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Doerner/My Turn: Our shameful secrets

Editor’s note: Carl Doerner has been writing a series of My Turn submissions examining the assassinations of the 1960s and the dark shadow they have cast on our nation.

Aug. 19, 1953, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran was overthrown. Now, on this 60th anniversary, comes the CIA’s first admission of involvement. Writes the Guardian newspaper, “The military coup that overthrew Mosaddeq was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government.”

In 1979, Iranians rose up and overthrew this despotic government. CIA’s objective had been oil; the product of secret intrigue was an Iran hostile to the West. Blowback from such U.S. secret operations has made this country less safe than ever.

President Dwight Eisenhower’s CIA director, Allen Dulles, estimated Russian military capability three times the true numbers. By 1980, only 25 years after the most sweeping and brutal war mankind had ever experienced, the U.S. had amassed 50,000 nuclear weapons.

In the name of anti-communism, countries were invaded, governments toppled and assassinations carried out. The more serious threat to our nation than Russia ever was — imperiling freedom, the Constitution and democracy itself ­ — are the ongoing secret operations of executive agencies of our government.

In his award-winning book “Secrecy,” the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-NY, described congressional efforts to curb abuses exposed by Daniel Ellsberg in “The Pentagon Papers,” as a result of the Watergate break-in by President Richard Nixon’s burglars and funding of the Contra War under President Ronald Reagan. Congress debated but failed to end this raging problem. Moynihan wrote, “The Cold War ended; secrecy as a mode of governance continued as if nothing had changed.”

Historically dominating the machinery of government and newspapers, this country’s business elite has long feared the threat to profits posed by agitation of their workers for better hours, pay and conditions. Particularly haunting has been the threat to the capitalist economic model posed by socialism, that is, government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods based on the idea that a society’s resources should best be used to serve people¹s needs.

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson sent 13,000 American troops to join 200,000 others attempting to block the course of socialist revolution in Russia. In this country, labor unrest led Wilson’s attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, to arrest and deport those agitating for better working conditions (the Palmer Raids). While immigration to provide abundant cheap labor had long been encouraged, loyalty of “hyphenated Americans,” particularly Italians, Germans and Irish, was made suspect.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 “New Deal” regulated banks, initiated Social Security and provided relief for the unemployed. Post-war England’s socialist government and prospects of leftist economic systems emerging in France, Italy and Greece spurred secret interventions by the U.S. The elevation of Reagan to our presidency set in full motion the effort to undo the progressive efforts of Roosevelt. With Reagan also came vast expansion of secret government, the current dimensions and mischief of which can only be guessed.

Illustrating the extent of U.S. secret government activities, nearly a million living Americans have top-secret clearance,and the most recent budget figure for U.S. intelligence gathering ­ this even before 9/11 — was $27 billion per year.

Under Reagan alone, 50 covert operations were approved, the most contentious of which was the illegal sale of U.S. arms to Iran. The plan was for Israel to sell weapons to Iran, be re-supplied by the U.S. and pay the conspirators for these new arms. The illegal funds were used to finance the Contras attempting to overthrow the democratically elected leftist government of Nicaragua.

The leading figure in this secret operation was Col. Oliver North who, when it was exposed, testified before Congress to knowing that it was illegal. He characterized it as a noble enterprise. In fact, a Human Rights Watch report found “Contras were guilty of targeting health care clinics and health care workers for assassination; kidnapping civilians; torturing and executing civilians, including children, who were captured in combat; raping women; indiscriminately attacking civilians and civilian homes; seizing civilian property; and burning civilian houses in captured towns.” As a journalist working in Nicaragua in that time, I can attest to actions of the Contras and the CIA in that country.

Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers exposed government lies about Vietnam. Whistleblowers now in the news, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have, variously, exposed gunsight footage of U.S. airmen indiscriminately killing non-combatants in Iraq, government corruption, and the U.S. National Security Administration government agency spying on American citizen’s telephone and Internet communications. Each of these men risked life and fortune to expose U.S. government misconduct. In the eyes of many they are heroes who have betrayed only a corrupt and secret system. They have endeavored to preserve our deeply eroded constitutional and democratic values.

Conway resident Carl Doerner is an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker.

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