Note: I'm the author of Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest, but I'm not part of the Obama campaign.
John McCain has made Barack Obama's distant connections years ago with "unrepentant terrorist" Bill Ayers a centerpiece of his campaign.
But McCain has much closer, more direct, and more recent connections to terrorists who committed acts far worse than Ayers, yet McCain's links to "unrepentant terrorists" are completely ignored by the media. While Obama has forcefully condemned the past actions of Ayers, John McCain has never denounced his terrorist friends.
McCain's "terrorist" connections are far worse than Obama's links to Ayers. In the 1980s, McCain personally funded a guerrilla group (the Contras) that engaged in terrorist acts. Just last year, McCain expressed how "proud" he was of an ex-felon who urged shooting law enforcement agents in the head (G. Gordon Liddy). And earlier this year, the McCain campaign trumpeted the endorsement of a man who illegally provided weapons and money to terrorists; when a reporter questioned this, the McCain campaign refused to even criticize this criminal (Oliver North).
In February 1988, the Washington Post reported that McCain personally (and “recently”) gave the Contras $400.
No one can doubt that acts of terror were committed by the Contras. Human Rights Watch concluded in 1989, “the contras were major and systematic violators of the most basic standards of the laws of armed conflict, including by launching indiscriminate attacks on civilians, selectively murdering non-combatants, and mistreating prisoners." Human Rights Watch also criticized acts of terror by the Sandinista government, but called the Contras “a force that has shown itself incapable of operating without consistently committing gross abuses in violation of the laws of war.”
Here are some eyewitness reports of the terrorism committed by the Contras:
They took out their knives and stuck them under his fingernails. After they took his fingernails off, then they broke his elbows. Afterwards they gouged out his eyes. Then they took their bayonets and made all sorts of slices in his skin all around his chest, arms, and legs. They then took his hair off and the skin of his scalp. When they saw there was nothing left to do with him, they threw gasoline on him and burned him. The next day they started the same thing with a 13 year old girl. They did more or less the same, but they did other things to her too. First, she was utilized, raped by all the officers. They stripped her and threw her in a small room, they went in one by one. Afterwards they took her out tied and blindfolded. Then they began the same mutilating, pulling her fingernails out and cutting off her fingers, breaking her arms, gouging out her eyes and all they did to the other fellow. They cut her legs and stuck an iron rod into her womb.
Rosa had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken and their testicles cut off and their eyes poked out. They were then killed by slitting their throats and pulling the tongue out through the slit.A congressional committee confirmed at the time that the Contras "raped, tortured and killed unarmed civilians, including children" and that "groups of civilians, including pregnant women and children were burned, dismembered, blinded and beheaded."
Harold Pinter recalled the testimony of Father John Metcalf:
I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.And no one can doubt that McCain knew about these acts of terror when he was publicly funding them. On February 10, 1987, the New York Times noted that a 170-page report by Americas Watch determined about the Contras, "They still engage in selective but systematic killing of persons they perceive as representing the Government, in indiscriminate attacks against civilians or in disregard for their safety, and in outrages against the personal dignity of prisoners. The contras also engage in widespread kidnapping of civilians, apparently for purposes of recruitment as well as intimidation." The report noted, "The escalating brutality of contra practices leads Americas Watch to conclude that disregard for the rights of civilians has become a de facto policy of the contra forces."
McCain also must have known that the Contras were engaged in drug smuggling while he was handing them money. On August 5, 1987, the CIA Central American Task Force chief testified before the Iran-Contra Committee about the Contra drug trafficking: “It is not a couple of people. It is a lot of people.”(pdf, p. 38)
In addition to his personal support for the Contras, McCain has a supporter who is far more of a terrorist supporter than Bill Ayers. His name is Oliver North. Ayers was never convicted for any crime, and there's no evidence he ever killed anyone. North, by contrast, was convicted (he got away with it because his testimony to Congress provided him with immunity).
