April 2013, Alexander Main and Annie Bird
On May 11, 2012, a joint Honduran and U.S. counternarcotics operation in the remote Ahuas municipality of northeastern Honduras resulted in the killing of four indigenous villagers with no apparent ties to drug trafficking. The four individuals – a 14-year-old boy, two women and a young man – were traveling in a small passenger boat when they were shot and killed by counternarcotics agents. Three other boat passengers were badly injured.
According to Honduran authorities, the operation included 13 Honduran police agents, four State Department helicopters with mounted machine guns, eight U.S. government-contracted pilots and 10 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents. In February 2013, DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden stated that the Honduran investigation of the incident had “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.” Though 58 members of Congress recently requested a U.S. investigation of the Ahuas killings, a State Department spokesperson has said “there will be no separate investigation.”
In the following issue brief we take a look at how the Honduran Public Ministry’s investigation of the incident was conducted and examine the report on the investigation that the Honduran Attorney General (Fiscal general in Spanish) submitted to the State Department. We find that both the investigation and report have serious flaws including major omissions of key testimony and forensic exams, a one-sided description and analysis of events, and “observations” (in lieu of conclusions) that aren’t supported by the evidence that is cited.