US changes tack on Haiti death squads

AFTER three years of downplaying human rights abuses in Haiti, the US embassy in the capital, Port-au-Prince, has suddenly begun to publicise the death squads' deeds, in an apparent effort to win support at home for military intervention.

Parked beside the road near the Haitian capital last Tuesday was the car of a burly USAid official, Bill Radline, who was investigating the murders of at least 12 young Haitians buried nearby in three mass graves.

Noting that it would be difficult to find out the details of the massacre because 92 UN human rights monitors were being expelled that day, Mr Radline said he hoped the media 'would give the killings all the publicity possible'.

US officials in Haiti did not always speak like this. As recently as last April Ellen Cosgrove, the embassy human rights officer in Port-au-Prince, wrote a lengthy classified telegram to the State Department, which was leaked to the press.

In it she said: 'President (Jean-Bertrand) Aristide and his supporters in Washington and here consistently manipulate and even fabricate human rights abuses as a propaganda tool.' In particular, she was 'frankly suspicious of the sudden, high number of reported rapes' of women opposed to the regime.

Early this year the State Department's annual report on the state of human rights was noticeably restrained on Haiti, admitting the large numbers of death squad murders, but careful not to blame the military government too directly.

By last week, however, as Haitians waited to see if President Bill Clinton would order into action the invasion fleet massing on the horizon, US officials had no doubt who was behind the violence. Nancy Ely- Raphel, a senior State Department spokeswoman in Washington, said the island's military rulers were 'slowly turning Haiti into a hell'.

Juan Mendez of Americas Watch, the human rights organisation, says the State Department changed its attitude because 'the object was no longer to reach an accommodation with the military'.

Throughout the past year the US put great diplomatic effort into trying to force Father Aristide to reach a power-sharing agreement with the army commanders. This was the basis of the so-called Governor's Island Agreement, under which Fr Aristide was to return to power. Even after the murder of his two leading supporters - including his justice minister, Guy Mallary - by gunmen of the junta, the US embassy believed that it could unite the army commanders and the man they overthrew in 1991.

At the heart of American strategy was the twin aim of bringing Fr Aristide back but stopping him from introducing radical change, by leaving the army a large share of power. This required blurring the responsibility for the death squads, believed to be tightly controlled by the military leadership, which has killed 300 opponents this year. It was this policy which collapsed in May.

Under growing pressure from black leaders at the UN, Mr Clinton conceded that it was difficult for Fr Aristide to deal with opponents who sliced off the faces of their enemies.

William Swing, the US ambassador, who had signed the April telegram, issued what amounted to a public apology for its errors.

Ironically, the switch in US policy occurred just as the number of dead bodies turning up in and around Port-au-Prince was going down. In May and June, the UN human rights monitors say, there were fewer killings. When the lull in the violence was broken by last week's massacre at Morne-a-Bateau, the US embassy even exaggerated what had happened, speaking of 'pools of blood' when in fact there were few bloodstains to be seen. The victims were probably killed elsewhere.

By downplaying the violence of the military regime in Haiti, the State Department did some damage to its reputation for showing real concern for human rights. But it also probably encouraged a damaging degree of self-deception in Washington. For more than a year the Clinton administration believed that it was dealing with a government which could be forced to compromise with its opponents when its record showed its only aim was to kill them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser