Thursday, October 09, 2008

Exposed! McCain's Own Radical Ties: Contras, Death Squads and Moonies

The GOP Presidential Nominee, in 1980s, Sat on Advisory Board of U.S. Chapter of Far Right-Wing World Anti-Communist League Implicated in Iran-Contra Scandal, Linked to Death Squads in Latin America and Bankrolled by Billionaire Leader of Unification Church Who Served Time in Federal Prison for Income Tax Evasion

His campaign has been hammering away at Barack Obama for days over his relationship with former 1960s radical William Ayres, but John McCain has some past radical connections of his own. In the 1980s, McCain sat on the advisory committee of the U.S. Council for World Freedom, founded by retired U.S. Army Major General John Singlaub (pictured at left), who later headed its parent organization, the far-right World Anti-Communist League -- which received heavy financial support from billionaire Korean evangelist Reverend Sun Myung Moon (pictured at right, with his wife, Hak Ja Han). The League's American chapter aided the right-wing Contra rebels of Nicaragua in their insurgency against the leftist Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega. (Photos courtesy Wikipedia)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, October 9, 2008)


The McCain-Palin campaign has been hammering Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in recent days for his relationship with former far-left 1960s radical William Ayers, with Palin going so far as to accuse Obama of "palling around with terrorists."

But Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain, has had some radical political connections of his own in the 1980s.

It turns out that the Arizona senator once served on the advisory board to the U.S. chapter of a far-right international group linked to a former Nazi collaborator and right-wing death squads in Central America -- and bankrolled by a controversial billionaire evangelist.

The U.S. Council for World Freedom aided the Contra rebels that fought a guerrilla war to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government headed by Daniel Ortega. Their activities were brought to light in the Iran-Contra scandal that severely damaged Ronald Reagan's presidency.

McCain served on the council's advisory board until he resigned following its exposure in the scandal. The council eventually got into legal trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, which revoked the organization's tax-exempt status.

Founded in 1981 by retired U.S. Army Major General John Singlaub, the council was the American chapter of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL), an international right-wing organization heavily financed by the billionaire Korean evangelist, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder and leader of the Unification Church.

Moon was convicted in 1982 on federal charges of filing false income tax returns and conspiracy and spent 18 months in prison.

The 88-year-old Moon -- whose church has been dogged for more than 30 years by accusations that it "brainwashes" its converts -- is best known today for his global media empire, including The Washington Times and the once-venerable United Press International news service, which Moon's News World Communications Inc. purchased in 2000.


McCain's ties to the council have come under renewed scrutiny after his campaign criticized Obama for his link to Ayers, a co-founder of the 1960s radical group Weather Underground, which engaged in a series of domestic terror bombings in 1969 when Obama was only eight years old.

Democratic operative Paul Begala blew the whistle on the Arizona Republican on Sunday, warning on ABC's "This Week" that the McCain campaign's attacks on Obama -- which Begala branded "guilt by association" -- would backfire on McCain by raising questions about McCain's membership on the board of the council, which he branded "an ultraconservative right-wing group."

In two interviews with the Associated Press in August and September, Singlaub, now 87, said McCain became associated with the council in the early 1980s as McCain launched his political career. McCain was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982.

"McCain was a new guy on the block learning the ropes," Singlaub told the AP. "I think I met him in the Washington area when he was just a new congressman. We had McCain on the board to make him feel like he wasn't left out. It looks good to have names on a letterhead who are well-known and appreciated.

"I don't recall talking to McCain at all on the work of the group," Singlaub said.


McCain resigned from the council in 1984 and asked in 1986 to have his name removed from the group's letterhead after its involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal was brought to light.

"I didn't know whether [the council's activity] was legal or illegal, but I didn't think I wanted to be associated with them," McCain said in a 1986 newspaper interview.

The council's support for the Nicaraguan Contras was exposed in 1986, with the Associated Press reporting that, "Singlaub's private group became the public cover for the [Reagan] White House operation."

The scandal revealed a complex operation originally aimed at improving U.S.-Iranian relations, only to see it degenerate into an arms-for-hostages scheme, in which members of the Reagan White House sold weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of 52 Americans held hostage after Iranian radicals stormed U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.


While serving in the House of Representatives, McCain voted for military assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras, a CIA-organized guerrilla force, until Congress cut off funding in 1984.

Top Reagan administration officials promptly ramped up a secret White House-directed supply network run by then-National Security Council aide Oliver North, who relied on retired Air Force Major General Richard Secord to carry out the operation. The goal was to keep the Contras operating until Congress could be persuaded to resume funding.

"It was noted that they were trying to act as suppliers. It was pretty good cover for us," the now-76-year-old Secord, who headed the secret network's field operations, told the AP in an interview on Tuesday.

But the network's covert arms shipments -- which were financed in part by secret arms sales to Iran -- were exposed by the Iran-Contra scandal when it blew up in November 1986 and nearly destroyed Reagan's presidency. North, Secord and other top Reagan administration officials involved were forced to resign. Others, including North, were prosecuted.

