Contragate revisited

October 16, 1991

Out of Control: The Story of the Reagan Administration's Secret War in Nicaragua, the Illegal Arms Pipeline, and the Contra Drug Connection
By Leslie Cockburn,
Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd
Reviewed by Mark Delmege

Panamanian strong man Manuel Noriega once made the claim that he had George Bush by the balls. His trial in a US court has begun and may last well into next year. Leslie Cockburn's book provides a background to issues likely to be raised at his trial.

Cockburn is an award-winning journalist and former CBS News producer. She put this brilliant book together in the dying days of Reagan's presidency. Reagan himself gets little more than a passing mention; it is George Bush's name that recurs throughout.

This is a tale of covert operations, assassination, drug running, murder, arms transfers, the contras and illegality and corruption at the highest levels of government.

Government officials in North and Central America assisted drug and weapons traffic to help finance the war against Nicaragua. Their rationale was that the Boland Amendment prohibited the US government from funding the Contras directly, so means were required to fund them covertly. Drug and arms sales were the answer.

Oliver North, William Casey, George Shultz, Admiral Poindexter, George Bush were all players in this charade. But as three investigations have shown, the president, the CIA and their allies are largely above the law.

Some of the actors will be known here. Arms merchant Khashoggi was a guest of the Horgans in WA a few years ago. Ted Shackley, covert specialist at the time of Whitlam's sacking in 1975, also gets a mention as does the Nugan Hand Bank.

Noriega's trial could reopen public debate on this whole sorry episode, but if recent history is any guide, secret court proceedings and a corrupt and lazy press will ensure that difficult questions remain unasked.

I bought my copy of this hard back for a discounted $10, but the chances are that you will need to order it though your local bookshop.

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