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North Labels Iran-Contra Charges ‘Badge of Honor’ : Vilified and Slandered, He Asserts

Times Wire Services

Ex-White House aide Oliver L. North, in his first major public appearance since being indicted in the Iran-Contra scandal, today told graduates of the university founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell that the criminal charges against him are “a badge of honor.”

In a commencement speech at Liberty University that sounded at times like a political campaign address, North lashed out at congressmen and an independent counsel who have charged him with diverting money from an Iranian arms deal to rebels seeking to overthrow Nicaragua’s Marxist government.

North said he has been vilified and has endured slander during the Iran-Contra investigation.

“Certainly I did not choose to be caught in the middle of a bitter political dispute between the Congress and the President over the control of foreign policy and the power of the President to deter communism in Central America or the President’s responsibility to protect American citizens from terrorist attacks abroad,” North said.

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“Nor did I ever expect that I would have to endure the largest investigation in the history of our republic, an investigation that would probe every aspect of my professional and personal life and that of my family.”

Blasted Congress on Aid

North blasted Congress for killing military aid to Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

Backed by a huge American flag, the sun glinting off his Naval Academy ring, North stood in academic robes before an estimated 10,000 listeners and declared:

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“I have been accused of helping the brave young men and women of the Nicaraguan Resistance in their struggle for the very liberties that we claim as a birthright.

“I have been accused of trying to rescue American hostages . . . and trying to prevent other terrorist attacks.

“Those accusations are not a brand--they are a badge of honor.”

Peace Activists Protest

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The crowd rose to its feet, roaring its approval, many chanting, “Ollie! Ollie!”

About 60 people from four area peace activist groups, carrying signs that read “Ollie Not for President” and “Real Heroes Don’t Lie,” demonstrated in downtown Lynchburg against North’s appearance at the ceremony.

North insists that he is not running for office but today he sounded something like a political candidate.

“Certainly one lesson of the last eight years is that even a strong, right-minded, God-fearing President cannot alone do all that needs to be done. We must not just choose the right President, we need a better Congress,” he said.

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This comment drew loud applause.

Jamey Wheeler, chairman of the Draft North for the U.S. Senate Committee, said he took this remark as a hint that North would consider seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Virginia this year.

‘An Encouraging Sign’

North is a resident of Virginia.

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“He hasn’t been telling us to stop, and that’s an encouraging sign,” Wheeler said of his draft-Ollie movement. He would not say what the group would do if North did tell them to halt their drive.

In introducing North, Falwell, an independent Baptist preacher, compared North to Jesus Christ after noting that journalists had asked him why he chose the indicted North as a commencement speaker.

“We serve a Savior who was indicted and convicted and crucified,” Falwell told about 900 graduating students at the campus of nearly 8,000 that is part of Falwell’s religious empire in this central Virginia city.

Earlier, a Falwell spokesman said the evangelist will probably back North for public office.

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