An ambassador, someone cynically once said, is sent abroad to lie for his country. U.S. career diplomat John D. Negroponte confused that with lying to his country. As U.S. ambassador to Honduras during the early '80s, Mr. Negroponte systematically suppressed reports to Washington describing kidnappings and murders of political dissidents by a secret unit of the Honduran army. Instead he was responsible for false reports to Washington that portrayed the Honduran regime as committed to democracy and the rule of law.
Why should an experienced U.S. diplomat send false reports to the State Department concealing damaging information about the nation he was assigned to? Simple. For one thing, some of his superiors wanted it that way. They weren't fooled. They were part of a conspiracy to mislead Congress and the U.S. public. The Reagan administration, which dispatched Mr. Negroponte to replace an ambassador who was reporting unwelcome facts, had an overriding policy objective in Central America: to stop what it perceived as a threatened communist takeover. Nothing else mattered.
Each year, U.S. embassies report on human rights abuses and the State Department passes the information on to Congress. Nations that consistently violate human rights are barred from receiving U.S. military aid. By ignoring the clear, unavoidable evidence that Hondurans were being kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered by a special unit under the command of the army chief of staff, the Reagan administration was able to boost military aid to Honduras from $3.9 million in 1980 to $77.4 million four years later.
Mr. Negroponte later told a Senate panel he never saw any "convincing substantiation" that the notorious unit was "involved death squad type activities." If so, he outdid the three monkeys who saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke no evil. The evidence was all around him, including in his own embassy. A diplomat who tried to write a truthful human rights report was ordered to remove the damaging information. More than 300 articles about military abuses appeared in Honduran newspapers that year. Hundreds marched through the capital in protests. A dissident Honduran legislator personally appealed to Mr. Negroponte.
In the last of four articles resulting from a 14-month investigation, Sun reporters Ginger Thompson and Gary Cohn quote liberally from the 1982 and 1983 human rights reports on Honduras. Each quotation is matched by persuasive evidence it is a shameless lie. Even the Honduran government has now acknowledged the atrocities. But not Mr. Negroponte, the hard-line cold warrior who considered Henry Kissinger a softie on Vietnam.
Now ambassador to the Philippines, Mr. Negroponte has refused to respond to questions repeatedly directed at him by The Sun. But he can't ignore pointed questions from President Clinton, whose personal representative in Manila is Mr. Negroponte. Despite the State Department's support of Mr. Negroponte, the president can't possibly want someone of this ilk representing the U.S. abroad.