Aid money being sent to Colombia will arrive with fewer strings attached now that President Clinton has signed a waiver allowing the $1.3 billion to bypass human rights conditions potentially blocking its release. Billed as “both pro-peace and anti-drug,” the revised version of “Plan Colombia” is made up of about $1 billion in military and police assistance, with the rest being reserved for civilian uses.
Added by Congress because of concerns over the Colombian military’s poor record, the human rights prerequisites could only be swept aside for “national security” reasons, as President Clinton has now done. Only one of seven conditions imposed by Congress had been met — that Colombian President Pastrana inform the military that soldiers accused of human rights abuses would be tried in civilian courts. Without the waiver, the U.S. Secretary of State would have had to certify the Colombian government’s investigation and prosecution of military and paramilitary abuses, as well as its progress toward cutting ties between the military and paramilitary forces (illegitimate “death squads”).
Drug trade revenues indirectly finance not only the largest leftist rebel groups, but also various right-wing paramilitary organizations. Yet it appears that the training and equipment Colombia will receive, including sixty U.S. helicopters, will be used to eliminate drug crops contained mostly in rebel territory. Links between the Colombian military and murderous paramilitaries, well documented by such groups as Human Rights Watch, seem to be overlooked in the rush to fight drugs. In the spring, paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño admitted that some 70 percent of his funding was drug-related. He later claimed on television that the Drug Enforcement Agency had offered him aid in return for his promise to fight drug traffickers.
Few groups have given John Cornyn as many headaches as Texans For Public Justice (TPJ), the public interest nonprofit that has become known for it’s meticulously researched and widely quoted reports, particularly on the subject of campaign finance corruption. Among other things, Cornyn has come under TPJ scrutiny for accepting campaign contributions from litigants before the court when he served on the Texas Supreme Court, for accepting donations during his 1998 run for the Attorney General’s office from corporations being sued by the state, and for his direction of the Republican Attorney Generals Association, which TPJ has accused of collecting unreported donations for Republican candidates across the country.
Now Cornyn is fighting back. On August 18, the General subpoenaed thousands of pages of the organization’s internal documents, ranging from memos and notes generated in the preparation of TPJ’s public reports, to phone records, salary and personnel information, and — most crucially — funding sources. Cornyn requested the information in conjunction with a lawsuit (filed by Public Citizen and others) that challenges Texas’ judicial selection process. TPJ has been highly critical of judicial elections in Texas, but the group is not a party to the lawsuit. That fact did not deter Cornyn from seeking to haul McDonald and company into court.
According to TPJ director Craig McDonald, the group refused to appear at their scheduled deposition on September 14. Instead, the group filed a formal objection in federal court, in which they argued that the subpoena was unconstitutionally vague. “The ACLU has agreed to support us … and we intend to fight it all the way down the line,” McDonald said. “I think he saw an opportunity to force us to open our records, and I think it’s because we’ve been critical of him, and critical of the Supreme Court, critical of the money power structure,” he added. “I think in his head he has some theories that we’re conspiring with Democrats or trial lawyers or some of his traditional enemies — I don’t think he understands how a public interest group works.” McDonald said his group is willing to testify in the Public Citizen suit about TPJ’s findings and the methodologies used in it’s various reports on the Supreme Court, which are readily accessible on the group’s website in any case.
Cornyn’s latest broadside against TPJ may be an indirect swat at the five plaintiff’s attorneys (hired by his predecessor Dan Morales) who won the Texas tobacco settlement. The attorneys — Walter Umphrey, John O’Quinn, John Eddie Williams, Wayne Reaud and Harold Nix — stand to receive as much as $3.3 billion under an arrangement with Morales that Cornyn has contested since he took office. The money comes from the tobacco companies, not the state, but the five are prominent Democratic funders — giving Cornyn ample political motivation to intervene. There has been speculation that some of TPJ’s funding also comes from the same attorneys, and Cornyn’s interference in the settlement — along with his soliciting of donations from the tobacco industry — has drawn public criticism from TPJ. “We have nothing to hide, but we have every right to hide it from the Attorney General,” McDonald said. The next move is Cornyn’s; at press time he had yet to file a rebuttal in federal court or seek other action against the group