The human rights detective May 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Guatemala, Human Rights, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: Efrain Rios Montt, guatemala, human rights, jefferson morley, kate doyle, Latin America, Peru, roger hollander, Vladimir Montesinos
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ROGER’S NOTE: NEEDLESS TO SAY, THE GOVERNMENTS OF PERU AND GUATEMALA UNDER WHOSE AUSPICES THESE ATROCITIES WERE COMMITTED, WERE AT THE TIME ACTIVELY SUPPORTED BY THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.
Friday, May 11, 2012 06:00 PM EST, www.salon.com
How Kate Doyle pursues war criminals in Latin America
Kate Doyle, human rights investigator, combines legal activism with forensic science. (Credit: Reuters/Jorge Lopez)
Kate Doyle’s job isn’t exactly journalism, though she’s nailed more big stories than many Pulitzer Prize winners. Her work does not quite qualify as law enforcement either, though a few bad guys living in confined quarters rue the day she came into their lives. “Human rights detective” sounds flippant, so she prefers “forensic archivist.”
Whatever you call it, war criminals have to pay attention. Last month Doyle, a senior analyst at the non-profit National Security Archive, testified as an expert witness in the Peruvian government’s prosecution of Vladimir Montesinos, the country’s former intelligence chief, who is on trial for ordering the execution of 14 captured leftist guerrillas in 1997. Doyle authenticated a declassified CIA cable she had obtained that included a first person account of Montesinos’s actions.
In the near future, she hopes to take the stand as an expert witness against former de facto Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt, who presided over a genocidal “scorched earth” war that killed an estimated 200,000 people in the early 1980s, the worst genocide in the Western Hemisphere in the 20th century. An investigation documented 626 different massacres committed by the U.S.-backed military forces between 1979 and 1984; most of the victims were unarmed Mayan Indians.
Doyle’s forensic investigations over the last 20 years have made her an irritant to governments everywhere — including Washington — as well a friend to the families of the victims of human rights abuses throughout Latin America. She has won a host of awards, including this year’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive and Puffin Foundation award for human rights activism, one of the world’s largest prizes in the field. She will share the award with fellow investigator Fredy Peccerelli, who is the executive director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation.
“She speaks with such strength because she speaks as an American,” Peccerelli said in an interview. “Very few times do you have someone investigating their own government and pointing to their own officials about their involvement. Kate speaks about the responsibility that Americans bear because of what they did. It’s very powerful.”
(Full disclosure: Doyle is a friend. I relied on CIA documents she obtained from the National Security Archive to write my book Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA. Like many journalists in Washington and Latin America, I have found her work to be built on a solid foundation of official documentation from the U.S. and other governments. )
She’s also a passionate advocate of freedom of information laws. Thanks in part to her work, seven Latin American countries have adopted freedom of information laws since 2000. The most distinctive feature of these laws is that, unlike the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, they explicitly forbid the withholding of information about human rights abuses on grounds of “national security.” A provision she calls “very important but untested.”
“Having a legal mechanism to obligate the state to provide information is just the beginning,” says Doyle. She shares the information with prosecutors to develop cases based on “criminal patterns of action” that yield specific details of a disappearance or a massacre. Peccerelli’s forensic anthropologists exhume bodies and do DNA analysis.
Doyle has been largely frustrated in Mexico and El Salvador, where legal authorities are reluctant to confront the abuses of the past. But in Guatemala, she and her colleagues have uncovered some remarkable stories that have led to the prosecution of military officers involved in war crimes.
In the late 1990s, a source gave Guatemalan human rights activists a 54-page army log that revealed the fate of scores of people who were “disappeared” by security forces during the mid-1980s. The log included photos of 183 of the victims, along with coded references to their executions.
For the families of the victims, the results of the discovery of the so-called “death squad dossier” were close to miraculous. Not only are the officers named in the documents now under investigation, but thanks to Peccerelli’s DNA work, the bodies of five of the victims were identified and returned to their families, who had never known what had happened to their loved ones 30 years ago.
In 2009, another source gave Doyle a set of internal military documents about the scorched earth campaign of the early 1980s that were so damning in their details that the source recommended she immediately leave the country. “This person was worried that anybody who had possession of such incendiary documents would be targeted,” Doyle said.
The documents will be used by prosecutors in the trial of Rios Montt. “We have a very strong case,” Doyle says. But the continuing power of the Guatemalan military means the 86-year-old retired general may be able to avoid justice.
I asked her if she ever get discouraged by the enormity of the crimes she investigates.
“I don’t,” she replied. “I”ve met so many beautiful, dedicated people in Guatemala who have been working on this for 30 years that I feel privileged. What Fredy’s group has done with DNA findings is amazing. I’m inspired, not discouraged.”
