October 03, 2012
It didn’t receive much attention in the international media, but an important report on the May 11 DEA-related shooting incident in Ahuas, Honduras, which killed four people and injured several others, was released at the end of August. Its conclusions and recommendations are consistent with many in the report that CEPR released, also in August (co-authored with experts from the human rights organization Rights Action): the U.S. DEA appears to have taken a lead — not merely a “supportive” role — in the operation; the “official” story presented by Honduran and U.S. officials has several important inconsistencies; and that the U.S. government should conduct its own, independent investigation of the incident (a thorough investigation, to be made public, looking at all the evidence – as opposed to the internal DEA investigation which does not seem to have gone anywhere). Notably, the report departs sharply from the conclusions reached by the official Honduran investigation, as recently reported to the Associated Press.
But the report’s significance lies not merely in its conclusions, but its source: is by the National Commission of Human Rights, a Honduran government agency that has been criticized for turning a blind eye to many human rights violations and for supporting the June 2009 coup d’etat. The report was issued under the leadership of human rights ombudsman Ramon Custodio, and his calls for an independent U.S. investigation were reported in the Honduran press (even if they were ignored by the U.S. media). The report is also important because it is based on interviews of the Honduran Tactical Response Team members involved in the May 11 operation – interviews which the CEPR/Rights Action researchers were not able to conduct.
– “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.”
– “The Honduran authorities have not been able to interview the FAST Team members of the DEA because they are unable to identify them, even though they have made statements to CNN.”
– “The declarations of the police officers who participated in the operation are contradictory in various parts, both between themselves as well as with the declarations of the victims.”
– The report mentions that, according to the TRT members, the automatic rifle and ammunition mentioned among the objects confiscated during the operation, were found not in the “drug boat” but in another pipante docked at the Landin.
– The report casts doubt on a key part of the TRT testimonies, stating that “A logical and reliable explanation has not been provided as to how the pipante with the victims, coming from Barra Patuca, was able to come close to the boat with the FAST and TRT personnel and the drugs, without difficulty given that one or two helicopters were flying over the boat to protect it and provide it with preventive security.”
It is notable that the report makes reference to this CNN video, in which now-former DEA attaché in Honduras, Jim Kenney, explains his responsibility for the vetting and training of the TRT agents.
And here are some of the recommendations that the report makes:
– “CONADEH – in the most respectful way- requests that the Senate Judiciary Committee of the United States and the Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives of the United States of America begin an in depth investigation of the issues raised during this operation.”
– “We advise the National Police and the Armed Forces to cease to allow foreigners to have direct command over our personnel again.”