Sunday, February 06, 2005

"U.S. Drops Crimingal Investigation of CIA Antidrug Effort in Peru" and NYT sits on the story since "late January"

Reading Douglas Jehl and David Johnston's front page story ("U.S. Drops Criminal Investigation of C.I.A. Antidrug Effort in Peru") in this morning's New York Times, I couldn't help but wonder whether Jehl might someday go the Seymour Hersh route and leaving the Times to write elsewhere -- The New Yorker or any place that lets him break a story.

Let's nutshell the official story (the Times only prints official stories). As reported in the paper today: 1994, a C.I.A. operation begins to impede drug flights -- Peruvian Air Force gets information from the C.I.A. that assists them in targeting planes supposedly transporting drugs. One plane our CIA agents calls a drug plane is shot down, based on our "information" being passed on. It's not a drug plane and Veronica Bowers (a Baptist missionary from the United States) and Charity, her seven-month-old daughter, are killed. The paper notes the deaths were found by an inquiry to be "the result of language problems, poor communications and shortcuts in following established procedures." There's been Congressional testimony (some Democrats and Republicans expressed outrage) and the Justice Department opened a crimingal investigation that was dropped Thursday.
(Please note, this is the Times version of events, not mine.)

From the article:

The New York Times first alerted the C.I.A. and the Justice Department in late January that it was preparing to publish an article about the investigation. The agencies declined to comment about it until Friday, when Mr. Sierra, the Justice Department spokesman, said the department would not prosecute.

From Democracy Now!'s Headlines for February 1, 2005:

Students Say Press has "Too Much Freedom"A new survey of high school students has found that one in three students feel that newspapers should get "government approval" of stories prior to publication. One third of students also said the press has "too much freedom." Jack Dvorak, director of the High School Journalism Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington said the survey confirms that students are not learning enough about the First Amendment in school.

From Editor & Publisher:

Apparently the First Amendment ought to be made required reading in U.S. high schools. A new survey of 112,003 students released today finds that one in three say the press ought to be more restricted -- and 36% think newspapers should get “government approval” before stories are published.

Apparently the New York Times already has a similar policy? The article runs in today's paper and the Times alerted the CIA to it in late January?

I'm finding only one mention in the New York Times about this study. (There server is, as it is most days, completely useless. I've spent thirty minutes scanning through the physical copies of the main section since January 31st. I may have missed something. If so feel free to point it out:

Bob Herbert's op-ed "Our Battered Constitution" which ran Friday on page A23:

The Constitution? Forget about it.
Only about half of America's high school students think newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of their sources. And a third say the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment go "too far."
This has thrown a lot of noses out of joint. Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which financed a two-year study of high school attitudes about First Amendment freedoms, said, "These results are not only disturbing -- they are dangerous."
But maybe we shouldn't be so hard on the youngsters. After all, theyv'e been set a terrible example by a presidential administration that has left no doubt about its contempt for a number of our supposedly most cherished constitutional guarantees.

And what of the Times? No, they didn't get permission to run the story (as far as we know), they just fave an extremely kind "heads up!"

Is this common? Professional Journalist was asked to weigh in. (Disclosure, PJ works for a competing paper.)

Summary of P.J.'s comments:

Late January isn't very specific since it could mean Monday, January 31st. Even so, that's six days. If it was for a comment, it didn't produce much. Giving the benefit of doubt to the paper, the CIA said they'd get back with an official statement and then didn't. They held the story which is a pattern with the Times. If other sources hadn't broken it late in the week, it might not be in today's paper and it wouldn't be on the front page. This is the paper trying to assure readers that the story they've heard about for the last two days was something they knew about. Readers may wonder why the paper didn't break it since they knew about it, but the New York Times doesn't break stories. They were forced to run it today because it had already broken. Jehl & Johnston were following standard procedures for the paper. In theory, the procedure is supposed to result in an official quote for the paper but in practice what it does it makes nice and alert the CIA as to what the paper may or may not run.

Back to Editor & Publisher:

The study also revealed that the more students were exposed to First Amendment and new media courses in the classroom, the more involved they were in student journalism. For example, among those students who had taken First Amendment or other press-related courses, 87% believed people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions, while only 68% of those who had not taken such classes shared the belief.

Maybe the Times needs to expose their journalists to the First Amendment?

(In fairness, P.J. did note that the reporters were following standard procedures so maybe it's the culture at the top of the paper that needs to be exposed to the First Amendment?)

Let's address some other issues.

Should we, as a nation, have allowed the "war on drugs" to lead us to playing shoot-that-plane-the-one-right-there!

The plane shot down is generally thought to have been shot down by mistake. But let's say it or another flight had the biggest drug cargo of all time, why are we involved in shooting down planes? No, we're not pulling the trigger, we're just playing coach and cheerleader. (A sports metaphor the Times should love.)

