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The GOP's Long, Sordid History of Shameless Hostage-Taking

Democrats have faced Republican strategies of grabbing hostages for decades and have quietly given in, paying ransom again and again. Will that change?

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Over the past three decades, some two dozen witnesses – including senior Iranian officials, top French intelligence officers, U.S. and Israeli intelligence operatives, the Russian government and even Palestine leader Yasir Arafat – have confirmed the existence of a Republican initiative to interfere with Carter’s efforts to free the hostages.

In 1996, for instance, during a meeting in Gaza, Arafat personally told former President Carter that senior Republican emissaries approached the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1980 with a request that Arafat help broker a delay in the hostage release.

“You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the elections,” Arafat told Carter, according to historian Douglas Brinkley who was present. [Diplomatic History, Fall 1996]

Arafat’s spokesman Bassam Abu Sharif said the GOP gambit pursued other channels, too. In an interview with me in Tunis in 1990, Bassam indicated that Arafat learned upon reaching Iran in 1980 that the Republicans and the Iranians had made other arrangements for a delay in the hostage release.

“The offer [to Arafat] was, ‘if you block the release of hostages, then the White House would be open for the PLO’,” Bassam said. “I guess the same offer was given to others, and I believe that some accepted to do it and managed to block the release of hostages.”

In a little-noticed letter to the U.S. Congress, dated Dec. 17, 1992, former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr said he first learned of the Republican hostage initiative in July 1980. Bani-Sadr said a nephew of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, returned from a meeting with an Iranian banker and CIA asset, Cyrus Hashemi, who had close ties to Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey and to Casey’s business associate, John Shaheen.

Bani-Sadr said the message from the Khomeini emissary was clear: Republicans were in league with elements of the CIA in an effort to undermine Carter and were demanding Iran’s help.

Bani-Sadr said the emissary “told me that if I do not accept this proposal they [the Republicans] would make the same offer to my rivals.” The emissary added that the Republicans “have enormous influence in the CIA,” Bani-Sadr wrote. “Lastly, he told me my refusal of their offer would result in my elimination.”

Bani-Sadr said he resisted the GOP scheme, but the plan was accepted by the hard-line Khomeini faction. The American hostages remained captive through the Nov. 4, 1980, election which Reagan won handily. They were released immediately after Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981. [For more details, see Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Though some Carter advisers suspected Republican manipulation of the hostage crisis, the Democrats again kept silent. Only after the Iran-Contra scandal broke in 1986 – and witnesses began talking about its origins – did the 1980 story, known as the October Surprise case, get fleshed out enough to compel Congress to take a closer look in 1991-1992.

Again, however the Democrats feared that the evidence could endanger the fragile political relationships of Washington that enable governing to go forward. Once more, they chose to ignore the GOP machinations and, in some cases, literally hid the evidence. [For instance, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Key October Surprise Evidence Hidden.”]

Teaching Gingrich

By caving in on the October Surprise investigation in early 1993 – out of a desire for political comity and bipartisanship – Democrats, in effect, set the stage for more Republican hardball strategies directed against President Bill Clinton.

The Republicans showed that their growing media machine – though built for defense against Democratic investigations – could play offense equally well. The machine could manufacture “scandals” about Clinton as easily as it could disassemble threats to Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush.

 
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