Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix IV Segment 2/23
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Times efforts to protect the required fact are illuminating. After LeMoyne's statement appeared, the media monitoring organization FAIR wrote the Times asking it to share LeMoyne's "ample evidence" with its readers. Their letter was not published, but they received a private communication from foreign editor Joseph Lelyveld acknowledging that LeMoyne had been "imprecise."8

After the September 1987 acknowledgement that the charges were "imprecise," the Times had many opportunities to correct the imprecision, and used them -- to repeat the charges that are privately acknowledged to be without merit. Thus, in his contribution to the media barrage organized in December in connection with the Sandinista defector Roger Miranda, LeMoyne announced that in response to Miranda's charges, Defense Minister Ortega "seemed indirectly to confirm the existence of Sandinista assistance to Salvadoran rebels." This is LeMoyne's rendition of Ortega's statement that the Reagan administration had no right to produce such charges given its arming of the contras. What Ortega went on to say, unreported, is that "the Salvadoran guerrillas have some resources and ways to get weapons" and they "are basically armed through their own efforts," not depending "on outside sources; they are self-sufficient." Thus Ortega's denial of Nicaraguan support for Salvadoran guerrillas is neatly converted by LeMoyne and the Times into a "confirmation" of such support.9

LeMoyne's Times colleagues also joined in the fray. Stephen Engelberg wrote that the U.S. government charge "appears to have been confirmed" by Miranda, who "said the Sandinistas were shipping the weapons to El Salvador by sea," that is, via the Gulf of Fonseca.10 The Gulf is thirty kilometers wide, heavily patrolled by U.S. naval vessels and SEAL teams and covered by a radar facility on Tiger Island in the Gulf that is able to locate and track boats not only in that area but far beyond, as discussed in World Court testimony by David MacMichael, the CIA specialist responsible for analyzing the relevant material during the period to which Engelberg refers. Despite these extensive efforts, no evidence could be produced, though Nicaragua, curiously, has no difficulty providing evidence of CIA supplies in the supposedly "symmetrical" situation. It takes a measure of self-control to refrain from ridicule at this point.

After the peace accords were finally dismantled in January 1988, George Volsky wrote that the provision of the accords calling "for all countries to deny the use of their territories to insurgents in neighboring nations...applies mainly to Nicaragua, which is said to be helping rebels in El Salvador, and to Honduras, whose territory is reportedly an important part of the United States-directed contra supply effort."11 Surely a fair summary of the available evidence on the support for irregular and insurrectionist forces outlawed by the accords.

Volsky did not explain why the same provision of the accords is inapplicable to El Salvador, which is also "reportedly" involved in the U.S. support structure for the contras, or to Costa Rica, which "has long been the base for the more liberal faction of the Nicaraguan rebels" and where "the Costa-Rican based contras" continue to operate, as we regularly learn when news reports cite a "contra source in Costa Rica," and as we would learn in greater detail if there were some interest in the facts.12

LeMoyne later warned that if in the future "the Sandinistas [are] found still to be aiding Salvadoran guerrillas," then the peace accords will collapse; he mentioned no similar problem elsewhere. As for Honduras, LeMoyne cautiously observed several months later that its support for the contras "appears to be a direct violation of the accord."13 His colleague, Times military correspondent Bernard Trainor, observed that "To this date, the amount of support provided by the Sandinistas to the Salvadoran guerrillas has never been established conclusively" -- Times jargon to express the fact that no credible evidence has been presented since a trickle of aid flowed for a few months seven years earlier, well after the U.S.-backed security forces had launched a "war of extermination and genocide against a defenseless civilian population" (Bishop Rivera y Damas, the successor of the assassinated Archbishop Romero).14

So required doctrine is established.

No less interesting is the fact that it is taken for granted by hawks and doves alike that it would have been a major crime to provide the defenseless civilian population with means to defend themselves against a war of extermination and genocide -- at least, when the war is conducted by U.S. clients, with U.S. support and, as it reached its climax, direct organization and participation. To have provided victims of Pol Pot with arms to defend themselves, had this been possible, would have been considered a sign of true nobility. It is enlightening that such simple observations as these, and their obvious import, are next to unintelligible.

In late 1988, LeMoyne completed his four-year assignment as New York Times correspondent in El Salvador, and took the occasion to publish a comprehensive analysis of aid to the Salvadoran guerrillas.15 Fifteen months had passed since he had written, shortly after the signing of the peace accords, of the "ample evidence" that Nicaraguan aid to the guerrillas in El Salvador was so extensive that "it is questionable how long they could survive without it." Fourteen months had passed since the foreign editor of the Times had agreed that the "ample evidence" did not exist, and nine months since he had instructed LeMoyne to devote an entire article to the actual evidence, such as it may be (see note 8). The results of this nine-month inquiry merit a careful look.

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8 Extra!, Oct.-Nov. 1987. In a letter of March 11, 1988, Lelyveld informed FAIR that he had instructed LeMoyne "to devote an entire article to what the current evidence shows on this point" (Extra!, Sept./Oct. 1988, pointing out that "six months later, no such article has appeared"). See below.

9 Humberto Ortega, FBIS-LAT-87-239, Dec. 14, 1987; LeMoyne, Dec. 20, 1987.

10 NYT, Dec. 18, 1987.

11 NYT, Jan. 18, 1988.

12 J. D. Gannon, Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 26, 1988.

13 NYT, Feb. 7, July 4, 1988; my emphasis.

1 Trainor, NYT, April 3, 1988; Rivera y Damas, Oct. 26, 1980, cited by Bonner, Weakness and Deceit, 207.

15 "Salvador Rebels: Where Do They Get the Arms?", NYT, Nov. 24, 1988. Whether by accident or not, this article appeared a month after FAIR had made public the failure of the Times to deal with the issue despite the promise of the foreign editor; see note 8.