This is justice? This is democracy? Execution without trial for everyone on board and we're somehow okay with that?

According to the U.S. State Department, it's near impossible to get justice in Peru:

On January 20, military police detained university student Victor Raul Espinoza after he reportedly instigated an altercation with military personnel near the presidential palace in Lima. They turned Espinoza over to the National Police, who took him to a nearby police station where police reportedly tortured and killed him. Several hours later, the police took Espinoza's bruised body to a local hospital. Following an investigation, a judge found sufficient evidence to indict 14 officers. According to the attorney for Espinoza's family, all 14 police indicted in the case remained on active duty at the end of the year; the case remained open but had not yet progressed beyond the investigative stage by the Attorney General's office.
However, civil authorities neither investigated fully most of the remaining killings by security forces, nor subjected the perpetrators to judicial sanctions. In those cases that were taken up, the armed forces relied on provisions of the Military Justice Code and the Constitution, the effect of which was to preempt independent civilian investigation and prosecution of cases involving military abuses. Although administrative sanctions and dismissals may have been decided in some cases, this process often accorded impunity to the perpetrators of human rights abuses. It was unclear how long even those who were convicted would stay in jail, in light of credible reports that Captain Telmo Hurtado, who had confessed to and was convicted for the 1985 Accomarca massacre, had reappeared on active duty.
In January when a civilian judge indicted several army personnel for the 1992 abduction and execution of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University, the army refused to turn the soldiers over to civilian authorities, asserting that the military court system had jurisdiction. While the army kept the indictees under military detention, the authorities appealed the jurisdiction issue to the Supreme Court in early February. Before the Court could muster the required two-vote margin in favor of either civilian or military trial, the government majority in Congress passed a bill, subsequently signed into law by President Fujimori, that permitted the one-vote majority in favor of prosecution in closed military court to be sufficient. The military court convicted nine in the case (a general and eight other commissioned and noncommissioned officers) and imposed sentences ranging from 4 to 20 years in prison (one was later acquitted on appeal). However, there was no rigorous investigation of allegations that higher-level officials had either ordered the killings or had covered them up. Nonetheless, this was only the third time since the onset of Sendero terrorism in which any court convicted military officers for extrajudicial killings, and included the highest ranking officer thus far convicted for such offenses.

That's the U.S. State Dept.'s official report on Peru for the year of 1994 (report published in 1995). But we began this policy, as part of the "war on drugs," in 1994. Maybe we just figured, "What the heck, justice is impossible there anyway, so let's just shoot them down?"

If you follow Peru (or much of Latin America), you'll find a different sort of reporting than you're offered in the Times about our involvement over there. But we're given so little information in the Times that we can't even grasp the history of what's going on.

Fullbright Scholar Wesley A. Fryer's "U.S. Drug Control in the Americas: Time for a Change" was published in 1993, but apparently we didn't pay enough attention:

Authority to shoot down suspected drug trafficker aircraft or exterminate "the enemy" in clandestine drug processing laboratories will not be given by the U.S. Congress, in part because it would not be tolerated by human rights and other vigilant interest groups. A military's primary role is to kill the enemy as efficiently as possible, but in the drug war this is not politically realistic. The "enemy" cannot be identified on a battlefield by the uniform he wears. Rather, "enemies" are the innumerable civilians engaged at all levels in an economic activity: the drug trade. U.S. militarization of counterdrug efforts will inevitably remain a limited enterprise, since an all-out campaign would be politically unrealistic.
The majority of the militarization that has taken place in counterdrug efforts has involved Latin American security forces rather than U.S. military forces. The United States has encouraged foreign militaries to take an active role in efforts to combat illicit drug production and trafficking, but such efforts have almost universally met strong initial resistance from military leaders. Offers of military and economic assistance have frequently proven too tempting to refuse, though, and Latin American military capabilities have been enhanced in the name of counterdrug operations. This U.S. security assistance has included equipment sales, especially of helicopters and related support equipment, provision of spare parts, and training for military personnel. Since the early 1980s, Colombian and Bolivian military operational capabilities have significantly improved thanks to U.S. aid. Latin American militaries involved in counterdrug efforts largely constrain themselves to supporting police forces, however, due to their continued resistance to intense involvement in the drug war.
U.S. security assistance to Latin America reached its highest levels in fiscal year 1991, when the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) made available to Latin American nations for equipment purchases and other programs exceeded $212 million. Since that time, Congress has steadily reduced appropriated security assistance funds. FY 1992 FMF dollars for the region totalled over $110 million, and in FY 1993 were further reduced to an estimated $61 million (Congressional Presentation 24). These budgetary changes were driven by the overall downsizing of the military budget, rather than a change in U.S. military strategy in the Western hemisphere. Counterdrug support continues to lead the list of "Peacetime Engagement" missions carried out by U.S. military forces in Latin America. Postulating as its goal the "reduction, if possible elimination, of drug production and trafficking in the theater, and flow of illegal drugs into the United States," U.S. military strategy in Latin America continues to focus predominantly on fighting the "drug war" and further militarizing regional drug control efforts (USCINCSO).
U.S. pressure to militarize the drug war in Latin America has impacted police forces to an equal or even greater extent than military forces in the region. The United States tried to improve Latin American police force capabilities during the 1980s by providing specialized training, improved equipment, and even establishing new indigenous police units solely tasked to combat drug production and trafficking. In 1983 the U.S. created special anti-narcotics police units in Peru and Bolivia, paramilitary squads that became renowned for highly publicized human rights abuses (Sharpe 1992, 8). These units now compete with existing police and military organizations already engaged in counterdrug efforts. Organizational rivalries and drug related corruption have led to armed conflicts between these groups in several instances.

