The Wall Street Journal
March 3, 1999

COMMENTARY

A Place Called Mena -- Just Some Facts

By Micah Morrison, a Journal editorial page writer.

Reacting to the Juanita Broaddrick story, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the Journal editorial page "lost me after they accused the president of being a drug smuggler and a murderer." We made no such charges, of course. But we'll give Mr. Lockhart a pass on the grounds of hyperbole; we have indeed reported stories about the seamy side of Bill Clinton's Arkansas.

Most of our stories--as opposed to gamier Arkansas tales traded on the Internet--have revolved around Mena Intermountain Regional Airport in western Arkansas. Even as careful an observer as David Frum, writing in Commentary, criticizes "wild charges" including "drug-smuggling via Mena airport." Since drug smuggling at Mena is established beyond doubt, a brief review of some facts seems in order:

  • Mena was a staging ground for Barry Seal, one of the most notorious drug smugglers in history. He established a base at Mena in 1981, and according to Arkansas law-enforcement officials, imported as much as 1,000 pounds of cocaine a month from Colombia. In 1984 he became an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, flying to Colombia and gathering information about leaders of the Medellín cartel. He testified in several high-profile cases, and was assassinated in Baton Rouge, La., in 1986.

  • Two investigators probing events at Mena say they were closed down--William Duncan, a former Internal Revenue Service investigator, and Russell Welch, a former Arkansas State Police detective. They fought a decade-long battle to bring events at Mena to light, pinning their hopes on nine separate state and federal probes. All failed. And Messrs. Welch and Duncan were stripped of their careers.

  • In 1986, Dan Lasater, Little Rock bond daddy and an important Clinton campaign contributor, pleaded guilty to cocaine distribution. The scheme also involved Mr. Clinton's brother, Roger. Both Mr. Lasater and Roger Clinton served brief prison terms. Gov. Clinton later issued a pardon to Mr. Lasater.

  • On Aug. 23, 1987, teenagers Kevin Ives and Don Henry were run over by a northbound Union Pacific train near Little Rock in an area reputed to be a haven for drug smugglers. Gov. Clinton's state medical examiner, Fahmy Malak, quickly ruled the deaths accidental, saying the two boys had fallen into a deep sleep side by side on the railroad tracks after smoking too much marijuana. A second autopsy concluded the boys had been murdered and their bodies placed on the tracks. Despite public outcry, Dr. Malak remained medical examiner until just before Mr. Clinton's presidential campaign.

  • In 1990 Jean Duffey, the head of a newly created drug task force, began investigating a possible link between the train deaths and drugs. Her boss, the departing prosecuting attorney for Arkansas's Seventh Judicial District, gave her a direct order: "You are not to use the drug task force to investigate public officials." In a 1996 interview with the Journal, Ms. Duffey said: "We had witnesses telling us about low-flying aircraft and informants testifying about drug pick-ups."

  • Dan Harmon, who had earlier been appointed special prosecutor for the train deaths, took office in 1991 as seventh district prosecutor. Ms. Duffey was discredited, threatened, and ultimately forced to flee Arkansas. In 1997, a federal jury in Little Rock found Mr. Harmon guilty of five counts of drug dealing and extortion, and sentenced him to eight years in prison for using his office to extort narcotics and cash.

    Mr. Lockhart to the contrary, we have never accused Mr. Clinton of a direct role in these events. Obviously, as governor for 12 years, he was ultimately responsible for Arkansas law enforcement. As president, he has commented only once about events at Mena. Asked about it during a 1994 press conference, he said that it was "primarily a matter of federal jurisdiction" and "they didn't tell me anything about it."

  • In 1984, Seal flew his C-123K to Nicaragua in a Central Intelligence Agency drug sting of Sandinista officials. The CIA rigged a hidden camera in the plane, enabling him to snap photos of several men--including a high-ranking Sandinista--loading cocaine aboard the aircraft. In 1986, eight months after Seal's death, his plane was shot down over Nicaragua with an Arkansas pilot at the wheel and a load of ammunition and contra supporter Eugene Hasenfus in the cargo bay.

  • Three days after the 1996 presidential election, the CIA issued a brief report saying it had engaged in "authorized and lawful activities" at the airfield, including "routine aviation-related services" and a secret "joint-training operation with another federal agency." The agency said it was not "associated with money laundering, narcotics trafficking, arms smuggling, or other illegal activities" at Mena.

    The statement was issued in response to a probe by investigators for the House Banking Committee, directed by Chairman Jim Leach. His report has been often promised and often delayed. Yesterday Leach spokesman David Runkel said that Banking Committee investigators are "putting the finishing touches" on their report. "While there is an extraordinary story to be told, it's unlikely that the president is going to be too severely embarrassed." Whatever Mr. Clinton's involvement as governor, something singular was going on at Mena. Perhaps Mr. Leach will yet shed some light on the mystery.


    See related articles:

    • "Arkansas Justice" (6/13/97)
    • "Big News From Arkansas" (4/15/97)
    • "The Lonely Crusade of Linda Ives" (4/18/96)
    • "Who Is Dan Lasater?" (8/7/95)
    • "Investigate Mena" (7/10/95)
    • "The Mena Cover-Up" (10/18/94)
    • "Mysterious Mena" (6/29/94)
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