Our Lips Are Sealed


IN THE ETERNAL race between the superpowers, the United States last week took the lead in an event it hardly seemed to have competed in before-suppression of information. President Reagan had, it is true, already attempted to block the public from access to executive documents with a controversial directive requiring that memoirs should be subject to government approval, answers to reporters questions should be given only by a central government agency and lie detectors could be used to prevent leaks. Now he has extended that policy to his capacity as Commander in Chief.

In what seems to have been a deliberate attempt to fool the nation, the president went public last week with his feelings of outrage over the Lebanon massacre while at the same time covertly enacting the invasion of Grenada. Without contacting any members of the Organization of American States, much less NATO or the United Nations, the president marched into Grenada on the advice of his closest advisors and the few members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) that seem to have contacted him. Apart from arousing our natural disgust, this kind of secrecy severely undercuts our standing with our European allies at just the moment when we need their trust most. Even Margaret Thatcher, Reagan's staunchest European ally, was not informed of the attack until Monday and was summarily rebuffed when she tried to prevent it, even though the area is still, ostensibly, a member of the British Commonwealth. That move not only hurt American reputation in the area but also clearly embarrassed Thatcher's Foreign Office, which in response to American assurances, had staunchly declared such an invasion impossible.

At home, Sen. Robert Dodd (D-Conn) expressed similar outrage at the secrecy. He pointed out that even for congressmen who feel the imperative of standing by forces in conflict, it is hard to abide by a president who neither contact his colleagues on the Hill nor follows the normal process of foreign negotiations-which requires that force be the last, not the first alternative.

But if the secrecy surrounding the origination of the invasion weren't enough, the president went on to declare the island off-limits to the American press, carting reporters off by plane when necessary and limiting their visits to short planned trips with military escorts. Photos of the island have been released only selectively. Secretary of State George P. Shultz dubbed reporters on the island illegally as "liars". Newsweek actually dismissed one of its reporters who broke the government-imposed rules and disappeared from the escort. The Senate was forced, and rightly so, to declare late last week that "restrictions imposed upon the press in Grenada shall cease..." in a rider that passed 53-18, the Senate is now planning a fact-finding mission to the area. It is interesting to think what it will find.

OSTENSIBLY, the United States invaded Grenada to protect American students at the St. George's Medical Academy after the death of the Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop on October 19, and answer the call from the Eastern Caribbean States for American military aid. In fact, however, negotiations for such an invasion had begun before any such request. They were initiated by the United States on October 15, the day Bishop was placed under house arrest. Those negotiations continued until the 19th, when Bishop was executed on the evening of the 20th, contingency plans began in the Pentagon for the possible use of force in the area. An urgent call came the next day from Prime Minister Adams of Barbados, the government, adding the plea to intelligence information from the island that the Americans might be in danger, interpreted it as a call for action. With American ships, holding what were called reinforcements for Lebanon, steaming toward the area, Prime Minister Adams called other members of the OECS to persuade them to sanction the invasion. On the morning of the 22nd, the President gave the go-ahead while OECS leaders were signing a formal request for intervention, drafted in Washington.

By the time invasion went to press, the administration had a strong arsenal of reasons under its belt: the danger to American citizens and the formal request for aid. When the forces arrived in Grenada, and turned up several hundred Cubans and 30 Soviet military advisors, it was dubbed a lucky break and officials declared that the size of the Cuban presence, earlier referred to in an offhand manner, came as surprise. One can only remember, with a certain strong sense of embarrassment, the statement by the Russians that they were "invited in" to Afghanistan and Poland.

The assertion that the size of the Cuban presence was underestimated seems a bit ingenious especially since we know from recent experience that the CIA can pick up even the most indistinct voices in airliners thousands of miles away. But the memory of recent experience does not seem to be the Administration's strong point. Last week's U.N. vote to censure the Grenada invasion failed 11-1. The veto vote belonged to Assistant United States Delegate to the United Nations Charles M. Lichtenstein. One wonders what would happen if the Russians were to come up with tapes proving that the Administration had falsely legitimized the invasion and had known about the Cuban presence all along. If they do, Lichtenstein and Co. will look pretty ridiculous being asked to sail off into the sunset; at least then they will be going in the right direction.