North and Prosecutor Swap Jabs Over Military Ethics : 2 Former Marines Go Toe to Toe
Oliver L. North today barely controlled his evident disdain for trial prosecutor John W. Keker, who prodded the witness with repeated references to the high standards of behavior demanded of military officers.
In his fourth day of testimony, the former Marine portrayed himself as a novice in the dark world of political warfare, testifying that he hid his actions from Congress in 1985 because he believed that it was the right thing to do.
North, 45, defended his actions in the Iran-Contra scandal with a sweeping claim that nothing in his years of military service prepared him to carry out a covert activity that was the foundation of a foreign policy.
North is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who last year ended a 20-year Marine Corps career as a lieutenant colonel. Since he was fired Nov. 25, 1986, from his job as a staff member of the National Security Council, he has claimed that he always acted with authorization from his White House superiors--including President Ronald Reagan.
“You’re trained to obey all lawful orders?” asked Keker, a Marine Corps veteran who like North was wounded in Vietnam.
“Yes,” North said.
“In fact, you take courses in this at the Naval Academy, right?”
“Yes,” North shot back.
“You learned that after World War II, German officers said they were just following orders and you were trained that that (answer) wasn’t a defense, right?” Keker asked.
“Yes,” North said. “I don’t believe I ever received an unlawful order.”
In the second day of his aggressive cross-examination, Keker turned to letters North drafted in August and September of 1985 to answer queries from House members about his secret work to support the Nicaraguan rebels.
Inquired About Reports
In their August, 1985, letters, Democratic Reps. Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana and Michael D. Barnes of Maryland inquired about news reports on North’s activities for the Contras.
The answers to the lawmakers said North and all NSC staff members were abiding by the “letter and the spirit” of the aid ban.
Keker asked, “You were trying to avoid telling Congress” about the secret resupply network.
“Very clearly,” North said.
“In the U.S. Naval Academy, you would be kicked out for this, wouldn’t you?” Keker asked.
“In the U.S. Naval Academy,” North shot back, “nobody told me how to run a covert operation. . . . In the U.S. Naval Academy, no one teaches you about internecine political warfare.”
‘Pawn in a Chess Game’
Keker also tried to turn back on North a phrase he used last week. North said the political controversy surrounding the revelations of his secret activities made him feel like “a pawn in a chess game played by giants.”
But the prosecutor drew from North the acknowledgment that when the Marine Corps wanted to move him from the NSC to Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 1986, North asked John M. Poindexter, a rear admiral who succeeded Robert C. McFarlane as national security adviser, to get the orders changed.
They were. “It is a normal process,” North said.
“OK,” Keker said, “I just wanted to establish that you weren’t totally a pawn in a chess game played by giants.”