August 2, 2007, - 10:32 am
By Debbie Schlussel
Earlier this year, I wrote about a Washington Post article alleging that then-Bush Administration personnel official Julie L. Myers (now head of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement) heavily vetted Bernard Kerik, Bush’s first choice to replace Tom Ridge as Homeland Security chief. The article claimed that Myers expressed strong concerns against Kerik. Well, we know why: The ultimate choice, her former and current boss, Michael “Serpenthead” Chertoff, was waiting in the wings and paid her back by pushing Bush to give her the ICE slot, for which she was sorely unqualified. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
Now we learn that not only did Myers apparently heavily scrutinize Kerik, but she did the exact opposite for her crony, Chertoff. Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that, as a high-ranking Justice Department attorney, he allowed his friends at Chiquita to pay Colombian Terrorists over a hundred grand. Yup, folks, the Secretary of Homeland Security looked the other way when a banana company–where his friends worked–paid terrorists. If that issue had been raised by then White House personnel official, Julie L. Myers, do you think Chertoff would, today, be Homeland Security chief? Well, now, I understand why Chertoff has no prob hanging with “former” Islamic terrorists and current agents of Iran and Hezbollah when he’s here in D-Mecca. He apparently approves of terrorists of all kinds. Gee, America, aren’t we lucky he’s heading “HOMELAND SECURITY”?!
Oh, and BTW, Myers worked for Chertoff when he allowed the payment so terrorist to continue, so she probably knew about it and might have even been at the meeting where he allowed the payments to continue.
Here are the details from the Wall Street Journal. Not surprisingly, Chertoff declined to comment:
Chiquita Under the Gun: After Disclosing Payments to Colombian Terrorists, Prominent Ex-Director Faces Legal Jeopardy
By LAURIE P. COHEN
August 2, 2007; Page A1
In April 2003 Roderick M. Hills, then-head of Chiquita Brands International Inc.’s audit committee, went to the Department of Justice with other Chiquita representatives with a stunning admission: The company had been making illegal payments to a violent Colombian group that the U.S. branded as terrorists. . . .
In March of this year, Chiquita pled guilty to engaging in transactions with a terrorist group and agreed to pay $25 million in fines, the first time a major U.S. company was charged with having financial dealings with terrorists. Now Mr. Hills, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, faces the possibility of personal criminal charges. A federal grand jury is looking at his role, and that of other high company officials, in continuing the company payments for almost another year after the meeting with the Justice Department. . . .
A paramilitary organization had threatened to kidnap or kill employees on the banana farms of Chiquita’s Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, and Chiquita was concerned that its employees could be harmed if it cut the payments immediately. Lawyers familiar with the case say Mr. Hills and Mr. Olson [Chiquita General Counsel Robert Olson] believed senior Justice Department officials [DS: MICHAEL CHERTOFF] understood this and were deferring any demand to stop the payments to the United Self-Defense Forces, known by its Spanish abbreviation AUC. Chiquita ultimately paid $1.7 million over seven years. . . .
U.S. prosecutors took a dim view of Chiquita’s dilemma and its delay in stopping the payments. “I regarded this as a murder investigation,” from the start, says Roscoe Howard Jr., former U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., who helped lead the Chiquita prosecution before he left his position in 2004. “Even though Chiquita didn’t murder anyone, that’s what the money was used for — to buy weapons.” . . .
Both Mr. Hills and his wife, attorney Carla Hills, have a long history of public service. A patrician and well-connected Republican, he began his government career as counsel to President Ford. She served as both a cabinet member and as the U.S. trade representative. . . .
On Sept. 10, 2001, the State Department designated AUC a terrorist organization. [DS: The Journal article goes on to detail how the payments to the terrorist group continued, anyway.] . . .
On April 24 [,2003], Mr. Hills nevertheless went to the Justice Department with Messrs. Olson and Urgenson and Ms. Harris to report the payments. Among those attending was Mr. Hills’ longtime acquaintance Michael Chertoff, then in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division [DS: he was Assistant U.S. Attorney General] and now chief of the Homeland Security Department. Mr. Hills and Mr. Chertoff were colleagues at the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP in the early 1980s, when Mr. Hills already had been a White House counsel and SEC chair and Mr. Chertoff was still a junior attorney. . . .
Mr. Hills and Mr. Olson left the meeting confident that Mr. Chertoff had deferred a decision about whether payments [DS: TO A TERRORIST GROUP!] could continue, according to lawyers familiar with the case. Ten additional payments were made between May and September totaling about $134,000, according to court filings. . . .
Mr. Taxay [a Justice Dept. attorney on the case] declined to comment, as did Mr. Chertoff through a spokesman. . . .
Chiquita made half a dozen more payments totaling more than $145,000 through February 2004, according to the criminal complaint. Mr. Howard, the former U.S. attorney whose office handled the case, says the continuation persuaded him that Chiquita “shouldn’t be treated any differently than 19-year-old drug dealers.” In December 2003, Mr. Taxay, the Justice Department lawyer, told an attorney representing a Chiquita employee that the company could face charges for the continued payments. . . .
Even as Chiquita began turning over documents relating to the payments to the Justice Department, it kept making payments. They stopped only after a new CEO, Fernando Aguirre, arrived and ordered them ended in January 2004.
