While the O.J. Simpson trial gobbled up endless TV hours and countless news pages, a concurrent criminal trial in Miami went almost unnoticed by the national media, even though it called into question the judgment of three U.S. presidents.
President Clinton's Justice Department had put on trial Teledyne Industries, a major military contractor, and two of its mid-level employees, on charges of selling cluster-bomb parts to a Chilean arms manufacturer, Carlos Cardoen. Cardoen, in turn, allegedly shipped finished bombs to Iraq.
Defense attorneys for the Teledyne employees argued that the CIA, as part of a secret operation that has come to be known as "Iraqgate," had authorized the shipments--a claim that the Reagan/Bush administration had long denied. Since taking office in 1993, the Clinton team has continued that GOP position, stating as recently as Jan. 16 that the administration "did not find evidence that U.S. agencies or officials illegally armed Iraq."
But on Jan. 31, this bipartisan dike finally sprang a leak. Howard Teicher, who served on Reagan's National Security Council staff, offered an affidavit in the Teledyne case that declared that CIA director William J. Casey and his deputy, Robert M. Gates, "authorized, approved and assisted" delivery of cluster bombs to Iraq through Cardoen (In These Times, 3/6/95).
Teicher also described a still-secret National Security Decision Directive signed by President Reagan in June 1982 that set forth a U.S. policy of preventing Iraq from losing its war with Iran. "CIA Director Casey personally spearheaded the effort to ensure that Iraq had sufficient military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to avoid losing the Iran-Iraq war," Teicher stated.
Clinton's Justice Department reacted angrily to the new disclosures. Federal prosecutors attacked Teicher's affidavit as a lie--and then classified it as a state secret. They then succeeded in convincing the trial judge to block Teicher's testimony as irrelevant to the trial of the two Teledyne employees.
One would think that a high-level confession that confirms controversial allegations made against two past presidents might be big news--especially when a third president tries to suppress it. But with the Washington press corps apparently tired of the Reagan/Bush scandals, the Miami trial received scant notice.
The Teicher affidavit merited only a brief reference in a "defense & diplomacy" round-up in the Washington Post (2/4/95). The New York Times also published a cursory account of the new information (2/5/95); almost all other major newspapers ignored it. Indeed, among America's major papers and networks, only the Miami Herald has given the trial regular coverage.
Beyond the Teledyne case itself, the affidavit raises questions about the credibility of leading Reagan/Bush figures. During the 1991 hearings to confirm Robert Gates as CIA director, Gates denied under oath that he had played a role in Cardoen cluster bomb sales to Iraq, as arms dealers had charged. Teicher's affidavit provides new evidence that Gates misled the Senate.
Teicher's affidavit also bolsters a New Yorker article (11/2/92) by reporters Murray Waas and Craig Unger, which asserted that Vice President George Bush in 1986 urged Saddam Hussein to intensify his air war against Iran--in order to increase Iran's demand for U.S.- made anti-aircraft weapons. Appearing two weeks before the '92 election, the New Yorker article was attacked in the conservative press. On the Wall Street Journal's editorial page (10/28/94), Steven Emerson mocked the article as a "Byzantine conspiracy theory."
In one of those post-modern political moments, fictional reporters in the "Doonesbury" comic strip questioned Bush about the New Yorker story. But no real-life reporter covering the Bush campaign asked the president about his tactical air-war advice to Saddam. Now, however, Teicher has corroborated much of the Waas/Unger story.
Given the significance of the Teledyne trial and Teicher's affidavit in judging the actions and integrity of the Reagan/Bush and Clinton administrations, why the near-total press blackout?
Part of it is the power of "conventional wisdom"--Washington insiders have decided that Iraqgate didn't happen, so any evidence to the contrary doesn't register. Another reason might be the residual fear of conservative attacks against journalists who plumb the crimes of the Reagan/Bush era too deeply. It's easier to dismiss such issues as "ancient history"--a term that somehow doesn't get applied to stories about 15-year-old Arkansas land deals.
There's also the media's expectation of star-quality in the age of O.J. After all, the two Teledyne defendants were just anonymous mid-level corporate officials. And besides, the federal judiciary does not permit cameras into the courtrooms.
Robert Parry, who has covered Washington since 1977, is the author of Fooling America and Trick or Treason: The October Surprise Mystery. Trick or Treason can be ordered by calling 1-800-462-6420.