WASHINGTON -- Vice President George Bush has confirmed that William Buckley, the CIA's station chief in Beirut, Lebanon, was tortured and murdered by his Islamic Jihad kidnappers.
The vice president, speaking to a conference on terrorism Tuesday night about the Iran arms-Contra aid scandal, said Buckley, seized off thestreets of Lebanon's anarchic capital March 16, 1984, was murdered.
Bush, the first administration official to confirm Buckley's murder, did not give any further details. Buckley's Islamic Jihad kidnappers announced in October 1985 that Buckley had been killed because he was a CIA agent.
The CIA has never claimed Buckley as one of their own, but it reportedly was his situation -- and that of four other Americans held hostage by pro-Iran extremists -- that at first prompted the administration to pursue its arms-for-hostages deal with Iran.
Bush touched on the frustration felt within the administration over the prolonged detention of the American hostages in Lebanon and the determination to 'explore every channel, run down every lead.'
He said President Reagan opposes trading arms for hostages but, 'At the same time you should know the concern that the president feels, that we all feel, when an American in terrorist hands is tortured, and in the case of William Buckley, killed.'
Islamic Jihad claimed Oct. 14, 1985, that Buckley, 56, was 'executed' and produced a photograph of what it said was his corpse, but his body was never recovered. He reportedly was tortured.
CIA Director William Casey and Reagan reportedly wanted to get Buckley freed for humanitarian reasons and also because they were fearful that Buckley would reveal critical intelligence information about the region to his torturers.
Bush, on the basic issue of whether arms were indeed traded for hostages, said: 'When all the facts are out, the American people can make up their own minds on that key question. But the American people should also know that the president is certain to this very day that he did not authorize arms for hostages.'
Today, Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the terrorism conference, 'I believe the president' when Reagan said arms were sent to Iran only to open the dialogue with 'moderates' in the radical Islamic government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
But Reagan was obviously influenced in the overture to Iran by the plight of the American hostages, Boren said.
'We became obsessed with getting the hostages out, so the hostages and the arms became intertwined, even if that were not the object,' he said. The defect in the U.S. approach was to treat every hostage incident as a national or international crisis, as horrible as the incidents might be, he said.
Bush, the first member of the administration to admit that 'mistakes were made' in the Iran arms deal, acknowledged that 'a widespread perception exists that this administration traded arms for hostages, thereby violating our own strong policy of making no concessions to terrorists.'
In defense of the administration, Bush insisted the terrorism policy was upheld by intercepting the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in October 1985 and retaliating against Libya last April.
'It is therefore with a profound sense of loss that I view this existing perception that we have abandoned our policy of not negotiating with terrorists,' he said.