Elliott Abrams: The war criminal that time forgot

US envoy on Venezuela Elliott Abrams speaks to media after UN Security Council meeting on situation in Venezuela at UN Headquarters in New York, NY on Feb. 28, 2019.(Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Sipa USA/TNS)

By Payton Williams

A few weeks ago, when I began researching for an article on the US sponsored coup in Venezuela, I had never heard the name Elliott Abrams. I suspect most people, even those with an interest in US politics, hadn’t either.

Now, at this moment, after spending weeks inundated with stories of war crimes and atrocities so terrible I shudder to even think about them, I realize that Abrams is a great representative of the evils that lurk deep in the looming shadow of American history, and of all the things we never should, but always do, forget.

Elliott Abrams is the US special envoy to Venezuela, and what seems to have qualified him for this appointment, in President Donald Trump’s eyes, is the 40 years he’s spent brutally suppressing Socialist revolution in South America.

I’ll give a few examples:

In 1981, as I already mentioned in last week’s article, Abrams first job as the newly-minted Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs under President Ronald Reagan was to lie about the scope and severity of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador.

The details of that massacre are some of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read about in my life, and while I won’t bother to rehash what I already said about it last week, the fact that it has gone largely forgotten by the American people is a terrible injustice, and I would encourage anyone reading this to learn about it and about what the Reagan administration did in its wake, because if we do not, we risk history repeating itself.

But the El Mozote massacre represented only a fraction of the death toll created in El Salvador by right-wing death squads in order to, as Reagan administration officials put it, “preserve and protect democracy in South America.”

After the gruesome business of crushing El Salvador’s Socialist uprising came to a close, an estimated 75,000 Salvadorans were killed, in a nation roughly the size of New Jersey. And nearly all of those deaths were caused by the US sponsored death squads in the country.

In fact, 10 years after the El Mozote massacre, when a UN truth commission investigated what had happened in El Salvador, they determined that 95% of the acts of violence perpetrated in what the US government referred to as a “civil war” were perpetrated by the Salvadoran government, with only 5% attributed to the Guerrillas.

What the US government had spent the Reagan years calling a civil war was, in fact, a one sided slaughter sponsored by the US.

And Elliott Abrams, a US official whose job title included the words “Human Rights and Humanitarian affairs” stated on the record that Salvadorans seeking asylum in the US should be deported.

“Some groups argue that illegal aliens who are sent back to El Salvador meet persecution and often death,” Abrams said. “Obviously, we do not believe these claims or we would not deport these people.”

He said this in 1984, at the height of the slaughter, and he knew very well that the claims were true.

Then, after what Abrams would go on to call a “fabulous achievement” for democracy in El Salvador, Elliott Abrams turned his attention to Guatemala.

Guatemala’s history of brutal dictatorship and uprising was almost identical to that of El Salvador.

In the 1980s, more than 30 years after the US had sponsored the removal of Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Efrain Rios Montt was just another in a long line of military dictators who had ruled Guatemala with an iron fist.

The nation was thrust into what the US called a “civil war,” 200,000 Guatemalans died, and the UN determined 93% of the killings were perpetrated by Rios Montt and his military.

I imagine anyone reading this is already beginning to see a pattern forming.

Elliott Abrams strongly advocated that the US should lift the embargo on arms trading with Guatemala, saying that Rios Montt had brought “considerable progress” in the country.

In Elliott Abrams’ mind, I suppose the killing of 200,000 civilians would look a lot like considerable progress, provided at least a few of them were Socialists.

Rios Montt was put on trial in 2013 for committing Genocide against the Maya population of the country, but died before the trial could be completed.

Finally, Elliott Abrams turned his attention to Nicaragua, and it was here that he would make himself infamous in the annals of American foreign policy history.

After the US successfully invaded Grenada in the 1980s, Elliott Abrams publicly and loudly advocated for the invasion of Nicaragua in order to rid the country of the Socialist Sandinistas who were gaining power rapidly in the country.

When congress unequivocally turned down this suggestion, Abrams proceeded to do everything in his power to gain funding, weapons, and support for the Contras, a right-wing terrorist group that the Reagan administration was terribly fond of, as they tended to be when it came to right-wing terrorist groups.

And when congress finally banned all aid for the Contras from the US, Elliott Abrams contacted the Sultan of Brunei and urged him to send 10 million dollars to the Contras.

The Sultan complied, and Elliott Abrams, operating under the code name “Kenilworth,” arranged for the sultan to wire the money to a Swiss bank account.

But Abrams gave the Sultan the wrong bank account number, and that 10 million dollars went to someone who was never identified.

In 1989, Abrams was put on trial for defying congress’s ruling, and found guilty, but was nearly immediately pardoned by George H.W. Bush.

There’s a lot more to the story of Elliott Abrams, far more than I could ever recount here, but the fact of the matter is that Elliott Abrams just seems to appear any time this country sponsors a bloody massacre, and every time both his name, and the massacre itself, gets forgotten.

After Abrams was pardoned in 1992, It was widely believed that the stink from the entire Contra affair would be enough to keep him out of work forever but, in the prescient words of Adm. William J. Crowe, Jr, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said after facing down Abrams over a disagreement on the Nicaragua problem, “This snake’s hard to kill.”

He was right.

Elliott Abrams has returned, like the ghost of administrations past, come to remind us of the sins we have committed, and the ones we have yet to commit.

As Special Envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams is once again in a position to decide the fate of a South American country. He was involved in planning a failed coup against the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, during the Bush administration, and he’s been allowed to return to finish the job.

It is our short-sightedness as a nation which has put Abrams in this position, and if I can accomplish nothing else by writing this, I want people to remember that when we don’t pay attention to the people in the shadows, the people in our government who are actually at the helm, driving our foreign policy, and if we don’t start remembering names like Elliott Abrams, then we will never stop the bloodshed.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.

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