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…

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