smilegrinch.gif          abrams.jpg

(The Grinch and Elliott Abrams.  Separated at birth?)

***HEADS UP: Per angie in the comments, Flynt Leverett will be on C-Span1 discussing these issues any time now at 12:45 pm ET per C-Span right this minute, at 12:40 pm ET.***

Juan Cole has a call to action up at Informed Comment today — and it deserves not just a read and some thought, but some effort on all of our parts as well.  It's the holiday season, and your elected representatives and their staffs are home for the holidays, basking in the glow of hearth and home…and available for personal, drop-in visits from constituents at public events or at their various offices around your district or state.

The subject at hand:  Elliott Abrams, the First Amendment, and Bush Administration's attempt to strangle the truth whole.

Steve Clemons has some background on the issues surrounding the gag order that Abrams issued on Flynt Leverett.

The practice of politicizing intelligence in the Bush White House seems to be continuing with "friends lists" and "enemies lists" determining who should be rewarded or punished in the "secrets-clearing process" in cases where former goverment officials publish materials on U.S. foreign policy debates.

In an unprecedented case, the White House National Security Council staff has insinuated itself into a "secrets-clearing" process normally overseen by the CIA Publications Review Board which screens the written work of former government officials to make sure that state secrets don't find their way into the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, or in other of the nation's leading papers, journals, and books….

[Flynt Leverett] has written numerous books, manuscripts, working papers, and many dozens upon dozens of some of the most important public policy op-ed commentary on American engagement in the Middle East and has always dutifully submitted his materials to the CIA's review process. Never — not even once — has been a word or item changed in anything submitted.

The White House has now forced the CIA to heavily censor a 1000 word op-ed draft planned for the New York Times that is based on a much larger product he produced under the sponsorship of the Century Foundation titled "Dealing with Tehran: Assessing US Diplomatic Options Toward Iran." (A pdf of the article can be downloaded here.)

Leverett believes that the White House is now politicizing the "secrets review" process and is rewarding those who support Bush's policies and punishing those don't.

The man behind this censorship and attempt at suppressing criticism of Bush Administration policies? None other than Elliott Abrams.  And this morning, considering some discussion with your elected representatives would be a good idea on this — requesting oversight, expressing your disgust with the Bush Administration, and all — I thought some background on just why Mr. Abrams is not the sort that ought to be casting aspersions might be in order.  And trust me, this is just a brief snippet of the smarm that is Mr. Abrams history as a neo-con-man.

– From the Iran-Contra Report, during which investigation Mr. Abrams pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress:

On October 7, 1991, Abrams pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress. Abrams admitted that he withheld from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) in October 1986 his knowledge of North's contra-assistance activities. In support of his guilty plea, Abrams admitted that it was his belief “that disclosure of Lt. Col. North's activities in the resupply of the Contras would jeopardize final enactment'' of a $100 million appropriation pending in Congress at the time of his testimony. He also admitted that he withheld from HPSCI information that he had solicited $10 million in aid for the contras from the Sultan of Brunei.

— From Common Dreams, a little background on Abrams connections within the neocon cabal:

Abrams has moved back and forth between government and the right’s web of think tanks and policy institutes, holding positions as a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), advisory council member of the American Jewish Committee, and charter member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Abrams has maintained close ties with the Social Democrats/USA, the network of right-wing social democrats and former Trotskyites who became the most vocal of the self-described “democratic globalists” within the neocon camp in the 1990s.

His family ties have helped propel Abrams into the center of neoconservatism’s inner circles over the past few decades. In 1980 he joined one of the two reigning families of neoconservatism through his marriage to Rachel Decter, one of Midge Decter’s two daughters from her first marriage. As a member of the Podhoretz-Decter clan, Abrams became a frequent contributor to Commentary and Norman Podhoretz’s choice to direct the magazine’s symposiums on foreign policy. As one of the leading neocons in the Reagan administration, Abrams also served as a liaison between government and the right wing’s network, as exemplified by his appearances at the forums organized by Midge Decter’s Committee for the Free World in the 1980s.

Nothing like a little neoptism among friends and family, I always say.

– From the WaPo back in May of 2003:

When Elliott Abrams stood in front of a federal judge in October 1991 and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress, few imagined he would ever return to government. At age 43, he had become one of the casualties of the Iran-contra scandal, detested by Democrats for his combative political style and mistrusted by human rights activists for playing down the crimes of right-wing dictatorships in Central America.

Twelve years later, Abrams is helping to shape White House policies toward many of the world's trouble spots. Appointed in December as President Bush's senior adviser on the Middle East, his responsibilities extend from Algeria to Iran. But nowhere is his influence more evident than on the Arab-Israeli peace process.

A self-described "neo-conservative and neo-Reaganite" with strong ties to Jews and evangelical Christians, Abrams has become a flash point for the debate on how much pressure the Bush administration is prepared to apply to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. Last week, the White House sought to address Israeli concerns about a U.S.-endorsed "road map" on Israeli-Palestinian peace by saying they would be considered during the implementation phase….

Unlike his previous incarnation in government, when he was a high-profile figure on Capitol Hill and in the media, Abrams this time around is working far from the glare of publicity and congressional oversight. According to people who have dealt with him, however, his operating style has changed little in the intervening decade, and is characterized by the same combination of ideological zeal and bureaucratic toughness that made him a formidable advocate for the Reagan administration.

"He is relentless in pursuit of his agenda," said someone who has clashed with him in internal administration debates. "If that means pushing people out of the way who disagree with him, then that is what he will do."

