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An American Contra : The Confused Life and Mysterious Death of Steven Carr

May 31, 1987|MICHAEL FESSIER JR. | Michael Fessier Jr. is the author of "In Search of the Chicken Cackler and Other Unlikely Missions," to be published by Capra Press.

PRISON

LA REFORMA PRISON SITS IN THE middle of farmland and orchards 15 miles north of San Jose. For the first 10 weeks the five gringos shared a 12-by-20-foot cell with 10 other prisoners. Then Frenchy Chauffard got into a fight and was sent to solitary. Around the same time, John Davies and Robert Thompson got themselves moved to other cells.

They wanted to distance themselves from the publicity campaign that Carr and Glibbery had planned. They were all feeling hung out to dry by then. No one had come forward to help them, and Glibbery and Carr had decided to go on the offensive and tell their story to the world press. Their thinking was that if they told what they knew, the presiding powers would be embarrassed and they'd be let out.

But Glibbery and Carr didn't have a firm grip on who those powers were, or how they operated. They were Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in "Hamlet," minor characters in a complex drama they knew mostly at second hand. Once they made a pyramid chart of the names of all the 20 or so men they thought to have contributed to their predicament. At the top--hardly more than a rumor--was Lt. Col. Oliver North.

"It's surprising how transient loyalty is between employer and employee," Glibbery, the philosophical engineering school dropout, remarked.

"When it comes down to it, all you have to depend on is your friends," Carr said.

The FBI came to look into the matter and so did a representative of contra-aid opponent Sen. John Kerry. Still nothing happened.

"I'll tell you what is weird," Steven Carr said to Peter Glibbery. "For the first time in my life I'm telling the truth, and nobody believes me." More to the point, perhaps, was that 18 months before the Iran-contra scandal broke, and nearly two years before the Tower Commission Report, people simply didn't care very much.

TELEVISION

THE GRAY-HAIRED MAN ON THE HORSE was being asked some questions by an American reporter. "I'm an Indiana farm boy," the man was saying. "Absolutely nothing else."

"Just an Indiana farm boy?"

The man on the horse was drinking a Coke and did not flinch when the interviewer suggested that maybe he was more than he said. That maybe he also did some work for the CIA in his part of Costa Rica. Hadn't he been helping the contras, staging raids into Nicaragua? "I only give humanitarian aid," John Hull said.

American television viewers saw John Hull last June on a segment of CBS' "West 57th Street." And he didn't look like a CIA man. Nothing slick or shifty about him at all. Short gray hair, generous schnoz, plain shirt. Farmer all the way.

Then, a young man appeared on the screen. He didn't look like who he was supposed to be either--an American who fought with the contras. Deadpan, round face that a mustache didn't do much for. He said John Hull gave him his orders, told him where to go.

When they went back to Hull and told him what the young man had said, Hull momentarily lost his easygoing manner: "Steven Carr is the dregs of humanity," he said. "He's been in trouble all his life. He's the kind of dregs the communists use to push their side."

Carr, in turn, did not appear even slightly perturbed by Hull's denial. "I wouldn't know anything about John Hull unless he told me," he said a little wearily. "Anyway, how many people could come up to you and admit, 'I'm the CIA guy in Costa Rica?' "

The interviewer, Jane Wallace, had no answer.

PRISON, CONTINUED

FOR STEVEN CARR, PRISON WAS A TIME for writing letters and giving interviews. He also read the Bible cover to cover twice. He told Glibbery his conclusion: "I think God has me in here to keep me out of trouble."

The months passed and still no sign of release, no trial date, nothing. Not that La Reforma was the worst prison in Central America--it might even have been the best. Money helped, and Carr's father, the IBM executive, sent him a hundred a month via the American consul. With it he could buy from the prison store such necessities as Coca-Cola and razor blades and, from other sources, marijuana. This was slightly ironic: There were men serving 10-year terms at La Reforma for growing outside what they could buy inside.

Carr's interview persona was consistently cool and blase, yet in reality he was moody and down a lot, unsure of himself. Sometimes he banged his head against the cell wall and yelled in frustration. Once he said to Glibbery: "You know this stuff just isn't worth it. When I get out I'm going to give up all this mercenary crap."

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