Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460
Washington, DC — A new report from the Offices of Inspector General (OIG) of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US State Department finds that US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents were in operational control in a notorious incident in Ahuas, Honduras in May 2012 in which four Miskitu villagers were killed and three others severely wounded. The findings contradict previous claims by DEA officials that its agents played only a “supportive” role in the incident, 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.”
In the shooting episode, part of a counternarcotics strategy called “Operation Anvil,” eyewitnesses and survivors say a boat carrying at least 15 people was fired on by State Department-titled helicopters. DEA agents and Honduran police then reportedly prevented injured victims from seeking medical assistance for hours after the shooting, and held them at gunpoint until the operation was concluded.
“This report vindicates eyewitnesses’ account of the events and exposes the deceit and the cover-up perpetrated by the DEA,” Annie Bird, Director of Rights and Ecology and coauthor of two investigative reports on the incident that are cited extensively in the OIG report, said. “The next step is to obtain some measure of justice for the victims and their families.”
The DOJ and State Department OIG report concludes an investigation that began in 2014. The DEA had denied that its agents were involved in the shooting, but eyewitnesses said that at least one of the State Department-titled helicopters fired on the boat and that an American agent on another boat had also fired a weapon.
Both the State Department and the DEA had initially stonewalled attempts at an investigation, media reported in 2013. Leaked State Department memos in 2013 stated “[then] Assistant Secretary for [the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement], William Brownfield […] reportedly was not forthcoming and gave the impression he believed DS should not pursue the investigation.” In November 2015, the New York Times published an article revealing that the DEA refused to hand over emails from officials linked to the operations to the DOJ Inspector General. The DOJ IG complained that this and other restrictions on access to key information meant that “we're no longer independent.”
In 2013, Clara Woods, one of the survivors and the mother of the 14-year old killed in the incident, was contacted several times by the DEA. She says she was offered money in exchange for altering her testimony of the incident, and was given a polygraph test.
“Five years later, the victims of this crime still await justice,” Karen Spring of the Honduras Solidarity Network said today. “There have been no convictions against US or Honduran agents involved in the operation. There have been no remedies for the victims’ physical and emotional injuries, or for the resulting social and economic hardships sustained by the victims and their families.”
In February 2014, three Honduran police were acquitted from charges of abuse of authority and homicide for only one of the four murders. In November 2016, a police officer was arrested again on the same charges, but no trial has been held. Victims have also been denied access to case information. Honduran investigators have not had any access to weapons for ballistic tests used in the operation by US agents, and Honduran courts and the Honduran Attorney General’s office have never addressed the other three deaths resulting from the incident.
The DOJ/DOS investigators conducted their investigation while US aid kept flowing for five years and supported a militarized drug war in Honduras, leading to more victims among Honduran, and particularly indigenous, communities.
“The IG report makes it clear that DEA agents abroad can literally get away with murder. In this case, not only did the DEA fail to hold agents accountable for their role in the killing of innocents, they appear to have knowingly deceived the public about what actually occurred during the Ahuas operation,” Alexander Main, Senior Associate for International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and coauthor of two reports on the Ahuas incident that are cited extensively in the OIG report, said. “Alarmingly, despite these revelations, there is no indication that the agents or those that protected them within the DEA will be sanctioned in any way.”
The 350-page DOJ and DOS IG report released today has not previously been made available to victims, their family members, their Honduran and US legal support team, or to researchers or journalists. We will review the full report and publish a thorough analysis at a future date.