Yes, these payments all continued because our HOMELAND SECURITY chief did nothing and stood by as a company–whose director was his law firm crony–financed terrorists’ murder of innocent civilians. He knew it was happening. He did nothing to stop it, and he even left the company’s lawyer with the impression that it was okay to continue. Michael Chertoff has the blood of innocent people on his hands. And how do we know this is the only set of payments to terrorists that he allowed to continue? What if a company paid off Hezbollah, HAMAS, or Al-Qaeda? Did he look the other way then, too?
So a federal grand jury is looking into this. Are they looking at Chertoff? Not likely. But they should. What he did was criminal. The AUC has murdered plenty of innocent Colombians. And he allowed the funding of that to continue.
Sorry, but America simply cannot allow a man who knowingly sat by as his friends paid off terrorists to remain as the head of Homeland Security, which is–HELLO . . .?!–supposed to protect us against them.
Isn’t this how they got Nixon? And that was a robbery that he didn’t know about until after the fact. These are payments to terrorist murderers that Chertoff allowed to continue without cease, terrorists who murdered innocent people. Well past time for Chertoff to go.
Glad to know that Julie Myers did such a good job “vetting” her past and future boss to head Homeland Security. Who else like this did she pick for Bush Administration jobs?
And a P.S.: One wonders if a story like this would have made it to the Journal’s front page under the new, incoming Murdoch administration. Highly doubtful.
This should be headline news across America.
**** UPDATE: The Washington Post is even tougher on Chertoff, which he merits:
On April 24, 2003, a board member of Chiquita International Brands disclosed to a top official at the Justice Department that the king of the banana trade was evidently breaking the nation’s anti-terrorism laws.
Roderick M. Hills, who had sought the meeting with former law firm colleague Michael Chertoff, explained that Chiquita was paying “protection money” to a Colombian paramilitary group on the U.S. government’s list of terrorist organizations. Hills said he knew that such payments were illegal, according to sources and court records, but said that he needed Chertoff’s advice.
Chiquita, Hills said, would have to pull out of the country if it could not continue to pay the violent right-wing group to secure its Colombian banana plantations. Chertoff, then assistant attorney general and now secretary of homeland security, affirmed that the payments were illegal but said to wait for more feedback, according to five sources familiar with the meeting.
Justice officials have acknowledged in court papers that an official at the meeting said they understood Chiquita’s situation was “complicated,” and three of the sources identified that official as Chertoff. They said he promised to get back to the company after conferring with national security advisers and the State Department about the larger ramifications for U.S. interests. . . .
Sources close to Chiquita say that Chertoff never did get back to the company or its lawyers. Neither did Larry D. Thompson, the deputy attorney general, whom Chiquita officials sought out after Chertoff left his job for a federal judgeship in June 2003. And Chiquita kept making payments for nearly another year.
What transpired at the Justice Department meeting is now a central issue in a criminal probe. According to these sources’ account, the Bush administration was pulled in competing directions, perhaps because its desire to avoid undermining a newly elected, friendly Colombian government conflicted with its frequent public assertions that supporting a terrorist group anywhere constitutes a criminal offense and a foreign policy mistake.
Chiquita’s executives left the meeting convinced that the government had not clearly demanded that the payments stop. Federal prosecutors, however, are now weighing whether to charge Hills; Robert Olson, who was then Chiquita’s general counsel; former Chiquita CEO Cyrus Friedheim; and other former company officials for approving the illegal payments, according to records and sources close to the probe. [DS: How ’bout charging CHERTOFF?]
The company has already pleaded guilty to making $1.7 million in payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), and it agreed to pay a $25 million fine. But last week, lawyers for the former Chiquita executives sent letters to the Justice Department, asserting that their clients did not intentionally break the law but believed they were waiting for an answer from the highest levels of the Bush administration. . . .
On April 24,  the company executives met with Justice officials, including Chertoff. They disclosed the payments and Justice officials said they were against the law. Hills said he agreed, but stressed that Chiquita would have to withdraw from the country if it did not pay AUC, and noted this could affect U.S. security interests in that region.
That’s when, according to the five sources, Chertoff acknowledged that the matter was complicated, and said that he would get back to them after conferring with other administration officials.
A week later, Hills and Olson told the company board’s audit committee that Justice had advised them that there would be “no liability for past conduct” and that there was no “conclusion on continuing the payments,” according to a summary of the case filed by the prosecution. The company authorized new payments to AUC starting on May 5.
After Chiquita officials got no answer from Chertoff, they met with Thompson, who praised them for “doing the right thing” in disclosing the payments, and said he, too, would try to get back to them on how to proceed, defense sources said. Thompson, now general counsel for PepsiCo, did not respond yesterday to a request to comment. . . .
The attorney general of Colombia, Mario Iguaran, and other Colombian officials have dismissed Chiquita’s assertions that it was a victim of extortion and paid AUC to protect its workers. An Organization of American States report in 2003 said that Chiquita participated in smuggling thousands of arms for paramilitaries into the Northern Uraba region, using docks operated by the company to unload thousands of Central American assault rifles and ammunition.
Iguaran, whose office has been investigating Chiquita’s operations, said the company knew AUC was using payoffs and arms to fund operations against peasants, union workers and rivals. At the time of the payments, AUC was growing into a powerful army and was expanding across much of Colombia and, according to the Colombian government, its soldiers killed thousands before it began demobilizing.
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