The List

Trained in the U.S.A.

The United States has a long history of inadvertently (and sometimes not so inadvertently) training future coup plotters around the world.


Country: Mali

Training: U.S. military officials have acknowledged that Sanogo "participated in several U.S.-funded International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs in the United States, including basic officer training," though it's not yet clear which courses he took. He has affirmed receiving U.S. training in several interviews, but has declined to elaborate. Until this month's events, the United States allocated $600,000 per year for military training in Mali as part of an effort to combat Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Back home: On March 22, Capt. Sanogo and a renegade group of officers calling themselves the National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State overthrew the government of President Amadou Toumani Touré. (Touré himself first took power in a 1991 coup but quickly handed over the presidency to a civilian government and was then elected a decade later.) The soldiers felt they were insufficiently supported in their fight against Tuareg rebels in the country's north. The junta has dissolved the country's governing institutions and closed its borders while several key international organizations have suspended Mali's membership. The United States has denounced the coup and cut off military aid.

Although Sanogo's supporters are already referring to him as le président, he has vowed that he will not cling to power and will quickly turn over his office to a civilian government, though this is a bit odd given that an election was already scheduled for next month.


Country: The Gambia

Trained: Jammeh, then a captain, attended a military police training course at Fort McClellan, Alabama, in 1994.

Back home: Only 29 years old and just returned from his training in Alabama, Jammeh and four other junior officers led a bloodless coup in 1994, overthrowing longtime democratically elected president Dawda Jawara. Jammeh promised that his would be a "coup with a difference" and that he would stand down "as soon as we have set things right." Eighteen years later, he is still in power.

In addition to brutal crackdowns on the opposition and the press, Jammeh has become known for his eccentricities, including promoting a banana-and-herb cure for AIDS and rounding up those suspected of sorcery. After he was re-elected in 2011 to a fourth term in a widely criticized election, His Excellency the President Sheik Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya Jammeh, as he calls himself, told his critics they could "go to hell" and vowed to rule for a billion years.


Country: Haiti

Trained: Biamby received infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1980 and 1985. François received small-arms and ammunition repair training at the Army Odrnance School in Aberdeen, Maryland, and the Savanna Army Depot in Illinois in 1983.

Back home: In 1991, Biamby, the Army chief of staff, and François, chief of the national police, led a coup along with Army Gen. Raoul Cedras to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, installing Cedras as leader of the country. (It is also frequently reported that Cedras received trainingin the United States though the Pentagon claimed at the time to be unable to find any record of him training.)

Cedras's three years of rule were characterized by human rights abuses, including the murder of hundreds of Arisitide supporters by François's death squads and a massive increase in cocaine smuggling, reportedly organized by the police chief. But, under international pressure, the regime stepped down in 1994 and allowed Aristide to return to power. Cedras was reportedly given a million-dollar "golden parachute" by the U.S.  government to convince him to leave. Both he and Biamby are reportedly living in Panama. François was arrested in Honduras in 1997 and held on drug charges for several months but then released after a court denied a U.S. extradition request. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Aristide was again overthrown in 2004, this time by rebel leader Guy Phillipe, who had also reportedly received training by U.S. Special Forces.


Country: Honduras

Training: According to the advocacy group SOAWatch, Vasquez took a combat arms training course at the School of the Americas (SOA) in 1976 and another on small unit training in 1984. The SOA was a controversial U.S. military training program for Latin American military officers, a number of whom went on to be implicated in human rights abuses or military coups. The school was officially closed in 2000 but critics allege that similar training is taking place under the auspices of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation based in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

Back Home: Honduras's constitutional crisis of 2009 began when then President Manuel Zelaya ordered Vasquez, then commander of the Honduran armed forces, to help administer a referendum that would have allowed him to run for reelection. Vasquez refused, believing the referendum to be illegal, and was dismissed by the president.

As Zelaya moved ahead with the referendum, Vasquez and his allies supervised a plan to seize the ballots around the country, arrest the president, and remove him from the country. Elections were held several months later and Vasquez was named head of Honduras's government-owned telecoms company in 2010. He has suggested he may run for president in 2013.


