By Chris Fry
“In 1991, you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information to Congress regarding your involvement [in] the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.”
This is how Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar opened her fiery confrontation with Elliott Abrams, Trump’s Special Envoy to Venezuela, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on U.S. policy towards that country.
“If I could respond to that,” Abrams said, quickly leaning into the microphone.
“That wasn’t a question,” Omar shot back.
Iran-Contra was a U.S. imperialist conspiracy conducted in the 1980s, where the Reagan regime secretly sold weapons to Iran. The U.S. was supporting both sides in the internecine Iran-Iraq war in order to weaken both countries and profit from the arms sales. Oliver North of the U.S. National Security Council used proceeds from these arms sales to fund the Contra terrorist guerrillas in Nicaragua, who waged a brutal war against the people in order to overturn the Sandinista government.
Fourteen Reagan top officials were indicted and 11 were convicted, including Elliott Abrams, for withholding evidence to Congress. All 11 were pardoned in 1991 by co-conspirator George H.W. Bush.
Congresswoman Omar then referenced Abrams’ 1982 testimony before Congress, where he scoffed at press reports that exposed the El Mozote massacre, where U.S.-trained El Salvadoran soldiers butchered 800 civilians, Abrams called the reports “communist propaganda.” Abrams was Reagan’s “point man” for the U.S. in El Salvador and managed many brutal massacres that occurred throughout Central America.
A 1992 U.N. Truth Commission report stated: “On 10 December 1981, in the village of El Mozote in the Department of Morazán, units of the Atlacatl Battalion detained, without resistance, all the men, women and children who were in the place. The following day, 11 December, after spending the night locked in their homes, they were deliberately and systematically executed in groups. First, the men were tortured and executed, then the women were executed and, lastly, the children, in the place where they had been locked up.
Omar said to Abrams: “You later said that the U.S. policy in El Salvador was a ‘fabulous achievement.’ Yes or no: do you still think so?”
“From the day that President Duarte was elected in a free election to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy,” Abrams said. “That’s a fabulous achievement.”
Omar responded: “Yes or no: Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?”
“That’s a ridiculous question, and I will not respond to it,” Abrams said, visibly agitated.
“Yes or no?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.
By exposing Abrams’ history of atrocities in Latin America, Omar has thrown a wrench into Trump’s and indeed U.S. imperialism’s plans for a bloody intervention in Venezuela, which contains the largest reserves of oil.
Ilhan Omar: the first African, the first refugee
Ilhan Omar was born in and emigrated from Mogadishu, Somalia. Her mother died when she was two. Omar spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya after her family escaped the civil war in Somalia, which U.S. imperialism had inflamed.
Omar was a community nutrition educator and coordinator in the large Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis, which has been under siege by the Justice Department for some years when several young Somalis were recruited by the Islamic State, some receiving 60-year prison sentences. Omar has been attacked for sending a message in 2012 asking for some semblance of mercy from the courts for these youth.
Omar won her seat in Congress with a remarkable 70 percent of the vote. She is the first African-born person to be elected to Congress, as well as the first refugee.
Wall Street minions join forces to attack Omar
For her rebuke of Abrams, Omar was of course condemned by the whole universe of right-wing Republicans. How did Democratic elites respond? “[Several pounced] to defend the Trump administration’s backer of death squads against Omar’s pointed questioning. Kelly Magsamen, a senior official at the Center for American Progress, defended Abrams on Twitter as a ‘fierce advocate for human rights and democracy.’ Likewise, Nicholas Burns, a 27-year diplomat who most recently advised former secretary of state John Kerry, praised Abrams as a ‘devoted public servant. It’s time to build bridges in America,’ Burns wrote, ‘and not tear people down.’”
Omar’s confrontation with Abrams comes just days after she released a tweet answering one by journalist Glenn Greenwald referring to attacks against her and Rashida Tlaib, another Muslim Congresswoman, from Detroit. Greenwald’s tweet said, “It’s stunning how much time U.S. political leaders spend defending a foreign nation (Zionist Israel) even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.” Omar tweeted back, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” The word Benjamins refers to $100 dollar bills with Ben Franklin’s face on it, and Omar was exposing the huge influence that the lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has on both parties in Congress.
Both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy viciously attacked Omar’s statement as “anti-Semitic” for daring to suggest that a huge pro-Israel lobby had an undue influence on U.S. policy. “Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” Pelosi said in an outrageously misleading statement issued by her office and signed by other Democratic leaders.
McCarthy and other House Republicans are demanding that Omar be punished by removing her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They equate Omar’s anti-AIPAC tweet with Congressman Steve King’s years of white supremacist statements and actions, which they ignored for years in tacit support.
In an interview for the Real News network, Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Foreign Affairs Institute, describes AIPAC this way: “It includes a whole host of fundamentalist Christian organizations, it includes most of the arms industry in this country, which makes a killing, if you will, on selling arms to Israel because the U.S. gives them money, which goes to arms that goes to Israel, 3.8 billion dollars every year.”
An article in the Chicago Tribune describes AIPAC’s methods to win Congress’ support: “One way the organization has made a mark on Congress is through expense-paid travel junkets to Israel, which are paid for by an affiliated nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors. The popular weeklong excursions for members of Congress, their families and some senior staff can cost upward of $12,000 per person and are intended to ‘educate political leaders and influencers about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship through firsthand experiences.’”
Forced to issue an apology by this intense political pressure, Omar made certain that she still stood firm in her stance against AIPAC and other big business lobbyists: “…I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry,” Omar said. “It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”
Of course, after Omar’s firm statement, Donald “Nazis Are Good People” Trump announced that the congresswoman was “anti-Semitic” and should be forced to resign.
Ilhan Omar’s militant stand against this vicious united ruling class onslaught has won her widespread support among many progressive organizations and activists. Her courageous stance, even her mere presence in the reactionary arena that is the U.S. Congress, along with other Congresswomen from the oppressed communities, shows that a rising tide of struggle is emerging against this U.S. imperialist bastion.