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How to Lie in Washington and Get Away With It

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which behaved—under Fulbright’s chairmanship—less abjectly than most other congressional committees during the Vietnam war, is getting back to its old ways under its new chairman, Senator Sparkman. On March 10, by a vote of sixteen to one, the committee recommended the confirmation of Nathaniel Davis as assistant secretary of state for African affairs and it unanimously approved Harry W. Shlaudeman as ambassador to Venezuela. The Senate confirmed both nominations the next day.

From the way the two public hearings (February 19 and 26) were conducted one would have assumed that both nominations were routine promotions for two senior Foreign Service officers. Senator Pell stressed Davis’s commitment to his work, Chairman Sparkman reminisced about a chance meeting with Davis in Moscow in 1955. But while the American press seemed as bored with these hearings as the senators, the Shlaudeman appointment was being strongly opposed by newspapers in Venezuela. Shortly before Shlaudeman arrived as ambassador in Caracas, the foreign minister was forced to resign, in part because he agreed to Shlaudeman’s coming in the first place. And the Organization of African Unity adopted a resolution calling for the withdrawal of the Davis nomination.

Why? To answer this, one has to turn back to our political “destabilization” in Chile. Nathaniel Davis was US ambassador there during most of the Allende period, and Harry Shlaudeman was his deputy. Shlaudeman, in fact, has been one of the most enthusiastic apologists for the Chilean junta in Washington. He denies that it sanctions torture and insists that it is devoted to civil rights. The Africans and Venezuelans might be excused for suspecting a US scheme to open Pinochet franchises in other parts of the world.

What neither the press nor the Senate committee considered was that one of the men probably perjured himself in testimony at earlier congressional hearings, while the other certainly did. CIA director William Colby in a secret statement on April 22, 1974, before a House Armed Services subcommittee owned up to CIA interference in Chilean elections on behalf of the Christian Democrats dating back to 1964. He also confessed that the CIA had provided eleven million dollars for economic and political sabotage before and after Allende’s victory in the September 1970 presidential election, and lesser grants-in-aid to the middle-class opposition to Allende in Santiago. But unluckily for Colby his secret testimony was leaked to The New York Times five months later. Apart from denying he used the word “destabilization,” Colby has not disavowed the version of his testimony published in the Times. And that testimony contradicts Shlaudeman’s previous statements before several congressional committees.

Nathaniel Davis gave his version of US involvement in the fall of Allende to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in executive session on November 9, 1973. Did Davis tell the truth at that time? Not if his testimony was consistent with Shlaudeman’s and with the State Department’s official line that it had clean hands. In the second of the two public hearings on Davis’s confirmation, on February 26, 1975, Chairman Sparkman was repeatedly asked to release this testimony and refused. Sparkman had already announced casually that any links between the nominees and CIA covert operations in Chile were to be left to Senator Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence Operations. But he knew that Church’s findings would not be released until months after Davis and Shlaudeman had been confirmed. What Sparkman did not say, as an aide to another senator later told me, is that Kissinger telephoned Sparkman, told him how important he felt these appointments were, and asked him not to bring up the previous testimony about the CIA. Sparkman consulted with the other committee members and complied.

Colby’s testimony made it clear that senior members of our embassy were not only kept informed of CIA activities in Chile but were frequently consulted about these programs. After the Bay of Pigs, with an eye to making things run a bit more successfully in the future, the Kennedy administration had given the ambassador on station the responsibility of coordinating all US activities, including those of the CIA. In 1972, Ambassador Davis cabled Washington that the Allende government would not fall until there was “a discontent large enough to stimulate majority support for military intervention.” In the unlikely circumstance that he did not know about the CIA’s subversive activities to encourage such discontent—e.g., the crippling strikes it helped to finance in 1972 and 1973—he was not doing his job properly.

If it seems all but certain that Davis misled the Congress, Shlaudeman clearly did so. Davis is reported to have delegated much of his responsibility to Shlaudeman, who had arrived in Chile in mid-1969, preceding Davis by two years. Testifying on June 12, 1974, before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs, Shlaudeman was asked whether he had known all the facts about what had happened in Chile. “Of course I do,” he said. Then came the following exchange with Congressman Fraser:

Mr. Fraser: In so far as you have knowledge of the facts…what you are stating…is that we did not provide any direct assistance to parties which were in opposition to the election of Allende during the 1970 election?

Mr. Shlaudeman: I am saying that as far as I know…we provided no direct assistance to any political party in Chile during that election.