Country: Panama

Training: Took four courses on command at SOA between 1963 and 1967

Back home: In 1968, the left-leaning anti-militarist Arnulfo Arias was elected president of Panama, promising to regain control of the Panama Canal and reassert civilian control over the country's military. He took office on Oct. 1 and was removed from power 10 days later in a military coup led by Lt. Col. Torrijos, fleeing -- ironically-- to the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone. (Arias had bad luck with coups: It was the third time he had been ousted from power by the military.)

The new junta quickly disbanded all political parties and arrested hundreds of political opponents. Torrijos, who promoted himself to brigadier general a year later, ruled Panama for 13 years, consolidating political power in the hands of the military elite. He is best remembered internationally for negotiating the treaty with U.S. President Jimmy Carter that returned the canal to Panamanian control in 2000.

Torrijos died in a plane crash in 1981, after which his fellow SOA graduate Manuel Noriega quickly became the de facto ruler of the country.


Country: Guatemala

Training: Montt attended a training course at SOA in 1950.

Back home: More than three decades of civil war and military dictatorship began in Guatemala following the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew leftist President Jadobo Arbenz Guzman in 1954. In 1982, following an election widely viewed as fraudulent, Montt -- by then a general -- seized power in yet another CIA-backed coup.

Montt led the country for only 18 months before he was himself overthrown in a coup, but during that time thousands of peasants were killed as the military hunted down leftist opponents in the countryside. Despite CIA reports of an increasing number of bodies "appearing in ditches and gullies," the Reagan administration lifted the U.S. arms embargo on Guatemala during this period. He was also a close friend of U.S. preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who praised his anti-Communist Christian message.

During his time out of power, Montt was accused of having ties to organized crime. In 2003 he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency of Guatemala. In January 2012, he was indicted on charges of genocide against native Guatemalans and crimes against humanity. The prosecution has implicated him in the deaths of at least 1,771 people.


Country: Bolivia

Training: Took a motor vehicles course at SOA in 1956 and received more training at Ft. Hood, Texas, in 1960

Back home: The career soldier served as a military attaché in Washington, minister of education, and director of the Argentine military academy before he first attempted a coup against leftist president Juan Jose Torres in 1971. Several months later, he returned from a brief exile in Argentina to finish the job and declare himself president. Banzer survived 13 coups during his rule before allowing elections and conceding defeat in 1985. It's estimated that during Banzer's first period of rule, more than 15,000 people were arrested and 200 killed for political reasons.

In 1997, he was elected president again and ruled until 2001 when, stricken with cancer, he handed over power to his vice president. He was known as a strong supporter and ally of the U.S.-led war on drugs. He died in 2002.

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The List

Is This Thing On?

The 8 worst "hot mic" blunders of all time.

The microphone has long been both a politician's best friend and worst enemy. In 1948, for example, Thomas E. Dewey got himself into trouble when the train he was traveling on lurched backward toward a crowd of supporters in Illinois, just as the Republican presidential candidate was preparing to speak into a microphone. "That's the first lunatic I've had for an engineer," Dewey huffed. "He probably should be shot at sunrise." Never one to miss an opportunity, Democratic incumbent Harry Truman praised the "all Democratic" train crew, while the "lunatic" engineer himself declared, "I think as much of Dewey as I did before, and that's not very much."

You'd think we would have learned a thing or two in the six decades since, but apparently not. President Barack Obama has been stung by the open mic on three separate occasions. And on Monday, it happened again. Microphones caught Obama telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev after a meeting in Seoul that he would have more "flexibility" to deal with issues such as missile defense after the U.S. presidential election. Here's a transcript and video of the exchange, per ABC News:

Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him to give me space.

Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you...

Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.

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The conversation has sparked an outcry among conservatives. Mitt Romney's campaign pounced, tweeting, "@BarackObama: I'll have more flexibility to _______ after the election," prompting followers to fill in the blank with everything from "impose peace plan" on Israel to "act more European." The Republican National Committee has already come out with an ad asking, "What else is on Obama's agenda after the election that he isn't telling you?"

Just a tip: if you have to ask "Is this thing on?" better to be silent than sorry. Here's a look at the worst tempests in a teacup roiled by the open mic. And if you think Obama put his foot in his mouth, just wait until you hear Putin's rape joke or recall what Reagan's slip of the tongue almost caused.

