February 6, 1996, Tuesday
Cables Show U.S. Deception on Haitian Violence
By LARRY ROHTER (NYT) 1379 words
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 5 -- In the months after the United States invasion of Haiti, American officers repeatedly told their troops that the country's most dreaded paramilitary group was actually a legitimate opposition political party. "They're no different from Democrats or Republicans," soldiers in Haiti dutifully echoed when asked about their instructions.
But a review of classified cables sent by the American Embassy in Haiti to the Defense and State Departments shows that for a year before the invasion in September 1994 the Pentagon knew that the official version was not true.
Within weeks of the founding of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, the papers indicate, American intelligence agencies had concluded the group was a gang of "gun-carrying crazies" eager to "use violence against all who oppose it."
"All over the country, Fraph is evolving into a sort of Mafia," a cable from the office of the American military attache in Port-au-Prince warned in the spring of 1994, using the group's acronym. "Its use of force to intimidate and coerce is sanctioned by the local military, which derives both political and especially material benefits from their relationship."
With United States troops now in Bosnia pursuing some of the same objectives as in Haiti, the documents raise questions about the soldiers' mission, the information they are given by superiors and the action they take in the field.
Human rights observers and others who have seen the papers say they also raise the question of whether the military ordered American troops to ignore human rights abusescommitted before they arrived.
What remains uncertain is why the Pentagon took a public stance clearly at odds with the classified information it had collected in Haiti.
A Pentagon official denied today that there was any conflict between the official position and the inside information: "If daylight is perceived between our public and private perceptions, that's wrong. We agreed on what Fraph was. Fraph was a political movement, but clearly a political movement with a substantial thug element to it. It was clear to us that Fraph represented a potential threat. That didn't change. There were efforts, clearly, in the initial weeks of the intervention to calm the rhetoric and reduce the likelihood that there would be violent confrontations -- and that was relatively successful."
Ira Kurzban, an American lawyer who has reviewed the cables on behalf of the Haitian Government, said, "There is absolutely no ambiguity in these documents with respect to the fact that Fraph was an instrument of repression under the control of the Haitian military."
In a telephone interview from the Maryland jail where he is being held for deportation, Emmanuel Constant, the founder of Fraph, said that from the moment American troops landed he was under pressure from the United States military to help it maintain "a form of balance in Haiti" between groups supporting President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and those opposing him.
Mr. Constant said he was told by the American military early in October 1994 that "I should ease up the tension and avoid confrontation" by "giving a speech in which I promised to be a constructive opposition to Aristide." That speech was delivered soon afterward, and Mr. Constant maintained it "was approved by the U.S. Government, by the embassy people" in advance.
In the interview, Mr. Constant acknowledged that he had been an informant of the Central Intelligence Agency before the American invasion but said he now feels betrayed.
Haitian Government officials and foreign diplomats here said it appeared the Defense Department and American intelligence agencies were acting to weaken Mr. Aristide, whom they had long distrusted. The Haitian officials suggested that United States agencies may also have been trying to protect Haitian informants who might be useful in the future but had been discredited by the collapse of the military dictatorship that overthrew Mr. Aristide.
In separate raids on the headquarters of Fraph and the Haitian armed forces after the invasion, American troops seized more than 150,000 pages of official documents, which were taken to the United States. Haiti has demanded their return.
Several hundred pages of United States documents relating to Fraph were obtained last year by the Center for Constitutional Rights for a suit filed in Federal Court in Brooklyn by Alerte Belance, an Aristide supporter now living in New Jersey, She says the group abducted her in Haiti in 1993 and attacked her with a machete, cutting off one of her arms, an ear, and parts of her nose and tongue before leaving her for dead.
Human rights groups say such brutality was typical of Fraph, which they hold responsible for many of the more than 3,000 deaths during Mr. Aristide's exile, from 1991 to 1994.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a motion for a default judgment against Fraph, which has failed to respond to the suit. But Ms. Belance's lawyers have asked the presiding judge to delay any award of damages until their client obtains additional documents, including tens of thousands of the pages seized by American troops from Fraph's headquarters.
"These documents are relevant to establish that Fraph was acting under color of official authority when it carried out the torture of Alerte Belance, and therefore violated international law," the Center for Constitutional Rights contended in court papers filed last month.
Cables that have already been declassified by the Defense Intelligence Agency as part of the suit indicate that American intelligence agencies had a broad network of informants both within the Haitian armed forces and Fraph. In public, however, all parties denied that they were connected.
Soon after Fraph was formed, a State Department cable on Oct. 28, 1993, concluded, "Their effectiveness is a function of the willingness of their patrons" in the Haitian Armed Forces "to use intimidation and violence (carried out by armed civilian attaches) to 'enforce' their political initiatives."
By December, the military attache in Port-au-Prince was warning the Pentagon that repression by Fraph in Haiti's southern peninsula "has increased considerably."
When in the spring of 1994 American officials began interviewing refugees who had fled by sea, they obtained an even clearer picture of Fraph's violent methods. Some testimony came from Fraph members who said they had fled in disgust.
"When they kill and rape people, we (new members) are forced to sit and watch," a cable quoted a former Fraph operative as saying, adding, "He also related that later in the initiation process you are forced to participate in the killings and rapes."
But that information was apparently withheld from American troops after they intervened on Sept. 19, 1994, to restore President Aristide. Radio broadcasts to Special Forces units in the Haitian countryside, for example, described Mr. Aristide's movement, Lavalas, and Fraph as competing political parties equally dedicated to the country's well-being.
The documents suggest that the American military's willingness to work with Fraph began to diminish only after a radio conversation between Mr. Constant and other leaders of the group was intercepted. According to a cable sent on Oct. 3, 1994, they were "threatening to break out weapons and begin an all-out war against the foreigners" and "named an American official as their first target."
By January 1995, the State Department was denying that the United States had ever treated Fraph as anything but thugs. The Secretary of State's office said of Fraph in a cable to the American Embassy in Haiti, "We viewed it as basically a rent-a-mob group financed by the military for recruiting purposes and dependent upon the military leaders' ability to punish/reward." In addition, the unclassified cable said, "we appreciate the embassy's consistent hard line on Fraph and strongly endorse the embassy's latest clarification of our position."