A line of questioning related to the US special representative for Venezuela’s credibility and past statements on human rights led to a contentious exchange during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, raised the issue of Elliott Abrams’ role in the Iran-Contra affair — he pleaded guilty in 1991 to two misdemeanor counts for withholding information to Congress while he was the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
“I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful,” Omar said. When Abrams attempted to respond, she told him it was “not a question,” to which Abrams countered that it was “an attack.”
“It is not right that members of this committee can attack a witness who is not permitted to reply,” Abrams said as Omar continued to press on with her questioning.
The Minnesota Democrat also brought up Abrams’ past comments on the US policy in El Salvador. Abrams called that policy “a fabulous achievement” and during a February 1982 Senate testimony, he appeared to downplay reports of a massacre in the Salvadoran town of El Mozote in December 1981. Nearly 1,000 people were killed in by US-trained and -equipped military units in that massacre — it was the largest mass killing in recent Latin American history.
A Human Rights Watch report on the massacre said that Abrams at Senate hearings “artfully distorted several issues in order to discredit the public accounts of the massacre,” insisted the numbers of reported victims were “implausible” and “lavished praise” on the military battalion behind the mass killings.
Asked whether he still supported that policy, Abrams doubled down.
“From the day that President Duarte was elected in a free election to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy,” Abrams said with emphasis. “That’s a fabulous achievement.”
Omar then asked the special envoy whether or not the El Mozote massacre was “a fabulous achievement,” Abrams said it was “a ridiculous question,” before saying no.
“I’m not going to respond to that kind of personal attack, which is not a question,” Abrams said.
Asked whether he would support an armed faction in Venezuela, even if they committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide as long as they supported the US interests — which Omar accused Abrams of doing in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua — Abrams again said he would not respond to the question.
“I don’t think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions and so I will not reply,” he said.
Omar countered that they were fair questions “because the American people want to know that any time we engage a country, that we think about what our actions could be and how we believe are being furthered.”
She continued to press him on the issue of human rights, asking, “does the interest of the United States include protecting human rights and include protecting people against genocide?”
“That is always the position of the United States,” Abrams responded.