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During a G-20 summit in Cannes, France, in November 2011, journalists who tuned into a translation before they were instructed to do so overheard French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "liar" who he couldn't "bear" while discussing France's vote in favor of the Palestinian bid for UNESCO membership with Obama. "You're fed up, but I have to deal with him every day," the U.S. president reportedly responded.

The comments caused a stir in the United States (then-Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann urged Obama to apologize to Netanyahu) and in France (Sarkozy met with leaders of the French Jewish community to explain his comments), but they also generated a great deal of debate in Israel.

"I was embarrassed to read what Sarkozy thinks about our prime minister, and I was even more embarrassed to hear that the U.S. president agrees with him," Labor Party legislator Daniel Ben-Simon told the Jerusalem Post. "If [Netanyahu] lies so easily to important officials, just imagine how much he lies to us." On the other end of the spectrum, Danny Danon, a lawmaker who belongs to Netanyahu's Likud Party, declared that "Obama's true face was revealed, as were his cold and disrespectful policies towards Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu."

The Israeli press was equally divided. Over the course of several days, op-ed headlines included, "Don't Trust the French," "Don't Trust Barack Obama," "Obama, Talk Is Cheap," "Our Friend in Paris," "Why Should Anyone Believe Netanyahu?" and "Netanyahu Is Less of a Liar Than Past Israeli PMs."

In March, Netanyahu "had" to cancel a visit to Paris but did meet with Obama at the White House. This time, Obama spoke of "friendship" and "unbreakable" bonds -- at least when the microphones were on.

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During a Democratic fundraiser in Chicago in April 2011, Obama, not realizing that CBS News's Mark Knoller was still recording his remarks after a question-and-answer session with reporters, informed donors that Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, "is a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East. Reform, reform, reform -- you're seeing it on Al Jazeera." But, he added off the cuff, the emir "himself is not reforming significantly. There's no big move towards democracy in Qatar."

What made the comments particularly embarrassing is that, earlier in the day, Obama had met with Thani in Washington and praised Qatar's leadership in Libya and "when it comes to democracy in the Middle East" (the emir, in turn, promised to send Obama tickets to the 2022 World Cup, which his country is hosting).

The Qatari daily The Peninsula quickly issued a pointed rebuttal:

We strongly believe that change and democracy should come from within and should never be imported or we will have what happened in Iraq. Maybe in Qatar, our pace is slow but we have no doubt we are in the right direction. We are sure that we will achieve all that we have set for in our Vision 2030, likely eight years ahead when you come for World Cup 2022. We believe Qatar is on the learning curve and we are making progress in practicing democracy -- from media to public debate and education....

Mr. President, we have often written about U.S. foreign policy having double standards and being unmindful of the process of the change in Middle East. We do not want U.S. to export democracy to us because we don't want to repeat the Iraq experience. But be assured, we can build our own process.

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At the end of an October 2006 press conference between Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Moscow, a reporter caught the Russian president cracking a joke about rape charges against his Israeli counterpart Moshe Katsav (the Israeli president was later found guilty). "What a mighty man he turns out to be!" Putin reportedly quipped. "He raped 10 women -- I would never have expected this from him. He surprised us all -- we all envy him!"

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov later admitted that Putin made the wisecrack but argued that it "in no way means that President Putin welcomes rape." For good measure, he added that "Russian is a very complicated language, sometimes it is very sensitive from the point of view of phrasing" (Putin, for his part, claimed that journalists probably "heard something and began to have ideas").

The Russian daily Kommersant may have summed up the controversy best. "This was one of those moments when you just can't believe your ears," the paper marveled.

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In July 2006, during a G-8 lunch in Russia, a live microphone caught President Bush venting to British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the United Nations' stance on the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. "See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over," Bush noted in reference to Syria's alleged support for the Islamic militant group (about 1 minute into the clip).


Bush didn't think much of the incident ("he rolled his eyes and laughed" after seeing the transcript, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told reporters), but the famously plainspoken president did catch some flak in the press. Tony Blair faced withering criticism as well. Here's how Ireland's Sunday Tribune described the exchange, referencing Bush's apparent greeting of "Yo, Blair!" (some reports translated this line as "Yeah, Blair").

"Yo Blair," the leader of the Free World greeted his gofer. He proceeded to slap down the prime minister's efforts to intervene in the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. Tony sidled away, tail between his legs, his subservience captured for posterity on Bush's microphone.

