A Brief History
On March 16, 1988, Marine Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) Oliver North and National Security Adviser Vice Admiral John Poindexter were indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Despite legislation specifically prohibiting the aiding of the “Contra” rebels in Nicaragua (the Boland Amendment to the 1982 Appropriations Bill), North had masterminded a shell game of maneuvering funds in order to finance them.
As if blatant disregard for the law was not bad enough, part of the conspiracy that became known as the Iran-Contra Affair included selling weapons to Iran to fund the Contras and possibly to encourage the release of American hostages in Lebanon. To tangle the web he was weaving even more, North developed a cozy relationship with Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega to get his help in destroying Nicaraguan economic targets in exchange for a free hand dealing drugs in the U.S. and perhaps some extra cash.
When the politically embarrassing information became public in 1986, President Ronald Reagan was forced to fire North from his position with the National Security Council. North was more or less on hold for the next year until he retired from the Marine Corps and testified before Congress in 1987. It was discovered that he had shredded documents and destroyed evidence at the behest of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Casey and the previous National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane.
North was indicted on 16 felony counts, and in 1989 was convicted of 3 of them: 1) accepting an illegal gratuity; 2) aiding and abetting the obstruction of a congressional inquiry; 3) and ordering his secretary, Fawn Hall, to destroy evidence. The immunity granted him during congressional hearings prevented his testimony from being used against him and spared him from further convictions. Sentenced to 3 years in prison (suspended), a $150,000 fine and, of course, community service, North’s convictions were overturned in 1990 with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as his inadmissible testimony was deemed to have swayed witnesses. The convictions were dismissed despite stringent efforts by the prosecution to avoid any such pitfalls, with research showing that no undue influence had taken place. (Justice in the U.S. is a joke. Just saying…)
Disturbing allegations and innuendo about North’s involvement with setting up and aiding drug trafficking by Noriega and the Contras was investigated by Congress, but no further charges were filed. North went on to become a conservative spokesman, a failed candidate for the Senate (after raising over $20 million) and a radio and television host. He even appeared on the Jerry Springer Show and was parodied on Saturday Night Live.
North founded a tax-exempt foundation to further the cause of national defense called the Freedom Alliance which has since raised millions of dollars but has also been criticized for failing to spend an appropriate amount on conservative causes. He also sits on the board of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and has addressed their conventions.
So, the question remains, is Oliver North a patriot or traitor? Was he just doing his duty as best he knew how and was “thrown under the bus” by Ronald Reagan et al. when they were found out? Or was he a loose cannon who blatantly disregarded the law in a Machiavellian scheme during the Cold War? He remains a hero to many Marines and to many conservatives, while liberals tend to discount him as a crook. What do you think?
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For more information, please see…
Byrne, Malcolm. Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power. University Press of Kansas, 2014.
North, Oliver and William Novak. Under Fire – An American Story. Post Hill Press, 2013.