Gee, I bet lunch with Abrams, and Scooter, and Cheney and Bolton would be a hoot and a half, don't you? Just deciding who gets the salt first could lead to birdshot…

– Again, from the WaPo, this time in February of 2005:

Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information from Congress in the Iran-contra affair, was promoted to deputy national security adviser to President Bush.

Abrams, who previously was in charge of Middle East affairs, will be responsible for pushing Bush's strategy for advancing democracy….

Abrams has served as special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and North African affairs since December 2002. He will continue work on Israeli-Palestinian affairs in concert with Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Abrams's 1991 plea stemmed from the congressional inquiry into the Iran-contra affair during President Ronald Reagan's administration. On Oct. 10, 1986, Abrams, then a State Department employee, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he did not know that Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North was directing illegal arms sales to Iran and diverting the proceeds to assist the Nicaraguan contras.

Abrams was pardoned by Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush.

His name surfaced last year as part of the investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA operative whose husband publicly disputed Bush administration claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa. White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said that Abrams denied responsibility.

Swell guy, eh? But wait, there's more…

Michael Crowley in Slate also put together a profile of Abrams that included this gem:

He joined Reagan's State Department and in the name of anti-communism placed himself on the front lines of the administration's Central American proxy wars with the Soviets. Abrams was among the first to agitate for the downfall of Manuel Noriega, and his loathing of Augusto Pinochet led him to feud openly with Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, who urged cooperation with the Chilean strongman. But Abrams undercut his credibility by stubbornly defending the U.S.-backed military regime in El Salvador even after evidence emerged of regime-sponsored massacres. This made him a villain among liberals like New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, who accused him of whitewashing human rights abuses. A famously tough political operator, Abrams gave as good as he got. "I would like to take a machine gun and mow Anthony Lewis down," his wife once told the Washington Post. "I wouldn't waste the bullets," Abrams rejoined. "I would rather have them go to the contras."

Classy.

– And David Corn had this piece in The Nation back in June of 2001 that ought to have been a big warning for everyone:

"How would you feel if your wife and children were brutally raped before being hacked to death by soldiers during a military massacre of 800 civilians, and then two governments tried to cover up the killings?" It's a question that won't be asked of Elliott Abrams at a Senate confirmation hearing–because George W. Bush, according to press reports, may appoint Abrams to a National Security Council staff position that (conveniently!) does not require Senate approval. Moreover, this query is one of a host of rude, but warranted, questions that could be lobbed at Abrams, the Iran/contra player who was an assistant secretary of state during the Reagan years and a shaper of that Administration's controversial–and deadly–policies on Latin America and human rights. His designated spot in the new regime: NSC's senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations. (At press time, the White House and Abrams were neither confirming nor denying his return to government.)

Bush the Second has tapped a number of Reagan/Bush alums who were involved in Iran/contra business for plum jobs: Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Otto Reich and John Negroponte. But Abrams's appointment–should it come to pass–would mark the most generous of rehabilitations. Not only did Abrams plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of lying to Congress about the Reagan Administration's contra program, he was also one of the fiercest ideological pugilists of the 1980s, a bad-boy diplomat wildly out of sync with Bush's gonna-change-the-tone rhetoric. Abrams, a Democrat turned Republican who married into the cranky Podhoretz neocon clan, billed himself as a "gladiator" for the Reagan Doctrine in Central America–which entailed assisting thuggish regimes and militaries in order to thwart leftist movements and dismissing the human rights violations of Washington's cold war partners.

One Abrams specialty was massacre denial. During a Nightline appearance in 1985, he was asked about reports that the US-funded Salvadoran military had slaughtered civilians at two sites the previous summer. Abrams maintained that no such events had occurred. And had the US Embassy and the State Department conducted an investigation? "My memory," he said, "is that we did, but I don't want to swear to it, because I'd have to go back and look at the cables." But there had been no State Department inquiry; Abrams, in his lawyerly fashion, was being disingenuous. Three years earlier, when two American journalists reported that an elite, US-trained military unit had massacred hundreds of villagers in El Mozote, Abrams told Congress that the story was commie propaganda, as he fought for more US aid to El Salvador's military. The massacre, as has since been confirmed, was real. And in 1993 after a UN truth commission, which examined 22,000 atrocities that occurred during the twelve-year civil war in El Salvador, attributed 85 percent of the abuses to the Reagan-assisted right-wing military and its death-squad allies, Abrams declared, "The Administration's record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement." Tell that to the survivors of El Mozote.

As I said, this is but a small snapshot of the Elliott Abrams portfolio of nastiness. I am certain that readers can find much, much more on Mr. Abrams — and I would encourage you to do so and leave links in the comments. This is one rock under which a whole lot of sunshine needs to be shone, and quickly.

Whatever we can do to ensure that oversight on Mr. Abrams and his long, long career — and his attachment to this Administration and it's hideous string of undercutting the rule of law, our Constitution, the separation of poweers and everything else that he and the rest of the neocon cabal have done to pervert our system of government to a "unilateral executive" system needs a whole lot of discussion. Publicly. And in detail.

As I said above, this is a very good time to meet with your elected representatives in person — or with their staffers — to discuss this.  We have heard time and time again that when a constituent takes the time to set up an in-person meeting, that the issues discussed therein are given a lot more weight.  So drop into a Congressional office, stop by an Open House or a public meeting…whatever.  But please, contact your elected representatives today and tell them that you stand for the Constitution and for Free Speech — and that you expect them to stand for it as well.

And to ask Mr. Abrams why he does not.  The time for accountability is now.