DEA Lied About Deadly Honduran Drug Raid, Accountability Demanded

Posted July 12, 2017

MP3 Interview with Annie Bird, director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, conducted by Scott Harris

DEA

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-supported narcotics interdiction raid in Honduras in May 2012 that killed four civilians, including two women and a 14-year-old boy, received new attention recently with the May release of a report by inspectors general of the Departments of State and Justice. The report refuted an initial account filed by the DEA that stated the Honduran attack on a civilian boat by a DEA-led Honduran police unit and U.S. machine-gun-equipped helicopter was justified, and found that DEA and State Department officials had misled Congress.

According to Annie Bird, director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, the attack which took place in the rural Miskito indigenous community of Ahuas, on the Honduran Caribbean coast shines a light on the need for close scrutiny of U.S. support for the drug war in Central America.

Bird and Alexander Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, had visited Ahuas several weeks after the May 2012 attack and collected first-hand accounts from survivors and eyewitnesses that contradicted the DEA’s version of events. Their op-ed piece, titled, “The Deadly Results of a D.E.A.–Backed Raid in Honduras,” was published in the New York Times on July 2. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris reached Annie Bird in Honduras, where she described the 2012 attack, and the need for oversight and investigations by Congress into U.S. security operations and funding for counternarcotics missions in Central American nations. [Rush transcript]

ANNIE BIRD: The incident that happened in 2012 – the killing of four innocent bystanders and three others who are currently disabled – was a very tragic event because it became pretty clear early on that it was the DEA that was directly involved. The DEA was claiming that it had been a Honduran operation and that none of the people involved in the shooting had actually been DEA agents. So I traveled out to Ahuas with Alex Main from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and we interviewed witnesses and survivors of the attack and it became very clear there was a family who was moving from one town to another, had all their belongings, school records for 14-year-old boy who was killed. He was transferring from one school to the other. The family had some woman who were pregnant, one of them, her doctor who had been seeing her affirmed this. There was all kinds of evidence showing that this was a water taxi and it was traveling on the river because that's how people in that area travel and was mistaken by the DEA raid operation and the DEA then ordered the Honduran gunners on the helicopter to open fire on the boat. It became very clear that the DEA was actually in charge of the operation. That the Honduran agents were under the orders, under the command of the DEA.

And that the DEA in the United States was not being honest about that. But then what became even more concerning that the DEA and the State Department began promoting its story in Congress, when Congress began asking questions that individuals on a water taxi had opened fire on a boat DEA and police officers were on. And there was no evidence to substantiate that. In fact, what happened, is that there was a witness who essentially lied, admitted she lied, gave contradictory evidence, declarations and three different interviews. So it's a very intentional sort of misleading of Congress and the public, so the whole incident provided a very disturbing window into how the DEA is interacting with Honduran – not only drug net lords – but also the corruption in the police forces that they're working with.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Annie, tell us about the issue of accountability here. Your article emphasizes the fact that no one at the Drug Enforcement Administration has been held accountable for the lies and misdirection that they gave State Department and Justice Department investigators.

ANNIE BIRD: Exactly. And what the State Department and DEA what we're hearing that their response is, is that while this inspector general report that came out with all these very damning findings, is not longer relevant because the unit that undertook that operation was dissolved. Well, the fact of the matter is the way that we see it, is that the most disturbing aspect of what happened is how the DEA and the State Department got (unintelligible) afterwards by going along with lies, perpetuating misinformation, promoting false testimony and all of that was with the infrastructure of the DEA office in the country, the INL, the International Narcotic Law Enforcement Unit for the State Department and they actively participated in undermining the [investigation of chief mission authority] over their operations and then hiding what had actually happened in the operation and how they had later reacted to it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Your investigation into this situation on Honduras shines a light on a pattern of behavior by the United States in terms of its involvement in Central American governments and the drug trade there that really provides much caution in your mind that the Congress really needs to investigate this and scrutinize very heavily what the US DEA and other security assistance programs are doing to these countries where innocent civilians are being killed as well as corruption is rife within the local police departments and the military.

ANNIE BIRD: Exactly, there's this Central American Regional Security Initiative, CARSI, which was created in 2009 and which has seen billions of dollars, which are completely opaque. Congress does not know what the funds are being used for, and we're talking about billions of dollars. And our theory is that that funding, of what we see evidence to suggest, is that some of that funding could actually be promoting works of corruption and feeding into the power structure of the actual criminal organizations that we're supposed to be combatting. I mean, it's just a tiny little microcosm example that have theories and reasons to believe and indications that the false witness who was herself was connected to organized crime was likely paid by the Honduran government, maybe intended for witness protection or to promote access to information.

And what I have seen in other areas of the country is payment being lost to people to give false testimony, essentially to protect drug traffickers or death squads who are stealing land from popular farmers.

For more information, visit the Guatemala Human Rights Commission at ghrc-usa.org; Center for Economic and Policy Research at cepr.net; and Alex Main, CEPR at cepr.net/about-us/staff/alexander-main-senior-associate-international-policy.

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