Undue Process: A Story of How Political Differences Are Turned into Crimes; Honored and Betrayed: Irangate, Covert Affairs, and the Secret War in Laos

In This Review

Undue Process: A Story of How Political Differences Are Turned into Crimes

By Elliott Abrams
Free Press, 1992
243 pp. $22.95
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Honored and Betrayed: Irangate, Covert Affairs, and the Secret War in Laos

By Richard Secord, with Jay Wurts
Wiley, 1992
405 pp. $24.95
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These books' titles cry out their contention about the Iran-Contra scandal. Secord, the ultimate can-do military man, came to those events after a career of adventures spanning the "secret war" in Laos in the late 1960s through the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-80. He drops intriguing tidbits about George Bush's role and Oliver North's shortcomings as an overreaching "field officer" zealously implementing the boss's wishes. Abrams, by contrast, is laser-focused; his is a searing psychological account of plea bargaining with Judge Walsh, the special prosecutor. Secord's apologia--that Iran-Contra's status as " 'offline' from the congressional viewpoint" was no different from operations set in motion by FDR or Lincoln-misses the point: however FDR's actions are regarded, our constitutional standards have evolved since. Yet it is not necessary to accept Abrams' argument (or Bush's justification for his pardons)--that deceiving Congress in pursuit of a patriotic cause is no misdeed--to recognize the awkwardness of trying to adjudicate collisions between the executive branch and Congress through criminal proceedings that sometimes trivialize the issues while perhaps brutalizing the participants.