- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Despite pleas from liberal lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the State and Justice departments have no intention of investigating purported human-rights violations and misconduct by Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Honduras, The Washington Times has learned.

Four Honduran villagers, including two women and a 14-year-old boy, were killed during a May 2012 drug interdiction operation in Ahuas, a municipality on the northeast Caribbean coast. The incident has for months prompted questions from human-rights groups and lawmakers demanding to know the extent to which DEA agents — deployed to Honduras to mentor local counternarcotics teams — were involved.

While a probe conducted by the Honduran government last year cleared the DEA of any wrongdoing, 58 House Democrats recently sent a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. calling the probe “deeply flawed.”

The Jan. 30 letter, which exposed a rift between the Obama administration and progressives on Capitol Hill, called for a new “thorough and credible investigation” to be opened into what role — if any — the DEA played. But the Obama administration apparently is satisfied by the findings of the earlier Honduran government probe.

“There will be no separate investigation,” a U.S. official told The Washington Times this week.

The remarks appear to expose a new phase in what has for months been a simmering dispute over the militarization of the drug war and its expansion overseas via the presence of armed U.S. operatives in countries such as Honduras.

In addition to seeking clarity on the DEA’s role in Honduras, lawmakers who signed the letter to Mr. Kerry and Mr. Holder said they are “particularly disturbed to learn of the effects of a militarized counternarcotics policy on Afro-Honduran communities, and the participation of U.S. agents in operations that have led to the deaths of Afro-indigenous civilians.”

The letter also called “for an immediate investigation into alleged abuses perpetrated by Honduran police and military officials in the country.”

With U.S. drug-war attention shifting increasingly from Mexico to Central America, the past year has seen the State Department, Pentagon and Justice Department ramp up spending for everything from base construction and police- and prosecutor-training programs to direct drug-interdiction efforts in Central American nations.

In Honduras alone, the Defense Department spent a record $67.4 million on military contracts in 2012, according to a recent report by The Associated Press. The report also noted roughly $2 million spent by Washington on training for Honduran military personnel in 2011, and $89 million in annual spending to maintain Joint Task Force Bravo, a 600-member U.S. unit based at Soto Cano air base in central Honduras.

Neither the State Department nor the Justice Department has officially responded to last month’s letter from House Democrats, who asserted that at least 10 DEA agents participated in the May 11, 2012, raid during which “a pregnant woman” was among the villagers killed and “several other innocent bystanders were injured.”

Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Georgia Democrat, spearheaded the effort to get other House members to sign on to the letter. A spokesman for Mr. Johnson said the letter also had been circulated to Republicans, but none had signed on.

The DEA, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department, has been dismissive of the letter.

In a statement last month, DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden told The Times that the investigation conducted by Honduran authorities “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.”

Officials at the State Department, meanwhile, have refused to comment publicly on the push by House Democrats for a fresh investigation.

Another department official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. is focused on firming up the rule of law in Honduras and helping officials “resolve high-profile murder cases, reform Honduran police and strengthen human-rights institutions.”

“Regarding the May 11 incident,” the spokesman said, “as we have confirmed previously, DEA agents were involved in a supporting role, and did not fire their weapons.”

An independent August 2012 report, meanwhile, has helped to spur the ongoing congressional interest in the incident.

The report produced by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research think tank and the human-rights group Rights Action was critical of the Honduran investigation.

“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.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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