President Ford made Shlaudeman’s perjury official at his September 16, 1974, press conference, when he acknowledged that covert US aid was given to “help and assist the preservation of opposition newspapers” and “opposition political parties.” (Under Allende, it should be noted, the freedom of the opposition press and political parties was not in doubt.) After the Times got hold of Director Colby’s April 22, 1974, testimony, Shlaudeman had to speak from the other side of his mouth. When, at the confirmation hearing on February 26, 1975, Senator Biden asked Shlaudeman the same question Congressman Fraser had, Shlaudeman admitted he had always known that the covert activities described by Colby and Ford were going on. No one thought to bring up the contradiction with his earlier testimony.

Before the hearings began, a staff report prepared by Jerome I. Levinson (of the committee’s subcommittee on multinational corporations) was leaked to the press which suggested that former CIA director Richard Helms and former ambassador to Chile Edward Korry might be subject to perjury indictments. This leak momentarily woke up the Foreign Relations Committee—good-bye bonhomie. Senator Pell, asked by a reporter whether the committee was concerned over the CIA’s participation in the coup, answered that the committee’s concern “was more that such statements should be made by senators and not by staff.”

Senators Pell and Sparkman, in particular, supported Davis and Shlaudeman on the grounds that, whatever their activities in Chile, they had been carrying out “lawful” orders from their superiors. Kissinger had used this defense before. So had Thomas D. Boyatt of the American Foreign Service Association, who testified that “it is a matter of public record that the clandestine activities which took place in Chile were directed by a high-level policy group in Washington,” adding that “Foreign Service officers serving in the field should not be made scapegoats for unpopular policies.” Throughout the confirmation hearings, the senators ignored Davis and Schlaudeman, supposedly accountable public servants, in favor of Davis and Shlaudeman, Foreign Service flunkies with exemplary records in the cause of undermining an elected government.

Orders are orders but, as the trial of Lt. Calley made clear, unlawful orders needn’t be followed. In the Wall Street Journal, a week before the hearings, Chairman Sparkman himself proposed that the US “reaffirm” its commitment to Article 15 of the OAS charter which reads: “No state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state.” The Senate ratified this charter in 1950 and the US claims to have been abiding by it ever since, as any Guatemalan or Dominican will tell you.

But whatever their opinions about the proper way to honor treaties, one might have expected the senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to be jealous of their remaining powers, less hasty in exercising them. Davis was confirmed without his November 9, 1973, testimony being made available; Shlaudeman lied. No lack of evidence prevented the committee from examining the nominees more carefully: they had the evidence, they ignored it. Before the hearings started, Senator Sparkman said that the committee would be “looking and probing.” Into staff leaks apparently.

When the hearings began, it seemed possible that the senators would get useful briefings from their large and well-paid staff. In December, the staff director, Pat M. Holt, had been instructed by Fulbright to assemble all available material on the CIA’s role in the Chilean coup, as well as evidence suggesting possible perjury by witnesses who had appeared before the committee. Some admirable Deep Throat Jr. can be credited with leaking the Levinson report on Helms and Korry. But whatever work the staff did, there was no hint of it in the senators’ questions. It will be interesting to see whether the House International Relations subcommittee does anything about the perjured testimony that Shlaudeman gave. Will Chairman Dante Fascell of Florida have a fit of pique knowing his subcommittee has been lied to?

Harry W. Shlaudeman was unanimously confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Clerk of lowa cast the only nay against Nathaniel Davis. All the more remarkable, since the committee includes not only the predictable Javits, Symington, and Humphrey, but such intermittent dissenters to American adventurism as McGovern, Mansfield, Church, Muskie, and Case, as well as the self-proclaimed young liberal, Biden of Delaware. Nor can a serious inquiry be expected from the Western Hemisphere Affairs Subcommittee, sleeping peacefully under Senator McGee’s chairmanship. In fact, apart from Clark, only Senators Abourezk and Kennedy have continued to question the US role in Chile, and neither is a member of the committee.

The Foggy Bottom boys have gotten away with it once again. But what about Senator Sparkman’s excuse for not questioning the nominees about the CIA in Chile—that he would leave it to the Church committee to look into that? Will Senator Church dig up their old testimony, along with that of Kissinger, Helms, and Colby, and call them all in to account? Or will a telephone call from Henry Kissinger once again succeed in covering up lies about the dirty side of our Chilean diplomacy?

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