Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Goodbye, And Don't Come Back

by Alexander Cockburn

Bleak reminders of his rottenness
Off he rushed to the airport and thence to Chappaqua, N.Y., but if ever there was a man who left a sour taste in the mouth by the manner of his parting, it was surely Bill Clinton. From time to time, against my better judgment, I've thought kindly of the man, and time after time he's brusquely brought me to earth with some bleak reminder of his rottenness.

Try Colombia. Less than 48 hours before Clinton quit the White House with a legal deal covering his own ass, his administration announced that it would employ a highly questionable legal interpretation of "Plan Colombia" -- the $1.3 billion in aid going mostly to the Colombian military. The interpretation allowed the administration to dodge entirely any certification or waiver of human rights conditions attached to the aid, thus circumventing the whole certification process in providing money to the Colombian government.

Now, these human rights certifications were the object of fierce lobbying by human rights groups last year. After the certification was added, proponents of the Plan tried to undermine human rights stipulations by adding the "waiver" option to the aid. You can argue that the experience of similar lobbying in the 1980s over aid to Central America should have instructed the groups in the folly of expecting any administration to honor such commitments, but this doesn't diminish the squalor and cynicism of that the Clinton team did in its dying hours.

Last August, Clinton waived four of the five human rights criteria laid out by Congress to release the first chunk of $781.5 million. A certification or waiver was also required for the second installment of $56.4 million dollars. In mid-January, two Democratic senators, Paul Wellstone and Tom Harkin, called on Clinton as late as last week to reject a waiver for the second slice because the Colombian government had "failed to make significant progress" on human rights.

But Congressman Rick Boucher said the Clinton administration had decided that because the second slice of aid was not included in "regular funds," but rather in an emergency spending bill, the certification and waiver process did not apply.

So, with virtually no opportunity for the human rights community to respond, the Clinton administration has effectively created a way to avoid the whole question of human rights in Colombia. As Jack Laun of the Colombia Support Network said bitterly, "This unilateral interpretation trivializes the role of Congress in allocating funds and undermines the work of countless human rights organizations that have testified time and again to the need to consider human rights abuses in Colombia."

There's bipartisanship for you, in the deeper sense. George Bush Sr. quit office in 1993, having signed Christmas pardons for Reagan-Bush era officials who'd broken the law by breaching congressional prohibition on aid to the Nicaraguan contras. Here we have Clinton and Albright doing a last-minute end run around a modest congressional road-block against sending U.S. dollars destined in considerable part to Colombia's paramilitary death squads.

And then there were those final pardons, also those final non-pardons. The man who campaigned in New Hampshire in 1992 by running home to Arkansas to preside over the state killing of the mostly brain-dead Rickey Ray Rector left office as the man who pardoned that Navajo scoundrel Peter MacDonald, while leaving Leonard Peltier to rot. Many a bit player in the Whitewater and Espy scandals got Bill's manumission from the slammer or a felony record, but Clinton didn't forget a bigger fish, in the form of the seriously sinister Marc Rich, a billionaire commodities trader, who was convicted in the early 1980s on 51 counts of conspiracy, tax evasion, racketeering, fraud charges involving the purchase of discounted oil from Iran during the hostage crisis and breaking U.S. sanctions against South Africa. Rich fled to Switzerland before he came to trial, and Switzerland refused to extradite him.

In mid-January, Al Gore went to New York to attend a Democratic fund-raiser organized by Denise Rich, just divorced from the fugitive. Among those gawping on 63rd Street at the limousines and cops lined up for the convenience of the Democratic grandees was political columnist Richard Reeves, who later described the scene: "What's up?" "Vice President Gore," said a cop. "Yeah," came from a voice in the crowd. "He saw a $10 bill blowing down the street."

He may have done that, but both he and his boss knew well that across the last six years, Ms. Rich has given just under $250,000 to the Democratic National Committee. The pardon of Rich came in due course, Bill's final reminder to us on the topic of campaign finance reform, whose muted expression in the form of the McCain-Feingold bill is being fiercely opposed by our new president.

Transition? What transition?

© Creators Syndicate

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor January 29, 2001 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.