1982 December 21

Road to the Iran-Contra Scandal: First Boland Amendment Passed


Congress, on this day, passed the first Boland Amendment, which prohibited the CIA or the Defense Department from spending any money to assist the anti-Communist Contras in Nicaragua. (Congress passed further Boland Amendments in 1983 and 1984.) The Boland Amendments set the stage for the Iran-Contra scandal that eventually engulfed the administration of President Ronald Reagan. Reagan and his CIA Director William Casey were deeply committed to fighting communism at every opportunity around the world, even if it involved breaking the law — as the Iran-Contra scandal 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, 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 National Security Council staff member Oliver North shredded key documents as part of the cover-up (November 21, 1986). 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 more: Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne, The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History (1993)

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

Learn more about the Iran-Contra scandal: http://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/iran-contra-affairs.php

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