Working with the families of people who have lost loved ones, she says, “is always painful. But I can bring them information that they’ve never been able to get. That’s mitigates the pain.”
I asked her if she ever gets scared.
“I have received threats,” she says with a rueful laugh. “But I’ve never felt one iota as frightened as my colleagues who have to stay in Guatemala all the time. Pressure and hostility and threats come with the territory” — the territory of the forensic archivist.
Latin American military men against drug war April 14, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Guatemala, Latin America.
Tags: Colombia, decriminalization, drug policy, drug prohibition, drug regulation, felipe calderon, gerald le dain, harm reduction, jefferson morley, juan manuel santos, Latin America, le dain commission, marijuana, perez molina, roger hollander, war on drugs
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Roger’s note: There was a time when Canada lead the way. In 1972, the Le Dain Commission headed by Supreme Court Judge Gerald Le Dain, recommended the decriminalization of soft drugs such as marijuana. That was exactly 40 years ago. Although ignored by a succession of Canadian governments to this day, the report was a landmark for a policy of a sane harm reduction approach to the drug problem.
In Colombia Obama will hear from presidents looking for alternatives to prohibition
Ending drug prohibition is creeping into the U.S. political debate, thanks to a couple of Latin American military men. Oh sure, George Will’s not-quite endorsement of legalization is noteworthy, but more than one erudite conservative columnist has gone further before. The views of three Latin American statesman are important but former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz made the same case 23 years ago. The record high in public support for marijuana legalization found in a Gallup poll last year may be a factor, but the Obama administration has declared a “war on pot” since then.
It is the anti-prohibition campaign of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, one a former general, the other a former defense minister, that has forced the Obama administration to engage critics respectfully for the first time. Perez will be pushing a formal proposal to open discussion of alternative policies at the summit of American heads of state that President Obama is attending, in Cartagena, Colombia this weekend.
While Obama doesn’t support decriminalization, said his advisor Dan Restrepo this week, “we welcome” the debate. “It’s worth discussing,” Vice President Biden told reporters in Central America last month, “but there’s no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization.”
So while there’s no change of heart in Washington, there has been a change of tone. The Obama administration cannot afford to blow off the views of two staunch U.S. allies who have both waged drug wars in their countries, not at a time when public opinion in Latin America is increasingly disenchanted with the militarized approach.
Their approach is tactful. Santos says he doesn’t want to change U.S. policy, but merely hear U.S. officials defend it.
“There are good arguments for legalizing, but I would prefer to reach that conclusion after an objective discussion,” Santos told the Washington Post this week. “The U.S. says, ‘We don’t support legalization, because the cost of legalization is higher than no legalization.’ But I want to see a discussion where both approaches are analyzed by experts to say, really, the cost is lower or not.”
In a piece for the Guardian, Perez called for an “intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach – drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that consumption and production should be legalized but within certain limits and conditions … Legalization therefore does not mean liberalization without controls.”
Perez and Santos may not make headlines in Cartagena this weekend. In an effort to lower expectations and avoid confrontation with Obama, Santos told reporters in Cartagena yesterday that drugs should not be the “center of discussion” at the summit. At the same time, he added, a review of drug policy was necessary and reflected the will of the “vast majority” of countries in attendance.
“We will not see any shift in policy,” said Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the Cato Foundation, “but this is forcing Washington to engage and defend its position at high levels.”
“In the public forum, ending prohibition will probably only get a brief discussion,” predicted Ethan Nadelman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Privately it will be much more vigorously discussed. The challenge for the United States will be how to blur the differences. This is the first time ever that the decriminalization and alternatives to prohibition have ever been on the agenda of a major gathering of heads of states.”
Perez and Santos are still in the minority among Latin American presidents, most of whom say, at least publicly, that they oppose legalization. But the desire for alternatives to legalization and prohibition is widespread. In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon has followed the U.S. approach in declaring war on the cartels in 2006. Some 41,000 people have been killed in the last six years without reducing the supply of drugs or increasing the public’s sense of safety. Calderon has said legalization might be the only solution but with the Mexican presidential election approaching in July is not going to change his policy. After the election is a different story. The Mexican business community is increasingly supportive of legalization and regulation as the only solution to the country’s appalling levels of violence.
As the calls for reconsideration of drug war have proliferated, the Obama administration sent Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to Central America to argue for a prohibitionist policy.
“To send three top officials in a month shows that the administration is taking this seriously,” said Hidalgo. “They don’t want this debate to gain ground.”
But the more the administration responds in Latin America, the more legitimate drug policy reform becomes at home.
- Jefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday).More Jefferson Morley