by Pablo Alvarado, Co-Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)
In a more just world, Elliott Abrams would be in prison, or at least in exile. He would be sent to a hall of infamy with the other cold war hawks and hardliners and death-squad sympathizers, to do nothing else for the rest of his days but ponder his guilt and think about the innocent dead. About the slaughtered civilians whose blood indelibly stains his reputation, thanks to the disastrous wars he supported, the murderous dictators he defended, the massacres he helped cover up.
The last place this toxic official belongs is anywhere near a position of government service representing the American people in 2023 at a moment when our cherished values of democracy and human rights feel more precarious than ever.
When I heard that President Biden had nominated Abrams to the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, an agency within the State Department, I was sickened. The commission is a nonpartisan panel whose job is to study and assess how the United States does its job in conveying its policies and values to the world. It is supposed to keep tabs on U.S. diplomacy.
But for half a century working under a succession of American presidents, Abrams has represented the worst of American diplomacy. He has sided with tyranny over democracy, violence and torture over peace, the powerful elite over the oppressed poor. He schemed to support brutal regimes in Central America, defying Congress and breaking the law. He lied to Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980’s. He supported the catastrophic decision to invade Iraq and the pointless war that followed.
He dismissed and downplayed news reports about a right-wing military massacre of civilians (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/05/13/us-role-el-mozote-massacre-still-echoes-immigration-today/) in December 1981 in El Mozote, the Salvadoran village whose name is a symbol for the sickening war crimes the United States tolerated and fostered in the name of anti-communism.
The name El Mozote is too little known in the United States. But countless Salvadorans and others across Latin America will never forget it. It is as if we can still hear the screams of those who were raped, tortured, murdered — more than 1,000 victims, including 500 children — to this very day.
Here is a brief account from The Washington Post that gives a taste of what happened:
“The victims’ bodies were dumped behind houses, in the fields, in the dirt roads, left to rot or be burned. Villagers scurried to hide in a nearby cave. After a night listening to sporadic gunfire, explosions and screams outside, one woman took her infant baby down to a stream to wash. She was spotted by a soldier, who followed her to the cave and, perhaps for the sake of efficiency, perhaps just following orders, pulled the pin on a grenade and chucked it into the cave. Another child in the cave, a 6-year-old boy, was shielded from the shrapnel by his father. He survived. So did the father, who was temporarily deafened, and brother, who was bleeding from his ears. His mother died, and his 3-day-old sister’s legs were blown off. She died, too.”
Like Henry Kissinger, with his Nobel Peace Prize and his birthday best wishes from fawning celebrities and media personalities, Elliott Abrams is an apologist and a vile enabler of atrocities who somehow keeps coming back to the scene of his many crimes giving lectures about the meaning of freedom. He is a fixture in power-elite circles who seems completely immune to self-reflection or the pangs of conscience. He is a symbol of impunity and hypocrisy.
Abrams is drawn to power and to Presidents. He worked for President Trump, and unless something changes, will now work for President Biden. A cloud of amnesia protects him. So does his shamelessness. And all of us are complicit if we remain silent when he speaks in our national name.
Elliot Abrams’s invitation into President Biden’s top diplomatic circles is symptomatic of a much bigger problem with this Administration, particularly when it comes to its disregard and mistreatment of Central Americans. When Biden took office, he promised to repudiate the xenophobic cruelty of his predecessor, especially when it came to respecting the rights of refugees forced to flee their homes because of US foreign policy. He vowed to treat migrants at the border with humanity and respect, and to swiftly pursue legal Channels to migration, legalization, citizenship, and political equality — from Day One.
But in practice, the Biden Administration has perpetuated the bigotry of the Trump presidency. Especially in its treatment of Central Americans, in its policies of deterrence and imprisonment, of long waits and swift removals for asylum seekers at the border, of the blunt message voiced by the Vice President and Homeland Security Secretary to Guatemalans: “Do Not Come.”
The practical end of the U.S. asylum system, the solid entrenchment of police-state enforcement and mass imprisonment in El Salvador, the persistence of family detention, the utter hopelessness of legislative immigration reforms — all of these have happened and are happening on Biden’s watch. And the resurrection of Elliott Abrams is now part of that sorry record.
Central Americans are uniquely deprived of basic rights by the United States, both here and abroad. Republican candidates for president scapegoat us. Democrats ignore us. President Biden’s basic case for the votes of naturalized Americans like myself is that he is a lesser of two evils.
Elliot Abrams alone can cleanse his own filthy reputation. He should be seeking forgiveness, and working toward some form of restorative justice, not angling for yet another job in the U.S. government. But in the absence of some atonement, Biden should withdraw his nomination and wash his hands of that horrible, blood-soaked man. It is the bare minimum he should be doing to make things right.
(Photo: José Luis Magana/ Associated Press)