Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, while once agreeing it might violate federal law for him to direct a resupply mission for the Nicaraguan Contras, coordinated arms shipments to them for two years while a congressional ban against U.S. military aid to the rebel forces was in effect, a retired Army general testified Wednesday.
Retired Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub, testifying after a delay in the trial caused by a dispute over classified documents, told jurors of numerous meetings he had with the former White House aide from 1984 to 1986 at which North worked to help the Contras. Singlaub was the fourth witness called by the prosecution in North’s Iran-Contra trial.
12 Felony Charges
Among 12 felony charges North is being prosecuted on are allegations that he lied to Congress and obstructed congressional inquiries by denying he was giving military advice to the rebel forces or was helping to arm them. One charge specifically accuses North of lying to Congress about his relationship to Singlaub.
Although acknowledging his friendship with North and criticizing the “irrational” Boland Amendment--the congressional prohibition against U.S. military aid to the Contras--Singlaub provided testimony that clearly helped prosecutors establish much of their case against North, a retired Marine officer and former National Security Council aide.
Singlaub will be cross-examined today by North’s attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr.
A crusty veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, Singlaub, 67, said he and North discussed the effect of the Boland Amendment in North’s office shortly after the measure was passed in late 1984.
Singlaub said they both felt the ban on further Contra aid “could not possibly apply” to the office of the President, including the NSC. But because North reported that “lawyers in the (Ronald Reagan) Administration could not reach a consensus on this point,” they “agreed to assume the worst and presume it did apply,” Singlaub testified.
It was clear, he added, that the amendment did not apply to private citizens such as himself who wanted to raise money to help the Nicaraguan resistance. At the same time, he said, “we agreed that Col. North could not direct me . . . that I would work with Adolfo Calero (a Contra leader) and if I did not do something dumb, I would take North’s silence to be approval of my actions.”
But at dozens of subsequent meetings, North coordinated efforts to supply the Contras with sophisticated weapons bought, in part, with money raised privately by Singlaub through a nonprofit foundation, the United States Council for World Freedom.
Singlaub said Calero went over a list of weapons that were needed at a key meeting in North’s office in May, 1985. He said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, a co-defendant in the Iranian arms case who will be tried later this year, also attended the session.
When Secord interjected he was in the best position to buy the Contras surface-to-air missiles, North directed “that I delete them from my list,” Singlaub said.
He said he was careful to raise money for arms purchases outside the United States to avoid violating the U.S. Neutrality Act. But he said he legally solicited tax-exempt donations from Americans to send food and medicine to the Contras.
A former commander of U.S forces in South Korea until he was recalled by former President Jimmy Carter in a 1978 policy dispute, Singlaub told jurors he had many friends in high posts in foreign governments. He said he unsuccessfully tried to raise money for the Contras from the government of Taiwan and another unidentified country--South Korea, according to other evidence. Later, the two nations gave modest sums at the urging of U.S. State Department officials, congressional testimony has shown.
Asked if he profited from his arms purchases, Singlaub replied: “No. Not only did I not make any profit, but I wound up losing money.” Although he did not elaborate, he presumably meant that he had to pay many of his own expenses.
Meanwhile, prosecutor John W. Keker told U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell he believes the judge’s guidelines on classified information will work well enough for North’s trial to be completed, despite a recent government foul-up in censoring a key document that already was made public as part of a civil lawsuit. Gesell said he would excuse jurors Friday to hear further arguments about use of classified documents in the case.