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The feds know how to get tough

It's been a tough time for people involved with the Iran-Contra affair. Gen. Richard Secord was sentenced to two years' probation for his role as one of the architects of the infamous arms plot. Most people were shaken by the harsh sentence. The next one was even tougher. Albert Hakim, another conspirator, was given two years' probation and a fine of $5,000. He was punished further by being told that the only money he could keep from the plot was the $1.7-million he had deposited in Switzerland.

"Why the cruel and unusual punishment?" civil libertarians wanted to know.

"We are trying to teach a lesson to everyone who flouts the law," the Lord High Chief Plea-Bargainer in the Justice Department informed me. "When people see what Ollie North, Secord and Hakim got they will think twice about diddling with the law of the land."

"Be honest. Didn't you roll over and make a deal with Secord and Hakim so that they would testify against Poindexter? Isn't he the last link in the chain that leads straight to the Oval Office?"

"If we had made a deal with both of them, why would we insist on such harsh probation? The Justice Department doesn't make deals with people who plead guilty to high crimes and misdemeanors."

"The rumor on the street is that you're always willing to make deals - no matter what the felon does. There is a story out that you will drop charges against Noriega if he turns state's evidence and testifies against Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega."

"There is no truth to that at all," he said. "We do not plea-bargain with prisoners of war. Noriega will be given all his rights according to the Geneva Convention, where, incidentally, he has all his money. He will then receive the sentence he is entitled to, depending on his name, rank and serial number."

"Suppose Noriega demands that every American secret be produced at his trial? Will you plea-bargain with him just to shut him up?"

"We will never be reasonable with anyone who puts the government in an embarrassing position. The Justice Department must prosecute those who resort to lawless behavior, whether they take money from the Iranians, the Contras or a savings and loan bank in Albuquerque. If we're going to be tough on North, Secord and Hakim, then we have to be just as tough on Noriega. After all, we started a war to get him."

"Speaking of war," I said, "has it ever occurred to you that since Noriega is a prisoner of war, he is entitled to a ticker-tape parade?"

"He's not going to get one. We didn't give one to North or Secord or Hakim, and Poindexter won't get one either, even if he blows the whistle on Ronald Reagan."

"Why not?"

"Because ticker tapes could give people the wrong idea when it comes to violating the law."

Los Angeles Times Syndicate