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THE IRAN--CONTRA HEARINGS : Excerpts: Possible to Disagree and Still Love God and Country

July 14, 1987|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON Following are excerpts from testimony Monday by Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and remarks by members of the Senate and House committees investigating the Iran-contra affair:

Covert Operations

(Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) questioned North on the legality of covert operations to aid the Nicaraguan rebels.)

Question: Now, under the law, for any agency of government, other than the Central Intelligence Agency, to conduct a covert operation, three things must occur. First is that the President must specifically designate that agency to conduct operations. The second is that the President must make a finding authorizing this particular covert operation and finding it in the national interest. . . . And the third thing that the law requires is that Congress be notified, and, as you've testified that did not occur.

Answer: . . . But the law, as I understand it, requires that the President notify the Congress in a timely manner. . . . And, second of all, it is in regards to operations involving the use of appropriated funds. And I think these are important omissions that have not been entered in the record.

Q: So, all right then, let me go back to the first two. . . . Since you've testified that you conducted a covert operation, and since you've further testified that the President neither designated the National Security Council to conduct covert operations, nor did he make a finding authorizing this covert operation, what was the legal basis for your activities with respect to this covert operation?

A: The fact is that the President can do what he wants with his own staff. The National Security Council staff is not included within the constraints that are depicted in either the executive order or the NSDD (National Security Decision Directive) as an intelligence agency. And thus, in neither case does the law provide that the President had to do what you are saying he had to do.

Q: You have testified that as a member of the National Security Council staff, you conducted a covert operation. And my question is did the President specifically designate the National Security Council staff for that purpose?

A: . . . I think what I have said consistently is that I believed the President has the authority to do what he wants with his own staff, and that I was a member of that staff . . . and that in pursuing the President's foreign policy goals of support for the Nicaraguan resistance, he was fully within his rights to send us off to talk to foreign heads of state, to seek the assistance of those foreign heads of state, to use other than U.S. government monies, and to do so without a finding. I would also point out again that that language right here in paragraph two of the NSDD extract that you have, is taken directly from the executive order. . . . If the President chooses to waive his own executive orders, or chooses to waive the provisions of his own NSDDs, which do not have the force of law, it is fully within his rights to do so.

Q: But the President told the Tower board, and I quote: "The President told the board on Jan. 26, 1987, that he did not know the NSC staff was engaged in helping the contras." And therefore, the President could not have waived the provisions of the orders as you've described and could not have designated the NSC if, as he said it, he did not know the NSC staff was engaged in helping the contras, could he?

A: . . . The President has since said, I believe publicly, that he was aware of what was being done, and that, in fact, it was at least partially his idea. There is no doubt the President wanted the policy of support for the Nicaraguan resistance pursued, and I did so to the very best of my abilities.

God and Patriotism

MITCHELL: Now, you've addressed several pleas to this committee, very eloquently, none more eloquent than last Friday, when in response to a question from Rep. Dick Cheney, you asked that Congress not cut off aid to the contras "for the love of God and for the love of country." I now address a plea to you. Of all the qualities which the American people find compelling about you, none is more impressing than your obvious deep devotion to country. Please remember that others share that devotion, and recognize it is possible for an American to disagree with you on aid to the contras and still love God and still love his country just as much as you do.

Although he is regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American politics, and in America disagreement with the policies of the government is not evidence of lack of patriotism. I want to repeat that. In America, disagreement with the policies of the government is not evidence of lack of patriotism. Indeed, it is the very fact Americans can criticize their government openly and without fear of reprisal that is the essence of our freedom and that will keep us free.

Secrecy in Government

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