To America’s lasting shame, Costa Rica has done what Washington should have done long ago – taken justice into its own hands in the case of John Hull, Lt. Col. Oliver North’s principal link there to the contras from 1984 to 1986.
The State Department has confirmed that Costa Rica’s embassy has submitted a request for Hull’s extradition to face charges of murder and drug trafficking, connected directly with his role in supporting the contras.
Since North’s dirty work for the Reagan White House was exposed in 1986, two administrations have stonewalled, lied and covered up to protect President Bush and former President Reagan from impeachment, and keep their closest aides out of jail.
Congress itself became an accomplice when it bungled its own investigation, never managing to interrogate Hull, immunizing the testimony of North and others, making it easier for the CIA and Justice Department to hamstring special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.
Although much has been said of Congress’ split along partisan lines, even Democrats steered clear of such issues as drug trafficking – ignoring hearings by Sen. John Kerry on the smuggling of cocaine aboard contra-resupply planes.
Five Kerry witnesses linked Hull to drug trafficking at his Costa Rica ranch, which served as a hub of contra-resupply operations. Hull, who was introduced to North in 1983 by an aide to then Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, operated with a $10,000-a-month subsidy from North.
When federal attorneys in Miami looked into charges in 1985 that Hull was running guns for drugs, Attorney General Edwin Meese derailed their investigation. Thus did the Reagan administration keep its support of the contras a secret from the American voters, in violation of the 1984 Boland Amendment.
Despite Kerry’s exposure of cocaine connection, the Justice Department looked the other way.
Accountability has been left to Costa Rica, which served as the contras’ southern staging ground during Reagan’s vendetta with neighboring Nicaragua.
A sticking point with the Costa Ricans was the May 1984 explosion at contra leader Eden Pastora’s press conference at La Penca, just across the border in Nicaragua. Pastora had been under CIA pressure to cooperate with right-wing contras based in Honduras. He refused, was wounded, but survived. Two Costa Ricans and an American reporter were among the five who did not.
When the cover was finally blown off the contra-resupply operation, a soldier-of-fortune told reporters about a meeting at which he, Hull and others plotted Eden Pastora’s murder.
The Costa Ricans waited for Washington to police itself. But when the Justice Department showed now signs of pursuing the killers, they decided to act. A Costa Rican prosecutor’s report issued in 1989 placed Hull at the center of the plot.
More threatening to the Reagan/Bush team, witnesses testified that Hull had operated under direction of the CIA, and confirmed Hull’s active role in cocaine trafficking. Costa Rican authorities arrested Hull on narcotics charges. But he disappeared after jumping bail.
Rather than assist them in bringing Hull to justice, Washington responded with a heavy hand. Nineteen congressmen – including Lee Hamilton of Indiana, the Democrat who headed the Iran-contra committee – sent a letter to President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, warning him “to avoid situations … that could adversely affect our relations.”
Arias, who received the Nobel Prize for his role in ending the contra war, replied that he was taken aback by the insinuation that “relations between your country and mine could deteriorate because our legal system is fighting against drug trafficking.”
Costa Rica’s legal system has again taken the initiative, this time confronting murders allegedly committed by Washington’s proxies. Will the Bush administration let justice take its course? Or will it scoff again at the rule of law?