In other words, you don’t free the hostages before the election. You hold onto them.
...
But in December of 1992 and January of 1993, the congressional informal investigation had received material from the French and from the Russians that related to the fact that they had observed and noticed that these negotiations were in fact held. A book was later published by Pierre Salinger, who was with ABC news in France at the time, that made mention of these negotiations, and the French intelligence people had helped Bill Casey arrange them. So, there was confirmation from the French. It did not say that George H.W. Bush was involved. The Russians sent back a communication that their intelligence services had in fact observed, and been reported to, that the Republicans talked to the Iranians in Paris, and that both George Bush and Bill Casey were there. An Israeli agent named Ari Ben-Menashe said the same thing in a book, but he was essentially repudiated by the Israeli government. He said he wasn’t anybody, he didn’t know much, and that sort of dragged along. Nobody credited him, but in 1998 an examination came out, the history of the Israeli Mossad, by an English writer, that said basically, he was subject to a disinformation campaign. This did in fact happen. So, there you are. There’s recent material from the French, from the Russians, and from the Israelis, that the odds are much higher that this did in fact take place.


posted by jamjam at 2:27 PM on November 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


At least Republicans would never negotiate with terrorists.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:44 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the topic of scum rising to the top, Elliott Abrams plea-bargained guilty to Iran-Contra charges, was pardoned by GHW Bush for two misdemeanors, spent the Clinton years in think-tank jobs complaining that his charges were "political," then was appointed by GW Bush to the Orwellian-named position of "human rights czar," where he may or may not have had his fingers in the Venezuelan Coup and attempting to fix Palestinian politics.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:42 PM on November 28, 2011


Clinging to the Wreckage, I watched some of the hearings with my grandparents as well, although under less dramatic circumstances, just visiting for 2 weeks in the summer. I was 12, and at the time fascinated by Nixon & Watergate*, so it was totally riveting, and I kept thinking that I couldn't believe that something like that could have happened again so soon.
The 89-page Mixter report is nothing less than a chronicle of mendacity on Bush’s part.
I believe that the usual way to say that is LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE.

* Longish story, but suffice it to say that I may have been the only 12-year-old to read All the President's Men. It remains one of my reflexive habits re: politics to blame Nixon for, well, whatever.
posted by epersonae at 3:43 PM on November 28, 2011


Thanks for this. I'm not sure I have it in me to watch it all. (My memory of this was the hearings coinciding with my family's trip to the North Carolina beach and all the trashy tourist places selling anti-Reagan t-shirts...which is hard to similar places doing for Republicans now.)

On one hand, "It's important to remember, shit has always sucked." *sighs exhaustively*

On other hand, "It's important to remember, shit has always sucked." *spring in step, thinking maybe we'll still be around 25 years from now*
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:47 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.

- Richard Nixon, interview with David Frost (19 May 1977); printed in The New York Times (20 May 1977).
posted by bukvich at 3:55 PM on November 28, 2011


Confused about what exactly the Iran-Contra affair was?

I always favored the name "Iranalamadingdong" (if only to forestall another -gate suffix, which fortunately happened anyway). Sadly, it never caught on.
posted by dhartung at 5:31 PM on November 28, 2011


Thanks so much for posting this! Explaining it to people who weren't paying attention at the time, who for got, or just weren't around for it is pretty hard.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:40 AM on November 29, 2011


I also have fond memories of the hearings. I was home from boarding school, my dad had just retired from his job at the State Department, and my mom had once again taught me how to knit. We sat in the living room watching the hearings together, my mother and me knitting, all of us enjoying the drama. I remember us planning when to run errands or go for walks based on who would be testifying: can't miss Fawn Hall!
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:22 PM on December 1, 2011


I was working in an office with a TV during the Iran-Contra hearings and was quite mesmerized by Oliver North

He was just poured into that uniform.
posted by homunculus at 12:53 PM on December 4, 2011


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