Query on CIA Tie to Mandela Case Deflected
The White House, embarrassed by stories linking the CIA to Nelson Mandela’s arrest 28 years ago, tried Tuesday to shift attention away from President Bush and toward his predecessors.
Asked if Bush would apologize to Mandela for reported U.S. involvement in his 1962 arrest when the two men meet June 25, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater initially refused to make any comment.
“We find no value in reviewing a 30-year-old history in this case,” he said.
A few minutes later, however, Fitzwater changed his stance.
“This happened during the (John F.) Kennedy Administration,” he said. “If you want to ask Pierre Salinger or Nicholas Katzenbach or Jack Kennedy or Teddy, go do it. But don’t beat me up for what the Kennedy people did.”
Salinger was President Kennedy’s press secretary and Katzenbach the deputy attorney general.
“I just don’t like it when people question our motives on blacks or on Mandela because of an incident that happened 20 years ago in another administration,” Fitzwater added. “Go ask the Kennedy Administration.”
A spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) declined to comment on Fitzwater’s remarks.
Asked later in the day whether he would apologize to Mandela, Bush said that he is not sure. He has “not looked into” the reports of CIA involvement, Bush added.
The focus on the CIA’s role in Mandela’s arrest began Sunday with a story by the Cox Newspapers chain reporting that a CIA agent in South Africa at the time had played a key role in helping South African authorities find and arrest the African National Congress leader. Mandela served nearly 28 years in prison from the time of his arrest until released in February.
Fitzwater’s unusually testy reaction to the questions reflected a general White House discomfort over policy toward South Africa that has deepened as Mandela’s visit nears.