Senate must scrutinize Gates nomination
November 21, 2006
The Senate ought to scrutinize President Bush's nomination of Robert Gates to the post of defense secretary.
Gates carries too much baggage from his days in the Reagan administration, where he was closely involved in the Iran-Contra scandal.
The scandal erupted when it was discovered that the Central Intelligence Agency was secretly selling arms to Iran and supplying arms to Contra guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government -- despite a congressional ban on military aid to the rebels. But the Reagan White House kept Congress in the dark.
In his memoirs, Gates, who was deputy CIA director at the time, claims he was "trying to learn the ropes while all this was going on."
But Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a private group that has collected hundreds of thousands of pages of documents on the scandal, calls Gates "the ultimate hear-no-evil, see-no-evil high official during Iran-Contra."
Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel investigating Iran-Contra, found Gates' statements "less than candid."
"We did not believe Gates," Walsh wrote in his account of the scandal. "It simply was not credible that the second-highest officer of the CIA would forget a warning of an illegal activity linking President Reagan's two favorite programs. We decided against prosecuting Gates for making a false statement, however, because there had been only one witness to each of the conversations he claimed to have forgotten."
Gates was also deputy CIA chief at a time when the CIA was funding and training death squads in El Salvador. These squads were engaged in mass slaughter.
In the 1980s, Gates was allegedly part of a secret operation to arm Saddam Hussein, including helping him acquire cluster bombs and supplies for chemical weapons, according to Robert Parry, a former reporter for theAssociated Press and Newsweek.
And Gates was deputy national security adviser when the first Bush administration invaded Panama to overthrow Gen. Manuel Noriega. At the time, it was the largest U.S. military action since Vietnam.
In 1991, several former CIA subordinates accused Gates of pressuring the agency's analysts to exaggerate the Soviet threat to fit the ideology of the Reagan administration.
If his past is any indication, Gates means more of the same at the Pentagon.
Bernardo Ruiz is a New York-based writer and documentary filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.