November 21, 2018

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: "The administration was that brazen."


The deputy director of the CIA, Bobby Ray Inman, one of the weirdest of that cast of spook characters, was featured at a press conference exhibiting grainy photographs that resembled Rorschach inkblot tests. In a seeming parody of a TV meteorologist, he pointed his white stick at various parts of the photograph and recounted a narrative that had nothing to do with the picture, which he then described as unassailable evidence. The story he told was of a massive Cuban occupation of the northeast region of Nicaragua. He claimed that the landing strip at Puerto Cabezas was being prepared for fighter jets to land and that a Cuban military base was being built; the most telling detail of all, he said, was the appearance of a baseball diamond, which proved the Cubans were there to stay. This caused amusement in Nicaragua, where baseball had been the national sport ever since the US Marines had first occupied the country in the 1890s.

I never figured out if Inman was completely insane or quite crafty. In any case, he resigned in March 1982, and his boss, William Casey, was even loonier. At times, it seemed absurd to try to counteract this nuttiness with rationality. But it was not only the spooks; General Alexander Haig, Reagan’s secretary of state, held a press conference at the Dupont Circle Hilton Hotel in Washington in which he pointed to another photograph (blown up almost two stories tall) and described what he termed as widespread massacres. The photograph showed human bodies enveloped in flames. Haig claimed that these were Miskitu Indians being burned alive by Sandinista soldiers. Newspapers featured the photograph with headlines screaming of massacres and atrocities against the Nicaraguan Indians. During the following days, tiny correction boxes appeared in newspapers - why it wasn’t a big story itself I couldn’t figure out - reporting that the photograph was the property of the conservative French daily Le Figaro, and was taken in 1978, before the Sandinistas took power. The photo actually showed the Red Cross burning corpses of the victims of Somoza’s bombing of civilians in Managua in 1978. The irony was that such massacres were actually happening in nearby Guatemala as Haig spoke, massacres about which the administration said nothing. To my knowledge, no reporter ever questioned Haig about his allegations and misrepresentation of the photograph, nor did he ever admit his deception. The administration was that brazen. Even when corrections were printed, the lies created a kind of populist genocidal logic, in which “exaggerations” were then acknowledged, but people assumed that there must be some core of truth to the charges nevertheless.

- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War


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