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McCain: Counter-Terrorist or Contra Terrorist?

The McCain/Caribou Barbie campaign has made much hay lately of the tenuous (at best) associations that Barack Obama once shared with former Weather Underground member Bill (or Willie) Ayers.

In the early 1970's, Ayers participated in bombings of the New York City Police Headquarters, the United States Capitol building, and the Pentagon and then he went underground after a few fellow Weathermen blew themselves up in their Greenwich Village apartment as they were assembling a bomb. The federal government filed charges against Ayers in connection with those bombings, but the charges were later dropped due to a technicality. After years on the lam, Ayers turned himself in to authorities in 1980.

Now, as far as the details of Ayers's "association" with Obama, there really isn't much more to the association than some incidental contact by the two individuals who 1) happen to live in the same neighborhood and 2) have shared a passion for improving educational opportunities for inner-city youths and combating poverty. The two have met on a handful of occasions when their interests crossed paths, but they hardly "palled around," as Caribou Barbie and other Right-wingers often charge. Back in February, Michael Dobbs reported in the Washington Post that, "The only hard facts that have come out so far are the $200 contribution by Ayers to the Obama re-election fund (when he was running for re-election to the Illinois Senate), and their joint membership of the eight-person Woods Fund Board." Dobbs also said that, "Whatever his past, Ayers is now a respected member of the Chicago intelligentsia, and still a member of the Woods Fund Board." The Woods Fund is a grant-making organization dedicated to providing employment opportunities to residents disadvantaged neighborhoods and reducing poverty (a.k.a. "community organizing").

Anybody looking for conclusive proof that Obama colluded with terrorists will be profoundly disappointed. Declaring, as the McCain campaign has recently, that Obama's dealings with Ayers proves that Obama has ties to terrorists is about as ridiculous as declaring that the Ryder Corporation is guilty of terrorism because one of their trucks suffered the misfortune of being Timothy McVeigh's delivery vehicle of choice for his bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Obama spokesman Bill Burton said back in February, "Senator Obama strongly condemns the violent actions of the Weathermen group, as he does all acts of violence. But he was an eight-year-old child when Ayers and the Weathermen were active, and any attempt to connect Obama with events of almost forty years ago is ridiculous."

While it is clear that the Obama "association" to terrorism is nothing more than incidental contact with a man whose career as a terrorist was over in the early 1970's, it is also clear the John McCain has his own associations with a terrorist organization. McCain sat on the board of directors of The United States Council for World Freedom (USCWF), an organization that directly funded radical Right-wing death squads in Central America, such as the Contras in Nicaragua, in the 1980's. The Reagan Administration's efforts to fund the Contras eventually devlovled into the Iran-Contra Affair in which money for the Contras was generated by selling arms to Iran.

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According to a piece by Glenn Kessler that recently appeared in the Washington Post, McCain, "resigned from the Council's board in 1984 because he was uncomfortable with the group's activities, but his name was still on the group's letterhead in 1986. He also attended the group's "Freedom Fighter of the Year" award ceremony on Oct. 3, 1985." - If McCain is to be commended for leaving the group, perhaps it is worth asking why he was a part of the group to begin with.

Pete Yost, in an Associated Press (AP) article appearing at The Boston Globe's boston.com, reported that, "The (USCWF) was created by retired Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub (as) the U.S. chapter of the World Anti-Communist League, an international organization linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America." Singlaub became the league's chairman.

Yost reported that in two interviews with the AP, Singlaub said that, "McCain became
associated with the (USCWF) in the early 1980s as McCain launched his political career." Singlaub also said that McCain, "was a new guy on the block learning the ropes. I think I met him in the Washington area when he was just a new congressman. We had McCain on the board to make him feel like he wasn't left out. It looks good to have names on a letterhead who are well-known and appreciated."

Yost reported that, for his part, McCain told a newspaper in 1986 that, "I didn't know
whether (the group's activity) was legal or illegal, but I didn't think I wanted to be associated with them." However, Yost also reported that Singlaub did not recall McCain's resignation, nor did Joyce Downey, who managed USCWF daily operations. Yost also reported that news items and other documents showed that McCain still had ties to the organization will into 1985, a year after McCain said that he resigned. Determining the exact date of McCain's resignation from the USCWF is further complicated by Downey's recollection that following the 1986 shooting-down of a plane supposedly in the service of the USCWF she got a call from one of McCain's staffers requesting his resignation. If McCain had already resigned, why would he resign again?

Early in McCain's political career when he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he voted to provide military support for the Contras in Nicaragua, Yost reported. The Contras were organized by the Central Intelligence Agency as a rebel force to counter the Leftist Sandinista Government in Nicaragua.

In 1985, shortly before the U.S. Congress was to vote on support for the Contras, a report (by Reed Brody, which later became a book entitled Contra Terror in Nicaragua) was released detailing some of the activities undertaken by the Contras. Among other things, the report blamed the Contras for murders, rapes, beatings, and kidnappings of civilians. Wikipedia has an account of a militiaman in the service of Nicaragua's Sandinista Government at the time describing atrocities committed by Contras upon captured Sandinistas in one instance; "(a woman) had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken, their testicles cut off. They were killed by slitting their throats and pulling the tongue out through the slit."

The date of McCain's resignation is an issue. Did he remain involved with the USCWF after the Contras' atrocities became widely known? If McCain resigned upon becoming suspicious of USCWF activities, then his resignation is a testament to his honor. If he maintained the association after it became clear that the USCWF supported the Contras, and by extension, the Contras' terror tactics, then McCain's honor becomes questionable. Either way, McCain's character is on the line at a time when the McCain campaign appears to have decided to make the 2008 Presidential Election a contest between McCain's and Obama's characters, as at this point, given Obama's steady rise in the polls, that might be the only hand Team McCain has left to play.

Obama met Ayers in the early days of his political career and at the time he didn't know about Ayers's past involvement with the Weather Underground. McCain apparently became involved with the USCWF before he fully understood the ethical and/or political ramifications of having his name appear on its letterhead.

My goal isn't to paint McCain as an ardent supporter of terrorism, and I don't have any reason to think that he is. However, I do mean to illustrate that McCain, who is someone embraced by conservatives and respected by many others in America for his military service, his honor, and his character, has in many ways a far more direct association with terrorism than Obama has via his flimsy association with Ayers. The fact that the Contras were fighting a Leftist (read: "commie") government didn't give them the right to kill, rape, and torture. Being in the service of Right-wing (read: "American") ideologues doesn't entitle one to a pass on the use of terror either.

The McCain Campaign might want to think twice about playing the guilt-by-association card.

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