Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing was meant to be about the crisis in Venezuela, but Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) used the occasion to remind the world that Elliott Abrams, President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Caracas, is a convicted criminal who has supported dictators, drug dealers, death squads and genocide throughout Latin America.
Omar grilled Abrams in an exchange that was heated from the start, when the first-year congresswoman noted that he had pleaded guilty of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal. “I don’t understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful,” Omar wondered.
She then questioned Abrams, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs and Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs during the Ronald Reagan administration, about El Salvador. Throughout the 1980s and into the ‘90s, the United States backed military dictators there whose security forces killed over 75,000 civilians. The US created and trained death squads that committed many horrific massacres, including the wholesale slaughter of more than 900 men, women and children at El Mozote in December 1981. Abrams was the Reagan administration’s point man on denying these massacres and discrediting those who reported them.
“On February 8, 1982 you testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about El Salvador,” Omar began. She continued:
“In that hearing, you dismissed as communist propaganda reports about the massacre at El Mozote… During that massacre some troops bragged about raping 12-year-old girls before they killed them. You later said that the US policy in El Salvador was a fabulous achievement… Do you still think so?”
Abrams said it was “a fabulous achievement” that El Salvador has been a democracy since the early 1990s. Omar was not satisfied with his response. She pressed: “Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement?”
“That is a ridiculous question and… I’m not going to respond to that kind of personal attack, which is not a question,” a visibly irate Abrams replied.
Omar then asked whether Abrams would “support an armed faction in Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide if you believe they were serving US interests, as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.” Abrams refused to respond to the question, protesting that he did not “think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions.”
“Whether under your watch a genocide will take place and you will look the other way because American interests are being upheld is a fair question,” Omar retorted.
There is no question that Abrams whitewashed atrocities committed by the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, who waged a vicious terrorist war against the democratically elected Sandinista government, as well as genocide of Mayan people presided over by General Efrían Ríos Montt in Guatemala. He also provided cover for the military junta ruling Argentina, which at the time was stealing and selling the babies of its victims. In El Salvador, he praised the “professionalism” of the Atlacatl Brigade, the elite army unit created in the United States that perpetrated the El Mozote massacre and others like it.
Finally, Omar asked Abrams if “the interests of the United States include protecting human rights… and protecting people against genocide?”
“That is always the position of the United States,” replied the man who worked to conceal genocide in Guatemala. The United States also supported the Suharto regime in Indonesia, which committed two genocides in the late 20th century, and stood by during genocides in Rwanda and Sudan.
Abrams joined the George W Bush administration in 2001, serving as Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations at the National Security Council. Critics noted that nobody worked harder to undermine democracy and human rights in the Americas than Elliott Abrams, who was soon back to his old ways. According to the UK Observer, Abrams had advance knowledge of, and approved, the military coup that removed Chávez from power for 47 hours in April 2002.
During the Bush administration, Abrams also served as special Middle East Advisor. He was one of the key intellectual architects of the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 attacks which the United States was using to justify its open-ended war on terror. Abrams is also a staunch Zionist who ran the NSC’s Israel-Palestine desk and who has been accused of leading the Bush administration’s effort to subvert the 2006 Palestinian elections to block the formation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government.
The rest of Wednesday’s Capitol Hill hearing was far less contentious, although Abrams made no attempt to defuse tensions between Washington and Caracas amid increasing US saber-rattling and provocations. Abrams said that while the Trump administration prefers to pursue a non-violent solution to the Venezuela crisis, it would not rule out war.
“All options are on the table,” he said.