At the end of January, I blogged about a Congressional letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder asking, among other things, for a U.S. investigation into the May 2012 killing of four Honduran indigenous villagers in Ahuas, Honduras during a counternarcotics operation that involved agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The letter, signed by 58 House representatives, argues that a credible U.S. investigation of the incident is necessary given the “deeply flawed” nature of the investigation carried out by Honduras’ Public Prosecutor and that, according to media reports, Honduran police agents stated that “they took their orders from the D.E.A.”
On February 12, the Washington Times reported that despite “pleas from liberal lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the State and Justice departments have no intention of investigating purported human rights violations and misconduct by Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Honduras.” Times’ correspondent Guy Taylor spoke to an anonymous State Department official who indicated that the Department was satisfied with the Honduran official investigation and stated that “there will be no separate investigation.” Furthermore,
In a statement last month, DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden told The Times that the investigation conducted by Honduran authorities “concluded that DEA agents did not fire a single round” and that “the conduct of DEA personnel was consistent with current DEA protocols, policies and procedures.”
The anonymous State Department official reaffirmed this position stating, “as we have confirmed previously, DEA agents were involved in a supporting role, and did not fire their weapons.”
The basis for this determination, as the DEA spokeswoman made clear in her previous comments to the Times, is the report summarizing the conclusions of the Honduran Public Prosecutor’s office. Though cited by the DEA and State Department, this report has not been made public. However, there is abundant evidence that the investigation that generated the prosecutor’s report was indeed “deeply flawed.” Last year’s in-depth report on the May killings, co-authored by CEPR and Rights Action, explained how key forensics tests were performed long after the incident occurred and how the autopsies of the victims took place a month after the incident and, according to numerous eye witnesses, were carried out in a stunningly unprofessional manner. Key participants in the counternarcotics operation – including at least ten DEA agents and several State Department contractors – were never questioned, nor were their weapons submitted to ballistics tests.
Most importantly, the report’s apparent findings – at least as they have been represented by the State Department and the DEA – are directly contradicted by another report produced by the Honduran National Human Rights Ombudsman. This report, which we also discussed in a previous post, is largely based on the testimonies of the Honduran police agents of the “Tactical Response Team” (TRT) that participated in the counternarcotics operation. Whereas, according to State and DEA, the prosecutor’s report confirms that the DEA merely played a “supportive role” during this operation, the Ombudsman’s report concludes that the DEA essentially led the entire operation:
All members of the TRT have stated that they only receive orders from American superiors and that they don't report anything, neither before nor afterwards, to their legal Honduran superiors, given that they ultimately don't deal with orders or logistics of any sort.
Furthermore, though State and DEA adamantly claim that the DEA agents “did not fire their weapons,” the Ombudsman’s report suggests that the DEA was directly responsible for the discharge of one of the helicopter’s high caliber automatic mounted guns against the boat carrying those who were killed in the incident. The report states that:
According to the account of various TRT (Honduran Tactical Response Team) members, as the Barra Patuca pipante was approaching the pipante transporting the drugs, which in that moment was adrift down river, a burst of fire could be heard, supposedly coming from the boat coming from Barra Patuca causing the member from the FAST Team of the DEA to communicate by radio with the foreign pilot on helicopter number four, who proceeded to give the order to the artilleryman from Honduras who was on the same helicopter to support his teammates by opening fire on the boat with the victims that was coming from Barra Patuca.
In other words, according to the testimony of Honduran police agents, the helicopter pilot – identified as non-Honduran – gave instructions to the helicopter gunner to open fire on the “boat with the victims” after being contacted by one of the DEA agents involved in the operation. Given this second “official” version of events, which appears to directly contradict the conclusions of the Public Prosecutor’s report and suggests that the DEA may bear much responsibility for the lethal outcome of the May incident, it is difficult to see how U.S. officials can continue to maintain that there is no need for a separate, U.S. investigation.