7. CONTRAGATE: THE COSTA RICA CONNECTION

As 1986 ended, each day seemed to bring new evidence of the Reagan administration involvement in the Iran/contra arms scandal. But even now, one major chapter in the sordid story remains to be told.

It involves Lt. Col. Oliver North and those to whom he reported; it involves two American journalists and their $22 million lawsuit against a group of U.S.-backed mercenaries operating in Miami and Central America; it involves a conspiracy to murder dissident contra leader Eden Pastora and the US. ambassador to Costa Rica, Lewis Tambs -- and blame both acts on the Sandinistas; it involves a drug trafficking ring operating out of contra bases and airstrips on the property of a shadowy U.S. rancher in Costa Rica; it involves a cover-up that included the torture and murder of a key journalistic source; and it involves the continued threats against the lives of the two journalists who sought to expose the whole incredible plot.

There also are allegations that the conspiracy was organized by a secret group of paramilitary operatives established as far back as 1979 -- and since 1981 Reagan administration officials may have had a role in the affair, according to the author. The lawsuit was filed by the Christic Institute, a respected public interest law firm with a long track record of taking on, and winning, important political cases. The Institute's lawyers represented Karen Silkwood's family in their successful suit against Kerr-McGee; they also represented the victims of the Nazi-Klan violence at Greensboro, North Carolina, Mississippi Mayor Eddie Carthen, and Sanctuary worker Stacey Merkt.

The two plaintiffs, Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey, are veteran journalists who had worked for news organizations like ABC, THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE LONDON TIMES, and the BBC. They started investigating the Contra Costa connection after Avirgan was injured in the assassination attempt against Pastora on May 30, 1984, which left three journalists dead and more than a dozen injured.

On January 30, 1987, U.S. District Judge James L. King, in Miami, denied nine motions of dismissal and instead granted the plaintiffs, Avirgan and Honey, wide-ranging subpoena powers, allowing them to prepare for a jury trial that could bring to the stand many of the individuals whose names are already well-known in connection with the Iranian arms scandal.

The potential implications of the case are staggering; however, the extraordinary charges were filed in a federal lawsuit in Miami in May 1986 and the nation's major news media have largely ignored them.

Michael Emery, author of the articles used as a source for this nomination, is the co-author of THE PRESS AND AMERICA, an authoritative book on press history. He also is a former UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL reporter and U.S. Army public information officer. He currently is chair of the Journalism Department at California State University, Northridge.

SOURCE:

THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, 12/3/86, "Contragate: The Costa Rica Connection," p 1+, and 2/4/87, "Christic Institute officials detained in Costa Rica," p 9, both by Michael Emery.