During a visit to parliament a couple days after the summit, Blair was reportedly heckled with cries of "yo!" from opposition lawmakers.

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This doesn't technically qualify as a hot mic gaffe, but it's too good to exclude. In July 2005, French journalists overheard French President Jacques Chirac making fun of British food with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Vladimir Putin. "The only thing [the British] have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow" disease, Chirac reportedly joked. "You can't trust people who cook as badly as that. After Finland, it's the country with the worst food."

The Brits, needless to say, weren't happy. Under the pun-riddled headline, "Chirac's reheated food jokes bring Blair to the boil," the Guardian quoted British chefs saying "a man full of bile is not fit to pronounce on food" and "I'd serve him langoustines followed by good Aberdeen Angus beef and then give him a heart attack with some sticky toffee pudding."

But when London was selected over Paris as the host city for the 2012 Olympics days later, it was the United Kingdom's turn to gloat. As an op-ed in the Sunday Mercury put it:

If Jacques Chirac had not stuck his size nines in it before the vote by having a pop at Britain and their less-than-appetizing cuisine, then maybe Paris would have won.

In the end, it was London's hunger to get the Games, rather than Paris's apparent self-confidence that they would win, that triumphed.

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While waiting for President Bill Clinton to arrive at a NATO meeting in Madrid, Spain in July 1997, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (pictured above, third from right) issued a scathing critique of the United States that was picked up by a television network's audio system. "In your country, in my country, all the politicians would be in prison because [the Americans] sell their votes," he told the prime ministers of Belgium and Luxembourg, in reference to the U.S. political system. He bragged about Canada standing up to the United States and even joked about starting the meeting without Clinton.

Clinton later shrugged off the remarks (calling Chrétien a "great leader" and "superior human being," and vowing to "get even" on the golf course), but the prime minister's comments proved more divisive in Canada. "Mr. Chrétien has managed to insult the American political process, the president, the Congress, state and municipal leaders, and the U.S. public service," Preston Manning, the leader of Canada's opposition at the time, declared. But an editorial in Canada's Globe and Mail was more glowing:

For years, our diplomats in Washington have had to focus on Congress. Whether the issue was acid rain, softwood lumber, a global ban on landmines, or a treaty on chemical warfare, Canada has often had to put its case not just to the president, but to Congress, as well as interest groups, who wield enormous power in the system.

Thus, when Mr. Chrétien laments the inability of Mr. Clinton to get his way on NATO or Haiti, he shows a critical understanding that a Canadian prime minister must have of the reality of Washington.

Mr. Chrétien should speak from the heart more often. Candor becomes him.

Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images


In July 1993, British Prime Minister John Major let frustration over his difficulty in securing approval of the European Community's Maastricht Treaty spill over during an off-the-record chat with a television reporter, not realizing that he was still being taped. Most famously, Major called three of his Euroskeptic ministers "bastards" for opposing European integration. (The prime minister never identified the Cabinet members by name, though that didn't stop the British press from speculating about their identities.)

The gaffe only further aggravated the divisions within Major's Conservative Party over the treaty and continued to resonate in the British political arena for quite some time. In 2004, the Independent reported that several Tory lawmakers who had by then embraced the term "bastards" reunited to raise "their glasses to Mr. Major's fit of pique."

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In August 1984, President Ronald Reagan made the mother of all microphone blunders. "My fellow Americans," he joked during a sound check for a radio address. "I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." (The radio address was actually about a much more mundane subject: religious groups meeting in public high schools.)

Reagan aides and reporters may have laughed at the president's playful banter, but America's Cold War enemy was not amused. When the audio leaked, Politico notes, the Soviet military briefly went on high alert, U.S. officials had to assure the Kremlin that Reagan's remark had been in jest, and Reagan's poll numbers against Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale temporarily slipped.

A few days after the incident, the Associated Press reported that a Soviet commentator named Genrik Borovik had appeared on television to criticize Reagan and his "maniacal idea" of destroying the Soviet Union. "People say a man's level of humor corresponds with the level of his thinking," she observed. "If this is so, then isn't this too base for the president of a great country?"

As we've learned in the decades since Reagan's scandalous sound check, even presidents of great countries sometimes forget to turn off the microphone.

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