The White House refused comment today on a report of CIA involvement in the 1962 arrest of South African black nationalist Nelson R. Mandela, insisting his upcoming visit should focus on the future and not the past.
“We find no value in reviewing the 30-year-old history in this case,” White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters when asked about reports of a U.S. role in Mandela’s arrest.
A testy and unusually defensive Fitzwater bristled at questions about whether the United States owes Mandela an explanation or apology and whether the issue will be raised when the recently released black leader arrives later this month for a U.S. tour.
“If you want to know what happened, ask Pierre Salinger, Ted Sorenson or Ted Kennedy,” Fitzwater said later, “but don’t beat me up for what the Kennedy Administration did.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday that the CIA provided South African authorities with the information used to find and capture Mandela on April 5, 1962. He was tried on charges of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government and kept in prison for 27 years.
South African President Frederik W. de Klerk ordered Mandela freed in February in what was welcomed by the United States as a step toward political reform and possible black-white conciliation in South Africa.
Mandela is scheduled to meet June 25 with President Bush as part of a hero’s welcome to the United States. Fitzwater indicated the White House wants nothing to detract from the main purpose of honoring Mandela for his contribution to the fight against racism and apartheid.
“What Mr. Mandela is due is respect for the outstanding work that he has done, for his time and his service as a leader of the anti-apartheid movement and against racial prejudice in that country,” Fitzwater said.