The Iran-Contra Affair


The tangled U.S. foreign-policy scandal known as the Iran-contra
affair came to light in November 1986 when President Ronald Reagan said yes
to reports that the United States had secretly sold arms to Iran. He said
that the goal was to improve relations with Iran, not to get releases of
U.S. hostages held in the Middle East by terrorists (although he later
agreed that the arrangement had in fact turned into an arms-for-hostages
swap). People spoke out against dealings with the hostile Iranian
government all over the place. Later in November, Att. Gen. Edwin Meese
discovered that some of the arms profits had been used to aid the
Nicaraguan "contra" rebels at a time when Congress had prohibited such aid.
An Independent special prosecutor, former federal judge Lawrence E. Walsh,
wa appointed to investigate the activities of persons involved in the arms
sale or contra aid or both, including marine Lt. Col. Oliver North of the
National Security Council (NSC) staff.

Reagan appointed a review board headed by former Republican senator
John Tower. The Tower commission\'s report in February 1987 criticized the
president\'s passive management style. In a nationaly televised address on
March 4, Reagan accepted the reports judgement without serious
disagreement.

Select committees of the Senate (11 members chaired by Democrat
Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii) and the house of representatives (15 members,
headed by another Democrat, Lee Hamilton of Indiana) conducted televised
hearings in partnership from May to August. They heard evidence that a few
members of the NSC staff set Iran and Nicaragua policies and carried them
out with secret private operatives and that the contras received only a
small part of the money. Former national security advisor John Poindexter
stated that he personally authorized the diversion of money and withheld
that information from the president. William J. Casey, the director of the
Central Intelligence Agency, who died in May 1989, was implicated in some
testimony. His testomony still remained in doubt. Clearly however, the
strange events shook the nation\'s faith in President Reagan and ruined U.
S. prestige abroad. Special prosecutor Walsh continued his investigation.
On March 11, 1988 Poindexter\'s forerunner as national security advisor
Robert McFarlane pleaded guilty to criminal charges of witholding
information from Congress on secret aid to the contras. A year later,
Peter McFariane was fined $20,000 and given two years probation. On March
16, 1988, a federal grand jury indicted North, Poindexter, and two other
persons on a number of charges including conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
government. The trials were delayed by legal maneuvering that in part
involved questions of releasing secret information. In May 1989 a jury
convicted North of 3 of the 12 criminal counts he was ultimately tried on.
In July the court fined North 150,000 and gave him a three- year suspended
sentence.

The North convictions were later set aside by a federal appeals court,
which found defects in the trial procedure. On April 7, 1990, Poindexter
was convicted on 5 counts of deceiving congressional investigators and
sentenced to six months in prison. In July 1991, Alan D. Fiers, Jr., CIA
chief of covert operations in Central America in 1984-86, admitted that he
had lied to Congress and that there had been a CIA Iran-contra cover up.
Shortly after, his CIA superior Clair E. George was indicted.