PEMBROKE, NW HAMPSHIRE—Despite a rousing campaign rally led by Michael Moore (video), Wesley Clark himself remains a
bundle of questions. His standard stump speech is a motonous recitation of how he went to church as a kid, became patriotic when he saw Kruschev thumping the table and threatening the U.S., and so on. Moore, who supported Ralph Nader in 2000, thinks Clark can produce the same kind of enthusiastic support the Green Party candidate drew at rallies across the country four years ago, only more so. He pictures the race ultimately as a campaign between the General and the Deserter, i.e. Clark vs. George Bush. When Clark himself was asked on Saturday whether he thought the president was a deserter, he replied that he had heard these charges, but that Bush had not been prosecuted, and anyhow that was then and this is now.
Meanwhile, questions about Clark’s past continue to dog the former NATO commander. For one thing, he has strongly supported the School of Americas, a U.S. military training school that taught scores of Latin American army officers the techniques of modern warfare, including—according to a declassified Pentagon report—off-the-books
skills like execution, torture, and kidnapping. Among its most notable graduates was former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Clark never ran the school, which turns out about 1,000 officers a year, but worked with it when he headed the U.S. Southern Command.
In his campaign appearances, Clark defends the school, which has been closed and reconstituted as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. When a woman at a retirement home earlier this week pointed out to Clark that the school’s graduates had been accused of murder, The Boston Globe reports, the general riposted: “There’s been a lot of rotten people who’ve gone to a lot of rotten schools in the history of the world. And a lot of them went to this school. But a lot of them have gone to Harvard Business School and a lot of other places.”
Clark’s role as a lobbyist for a company seeking a War on Terror contract with the Department of Homeland Security continues to raise questions. Records show that Acxiom, a company that was seeking homeland security contracts, agreed to pay Clark hundreds of thousands of dollars for his help in persuading the government to buy the company’s wares. Clark was a registered lobbyist while he served as a military analyst on CNN, and was still a lobbyist when he declared his candidacy on September 17, 2003.
After he quit the military (or was sacked—no one seems to agree on what actually happened), Clark worked as a consultant for Stephens, Inc., an Arkansas investment firm. Then he thought about running for governor of Arkansas, then for Tim Hutchinson’s Senate seat, and finally for president.
Federal disclosure records show that Clark lobbied directly on “information transfers, airline security, and homeland security issues” for Acxiom. The company was pushing the by now notorious CAPPS II, a creepy program designed to profile all airline passengers. Clark, who reportedly got $800,000 in fees for his work, lobbied the Justice Department, CIA, and Department of Transportation. According to The Arkansas Democrat Gazette, he met personally with Vice President Dick Cheney.
The Washington Post reported in January 2002 that Clark attended a meeting at the Department of Transportation, at which he described “a system that would combine personal data from Acxiom with information about the reservations
and seating records of every U.S. airline passenger” to detect “subtle signs of terrorist intentions.”
On the stump, Clark is cagey when answering questions on the Patriot Act, saying he opposed the Justice Department proposal of a wider, more invasive act. But he often notes that the sunset provisions are necessary. As for Patriot Act 1, now in force, he will only say it needs reviewing.
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel, Alicia Ng
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 13, 2004