There can be no doubt about North's connection to terrorism. Under the direction of North, the US covertly sold $48 million in battlefield missiles and other weapons to Iran, even though Iran was classified by the US government as a sponsor of international terrorism. North then illegally used some of this money to help finance the Contras.
So what is the McCain campaign’s position toward this terrorist supporter? Have they denounced his views? No, McCain’s own campaign website promotes the endorsement of him by North. McCain also supported North's 1994 campaign for the US Senate in Virginia.
The Washington Post blog did ask the McCain campaign, "Is McCain pleased to receive North's endorsement, given the fact that the failed GOP senatorial candidate was convicted in 1989 of shredding documents, accepting an illegal gratuity and aiding and abetting in the obstruction of Congress?" The McCain campaign declined to criticize North or remove their link to his endorsement: "We'll let the comments in the release stand," wrote spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker in an e-mail.
Obviously, McCain has no regrets about supporting the Contras. McCain named Otto Reich as his adviser on Latin American issues, even though Reich was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. In the mid-1980s, Reich ran the U.S. Office of Public Diplomacy and illegally coordinated with the CIA to run a "White Propaganda" campaign planting bogus op-eds written by his speechwriters in newspapers. In 1987, the Republican Comptroller-General formally found that Reich had broken the law. As ambassador to Venezuela, Reich arranged the release and asylum of Cuban-American terrorist Orlando Bosch, who had planted a bomb on a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing all 73 people on board.
McCain's connections to G. Gordon Liddy are even closer and more disturbing. Liddy, of course, is famous as an ex-felon convicted for his role as a mastermind in the Watergate break-ins and cover-up. Less well known is the fact that Liddy proposed to kidnap anti-war activists in 1972 and even plotted the murder of a newspaper columnist deemed unfriendly.
If his criminal activity that helped bring down a president weren't bad enough, Liddy actually advocated terrorist acts, too. In 1994, Liddy advised listeners to his radio show to kill federal law enforcement agents: "Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they're going to be wearing bulletproof vests. ... Kill the sons of bitches."
Despite this public advocacy of terrorism, McCain appeared at Liddy's home for a fundraiser Liddy organized for him in 1998. Liddy has given McCain $5,000 during his various campaigns, including $1,000 in 2007. McCain has never refused the money. Less than a year ago, McCain appeared on Liddy's radio show (where Liddy greeted him as an "old friend") and McCain told Liddy, "I'm proud of you, I'm proud of your family. It's always a pleasure for me to come on your program, Gordon, and congratulations on your continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great."
No one imagines that John McCain's connections to terrorism should automatically disqualify him from the presidency or should even be a major factor in the election, when questions about the economy, health care, and foreign wars loom much more prominently.
But John McCain's character does matter. And unlike the attacks on Obama and Ayers, McCain's terrorist connections have an important policy dimension. No one imagines that Obama is going to implement a policy of covert symbolic bombings in America as Ayers did, and Obama has strongly condemned what Ayers did decades ago.
However, McCain has never condemned the Contras or Oliver North or G. Gordon Liddy, and that raises many policy questions. Would McCain ever allow a Watergate-style criminal ring in his White House? Would he ever sell weapons to a regime engaged in supporting terrorism? Would he illegally engage in covert propaganda aimed at Amricans? Would he ever try to secretly fund a guerrilla force committing acts of terror? Unlike the guilt-by-association smears against Obama, McCain's friendship with terrorists is more than just a character issue. McCain needs to answer these questions about critical errors of judgment committed by past Republican administrations, since his terrorist associations suggest that he might endorse these terrible mistakes and be prone to repeat them.
The questions about Obama and Ayers have been asked and answered and analyzed in depth many times before. But John McCain still hasn't answered any questions about his terrorist connections. And the media have almost entirely ignored all of McCain's friends who are "unrepentant terrorists."
Crossposted at ObamaPolitics.