Subverting the Bill of Rights: Clinton's war on UNITA

By Cliff Kincaid
web posted March 12, 2001

In a huge and largely unknown scandal leftover from the Clinton years, then-President Bill Clinton used a series of executive orders to close down support for the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), including the operations of its representative in the US, whose only purpose was to provide information to the American people about the struggle in that African Country. UNITA and its leader, Dr. Jonas Savimbi, who was hailed as a freedom fighter by former President Reagan, are still fighting the corrupt communist Angolan regime.

UNITA President Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, in Bailundo, Angola, January 7, 2000
UNITA President Jonas Savimbi, in Bailundo, Angola, January 7, 2000

Under one of the orders, the Center For Democracy in Angola (CEDA), an educational organization established under the U.S. law, was dismantled in December 1997. Treasury police from the Office of Foreign Assets Control said UNITA representatives could not even pay for a web server to maintain an Internet site or operate telephones. All CEDA staffers, including some Americans, lost their jobs, and CEDA representatives who were not U.S. citizens were threatened with expulsion.

In one of its final releases, which has disappeared from the Internet, CEDA stated, "It seems incongruous that the President has decided to close the offices of CEDA at the same time he has authorized the reopening of the Palestine Liberation Organization's office in Washington, DC." Indeed, Clinton did so on December 5, 1997, when he issued a "presidential determination" waiving provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of1987 as they relate to the PLO.

Clinton claimed to be using executive powers to enforce United Nations sanctions that had been imposed on UNITA and passed in resolutions, by the UN Security Council. But the UN sanctions were themselves unprecedented, representing the first time the world organization had imposed such measures on a political party rather than a nation-state.

These executive orders were under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), one of two laws passed in the mid-1970s by a liberal Congress to curtail the perceived abuse of executive powers by a Republican president. The IEEPA and the National emergencies Act were designed to cancel previous states of national emergency and regulate the process of declaring and ending them. Recognizing that such declarations, in the face of "unusual and extraordinary" threats, enable the president to claim vast powers over civilian activities, Congress wanted to make it difficult for them to be imposed. But such declarations continued and were abused to an unprecedented degree by Clinton.

The actions against UNITA and CEDA have to be understood in context. After taking office, Clinton quickly recognized the communist government of Angola and proceeded to implement various policies designed to destroy UNITA and enable the Communist regime to consolidate control of the entire country. On September 26, 1993, by Executive Order 12865, Clinton initiated sanctions against UNITA, insisting he was carrying out "international obligations." A follow-up E.O., 13069, issued on December 12,
1997, was a "response" to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1127 of August 28, 1997, and 1130 of September 29,1997. On August 18, 1998, Clinton signed Executive Order 13098, additional sanctions on UNITA "in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1173 of June 12, 1998, and 1176 of June 24, 1998."

CEDA commented, "the application of the provisions of the executive order [which targeted CEDA] violated substantive and procedural laws established in federal statues and the U.S. Constitution. While CEDA recognizes that the U.S. Constitution gives the president broad authority in the field of foreign affaires, his action here affects individuals and property located wholly within the United States. By issuing this executive order, not only is the president curtailing domestic freedoms, but the actions called for in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1127 are directly contrary to the core domestic freedom secured by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights..."Nevertheless, Clinton's executive orders against UNITA and CEDA were not effectively challenged by Congress, And "civil liberties" groups didn't utter a peep of protest.

Any president can continue to use the same kind of executive power to close down domestic organizations that here the U.N. defines as somehow affiliated with foreign political parties or groups. Americans could find themselves out of their jobs and the financial assets of their employers acquired or frozen by the federal government.

The new administration should revoke these dictatorial Clinton-era executive orders and permit supporters of UNITA to resume their lawful activities in the U.S. The American people are entitled to a full and open debate about U.S. policy in Africa, especially in Angola. The U.N. should not dictate who can enjoy first amendment rights in the U.S.

Cliff Kincaid is president of America's Survival, a public policy group.

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