1987 July 7

Oliver North’s Iran-Contra Testimony Begins; Defends Violations of the Law


Lt. Col. Oliver North, a central figure in the Iran-Contra affair, began his testimony on this day before the Congressional investigation of the scandal. In fact, it was North’s “neat idea” to secretly sell arms to Iran and use the profits to support the anti-Communist Contras in Nicaragua, both of which were violations of American law. After the scandal first broke, North and his aides shredded key documents as part of a cover-up of the affair (November 21, 1986). In his testimony, North was unapologetic about his actions as a staff member of the National Security Council, and in fact turned the tables on the committee, belligerently presenting himself as a patriot who did what needed to be done to protect the U.S. from the threat of international Communism. President Ronald Reagan and his CIA Director William Casey were fierce anti-Communists, determined to fight what they saw as communist threats anywhere in the world. They were both committed to this effort, even if it meant violating the law and established policies, as the Iran-Contra affair revealed.

In brief, he Iran-Contra scandal was a complex affair in which the Reagan administration sold military arms to Iran in exchange for American hostages, and the profits from the sales were used to secretly fund the anti-Communist Contras in Nicaragua. The arrangement violated the Arms Embargo Act and the Boland Amendment prohibiting aid to Nicaraguan forces (see December 21, 1982), as well as the established policy of not negotiating with terrorists over hostages. When President Reagan approved one set of illegal actions on December 7, 1985, his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense both joked with him about going to prison (“visiting hours are on Thursday,” one of them said). President Reagan and some of his aides lied to cover up the affair and destroyed evidence, including Oliver North’s burning of vital documents. In the end, eight administration officials were convicted of crimes related to the affair (President George H. W. Bush pardoned six of them on December 24, 1992.

The Iran-Contra affair is particularly important because it demonstrated the readiness of an ideologically driven administration to violate the law and controls over national security in the pursuit of its policies. President George W. Bush also violated a variety of laws in the war on terrorism, authorizing both illegal NSA spying (see the exposure by the New York Times on December 16, 2005) and torture (see the infamous “Torture Memo” on August 1, 2002).

Learn about the Iran-Contra scandal: Theodore Draper, A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affairs (1991)

Read North’s testimony: Oliver North, Taking the Stand (1987)

Watch Oliver North’s testimony in the Iran-Contra investigation hearingshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yhroz1tvk-A

Learn more at a timeline on the Iran-Contra scandal: http://www.ibiblio.org/sullivan/CNN/RWR/ps174/icontra/ictimtxt.htm

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