The scandal did destroy Singlaub's council, which was stripped of its tax-exempt status in 1986 by the IRS for its activities in support of the Contras. But by that time, Singlaub had been "moved upstairs" to chair the council's parent World Anti-Communist League.


McCain may have had another reason to quit the council aside from the Iran-Contra scandal: Its parent organization's financial backing by Reverend Moon and his Unification Church. Whether McCain actually knew of the council's ties to Moon is unknown.

The Unification Church, famous for its mass wedding ceremonies and whose members are often known in the English-speaking world (with some derision) as the "Moonies," was a major financial backer of the WACL in the 1970s and 1980s, reportedly pumping millions of dollars into the group until the church founded its own anti-communist organization, CAUSA International, after the WACL became embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal.

It is not known what influence, if any, Moon had on the WACL as a result of the Unification Church's largesse. Moon has been among the most controversial of modern religious leaders. He and his followers have been widely criticized, both for their religious beliefs and for their social and political activism.

Moon, who made a name for himself as a fierce crusader against communism, is well known in conservative political circles in the United States. In 1980, Moon indirectly supported Reagan's presidential campaign when he ordered the now-defunct church-owned New York daily newspaper The News World to publish a story with a front-page banner headline predicting a "Reagan Landslide" on the day of the election, before the outcome was known.

This was said to influence the voting when a facsimile of the paper's front page was shown on television being held up by Reagan. On the day after, The News World crowed on its front page, "Thank God! We Were Right!" accompanied by a huge still photo of Reagan holding up the facsimile of the previous day's front page.


Moon has proclaimed himself the second coming of Christ, the "Savior," "returning Lord" and "True Parent." He teaches that all people should become perfected like Jesus and like himself, and that as such, he "appears in the world as the substantial body of God Himself."

Moon's teachings have political ramifications, primarily based on his idea that spiritual principles should be put into practice in the real world. Aside from his opposition to communism, Moon's stand on social issues is based on his interpretation of sin, similar to fundamentalist Christian morality.

He calls for the literal establishment of a Kingdom of God on Earth -- a position that has earned him sharp criticism as a theocrat, with a complete disregard for the U.S. constitutional separation of church and state.

But it is Moon's business ventures that have generated the greatest controversy. Unification Church-owned businesses have engaged in munitions manufacturing in South Korea during the 1960s, according to a 1978 U.S. congressional report on the church.

The report said the church-owned Tong Il Enterprises was involved in weapons manufacture and "is an important defense contractor in [South] Korea. It is involved in the production of M-16 rifles, antiaircraft guns, and other weapons."

Even today, Moon's American-born fourth-oldest son, Kook Jin (Justin) Moon, runs Kahr Arms, a small-arms company based in Blauvelt, New York with a factory in Worcester, Massachusetts.

According to The Washington Post, "Some former [Unification Church] members and gun industry critics perceive a contradiction between the church's teachings and its corporate involvement in marketing weapons promoted for their concealability and lethality."

On May 19, 1982 -- just two days after The Washington Times began publication -- Moon was convicted on federal charges of filing false income tax returns and conspiracy.

Many individuals, organizations and religious figures -- even some of Moon's fiercest critics -- protested the charges, saying that they were unjust and threatened freedom of religion and free speech. Moon's conviction was upheld on appeal and he spent 18 months in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut.


Singlaub took over the WACL -- now known as the World League for Freedom and Democracy -- after became embroiled in a separate controversy in 1980 when its chairman, Roger Pearson, was expelled after allegations surfaced that Pearson was a white supremacist involved with several neo-Nazi organizations.

The WACL was placed under watch by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith after Geoffrey Stewart-Smith, a former Conservative Party member of the British Parliament, abruptly quit the organization and exposed it as "largely a collection of Nazis, Fascists, anti-Semites, sellers of forgeries, vicious racialists, and corrupt self-seekers."

Singlaub expelled the WACL's Latin American affiliate in 1984 after syndicated columnist Jack Anderson published an expose of the affiliate's ties to right-wing Latin American death squads responsible for a series of politically-motivated assassinations.

At the time, Singlaub told the columnist the Latin American affiliate had "knowingly promoted pro-Nazi groups" and was "virulently anti-Semitic."

"That was putting it mildly," Anderson wrote in a September 11, 1984, column on the alleged death squad murders, an article that appeared two months before the U.S. presidential election that saw Reagan's 49-state landslide victory over Walter Mondale.

Two weeks after Anderson's column was published, Singlaub received a letter from McCain asking that the then-congressman's name be taken off the group's letterhead as a member of its board because "he didn't have time for the council."

Singlaub told the AP that "certainly by 1984," he had purged the World Anti-Communist League of extremists. Singlaub complains that American news media wrote that the league hadn't gotten rid of extremist elements and tried to tarnish the league's credibility, "making something evil out of fighting communism."

Singlaub first made headlines in 1977 when, while chief of staff of U.S. forces in South Korea, he publicly criticized President Jimmy Carter's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula. On March 21, 1977, Carter relieved him of duty for overstepping his bounds and "failing to respect the president's authority as commander-in-chief."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

# # #

Volume III, Number 63
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.