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House Democrats seek probe of DEA role in lethal Honduras raid

- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2013

A group of House Democrats is calling on the State and Justice Departments to investigate the possible involvement of Drug Enforcement Administration agents in the murder last May of four villagers in Honduras.

A letter to both departments signed by 58 House Democrats this week raises concerns about the killing of four Afro-indigenous villagers, including a pregnant woman and a 14-year-old boy, during a drug interdiction raid in the northern Honduran area of Ahuas on May 11, 2012.

"At least ten U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents participated in the mission," states the letter, addressed to incoming Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. "We request a thorough and credible investigation on the tragic killings ... to determine what exactly occurred and what role, if any, was played by the ... [DEA] agents."

"We also call for an immediate investigation into alleged abuses perpetrated by Honduran police and military officials in the country," the lawmakers wrote.

"Official inquiries into the matter have been perfunctory and deeply flawed," their letter asserts. "Credible testimony indicates that the victims were innocent bystanders and not drug traffickers. As Honduran authorities have yet to address the issue, our government should press ahead with a full investigation to better determine exactly what occurred and what role was played by U.S. agents."

The Justice Department referred questions on the matter to the DEA and did not indicate whether it intends to take any action in response to the letter.

In a statement to The Washington Times, DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said that a Honduran government review of the Ahuas incident had already "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."

Mrs. Dearden said that the DEA had also conducted "an internal review of the participation by DEA agents." She did not elaborate on the review's findings.

Rep. Hank Johnson, Georgia Democrat, spearheaded the effort to get other House members to sign on to the letter. A spokesman for Mr. Johnson told The Times that the letter had also been circulated to Republicans, but none had signed on.

An independent August 2012 report, meanwhile, helped to draw congressional attention to the Ahuas incident.

The report produced by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research think tank and the human rights group Rights Action asserted that a probe of the Ahuas incident by Honduran authorities appeared to be severely delayed and flawed.

"Measures such as the interviewing of key witnesses have not been carried out, even though a former U.S. police detective employed by the U.S. Embassy provided technical support to the investigative team," the organizations said upon releasing the report. "DEA agents that participated in the May 11 operation have not been questioned, nor have ballistics tests been performed on their weapons."

The report itself said that "eyewitness accounts suggest that U.S. agents were present at different stages" of the operation and that one witness account suggested that "a U.S. agent was manning a door gun on at least one of the helicopters" involved.

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