[ Ed. note – Elliott Abrams, a longtime Washington insider who in the 1980s attempted to coverup atrocities committed by death squads in Central America, is reportedly now being considered by President Trump for the position of Deputy Secretary of State. ]
Who is Elliott Abrams?
By David Kinzer
With Rex Tillerson inching ever closer to being confirmed as secretary of state, the Trump transition team is now focusing on Tillerson’s number 2, and today, The Wall Street Journal reports that Elliot Abrams is a front-runner for the position.
But who is Elliot Abrams?
Unlike Tillerson, who is new to the political stage, Abrams is an experienced diplomat and a true-blue Neoconservative who was convicted and later pardoned of crimes committed while serving in the Reagan Administration.
In short, he is a man with credentials. And baggage.
Born to a Jewish family in New York City in 1948, Abrams’s life followed the emblematic Neoconservative trajectory, with degrees from prestigious institutions (Harvard for his B.A. and J.D., with a Master’s from the London School of Economics on the side) and brief forays into liberal politics, working for two Democratic Senators. He ultimately switched over to the Republican Party in 1980, after growing disattisfied with liberal diplomacy.
By 1981, Abrams was appointed to President Ronald Reagan’s State Department. There he held several positions, including Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. That experience may be meant to balance out Tillerson, who was criticized after his confirmation hearings for appearing weak on human rights.
However, it was Abrams’s subsequent post that landed him the most attention, not all of it good. As Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, he supported the government of El Salvador while it committed war crimes like the El Mozote massacre and was a key participant in the Iran-Contra affair, secretly coordinating deals with foreign governments to help the right-wing Nicaraguan Contras obtain weapons. He did this even though Congress had specifically forbidden the US from assisting the Contras in acquiring weapons or overthrowing the Nicaraguan government.
Despite the negative scrutiny, Abrams held onto his post until the end of the Reagan administration. Afterward, he cooperated with Iran-Contra investigators and pled guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress in 1991. The following year, President George H.W. Bush pardoned him.
The Wikipedia article on Abrams contains some interesting information on Abrams, for instance the following:
In early 1982, when reports of the El Mozote massacre of hundreds of civilians by the military in El Salvador began appearing in U.S. media, Abrams told a Senate committee that the reports of hundreds of deaths at El Mozote “were not credible,” and that “it appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.” The massacre had come at a time when the Reagan administration was attempting to bolster the human rights image of the Salvadoran military. Abrams implied that reports of a massacre were simply FMLN propaganda and denounced U.S. investigative reports of the massacre as misleading. In March 1993, the Salvadoran Truth Commission reported that over 500 civilians were “deliberately and systematically” executed in El Mozote in December 1981 by forces affiliated with the Salvadoran government.
And it seems he also may have played a role in the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002:
The Observer has claimed that Abrams had advance knowledge of, and “gave a nod to,” the Venezuelan coup attempt of 2002 against Hugo Chávez. However, a review by the State Department’s inspector general made the following conclusion: “Our government’s opposition to the use of undemocratic or unconstitutional means to remove President Chávez was repeated over and over again during the relevant period by key policymakers and spokespersons in Washington and by our representatives in Caracas in both public and private forums. And, far from working to foment his overthrow, the United States alerted President Chávez to coup plots and warned him of an assassination threat that was deemed to be credible.” Yet the U.S. government gave tacit approval to the coup initially, refusing to condemn the coup until after the president installed by the coup had already been forced to resign by the people.
It seems Trump is falling into the same trap Obama fell into: surrounding himself with neocons. Is he really this politically naive? Or was that maybe his intention all along?