Or check out this summary of "succees" in a 1999 government (U.S.) report:

The most dramatic decline was evident in Peru, once the world's largest coca producer. Peruvian coca cultivation in 1998 fell 26 percent from the year before, and is now approximately 60 percent below the peak level of 1990. Four years of sustained disruption of the "air bridge" out of Peru to Colombia have made coca cultivation virtually unprofitable in many formerly active production areas of Peru. It has provoked economic emigration and a shift to licit crops. The exodus continued in 1998, as farmers sought new occupations elsewhere in the country.

That's the "1998 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report" from the
Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement AffairsUnited States Department of State. The "air bridge" disruptions? What a nice sounding term, isn't it? Doesn't really convey reality though.

The UN feels it's been a success (from "United Nations Reports ‘Steady Decline’ of Coca Cultivation in Andean Region"):

"The importance of a steady decline of coca cultivation in the Andean region can not be overestimated. The three countries combined produce virtually all of the world’s supply of cocaine. To sustain this trend, we need to convince coca farmers (and not only force them) to abandon illegal activity by providing them with a sustainable livelihood alternative. It was such a combination of sustained government eradication and the creation of jobs for farmers that made a dramatic decrease in coca cultivation in Peru and Bolivia in the 1990s possible and lasting. The sustainability of further decline of cultivation in Colombia depends on this," Mr. [Antonio Maria] Costa [Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] said.

The Times isn't providing you the perspective you need. It's not a question of "where is the outrage!" because we rarely see outrage from the Times. It's a question of where's the reality in this story or many others.

Do you know much (if anything) of Lori Berenson?

Here's one of two "reports" the Times filed on her last year by Juan Forero (Francisco calls him "the littlest Judy Miller"):

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Lori Berenson, the 35-year-old New Yorker serving a 20-year prison term in Peru for aiding leftist rebels, must serve out her term. Her appeal to the Costa Rica-based panel, Latin America's top human rights court, was considered a last resort. Ms. Berenson, left, who says she is not guilty, has been held since November 1995, with a scheduled release in 2015. In Peru, where 70,000 people died in a brutal, 20-year guerrilla war, few people have sympathy for her, and President Alejandro Toledo hailed the Inter-American Court's decision.

"Few people have sympathy for her?" Really little Juan? Maybe you mean, few people in power in Peru have sympathy for her? Maybe you're pulling a Cokie Roberts ("no one that matters) move?

You don't learn much about Lori Berenson in the New York Times -- possibly it has to do with certain exchanges for "access," possibly Forero is as awful as so many community members seem to think he is, or possibly it's some reason we'll never imagine. (The two possibilities listed are not meant to imply that it's those two or something we don't know. Many other possibilities have been suggested in e-mails. However, I've been working on this entry for five hours and am imagining the e-mail from Frank in Orlando asking why I'm not posting today -- so, I'm trying to wrap this up quickly.)

For information about Berenson, you can check out a CounterPunch article by William J. Nottingham -- president emeritus, Division of Overseas Ministries Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US and Canada. The article is entitled "Her Solidarity is with the Poor
Lori Berenson's Story
" (perhaps if her solidarity had been with the powerful Juan Forero might be able to find a few people sympathetic with her?).

You should also check out Danny Schechter's "Lori Berenson:Convicted By An Image."

As Schechter notes in the above article, Amy Goodman has interviewed Berenson.

A Democracy Now! Exclusive. As Peru Inaugurates Its New President, Alejandro Toledo, We'llhear the Voice of Lori Berenson From Her Prison Cell for the First Time Since She Was Sentenced Lastmonth to 20 Years

Breaking the Sound Barrier, Part Two of Our Exclusive Interview with Imprisoned Activist Lori Berenson, From Her Prison Cell in Lima, Peru

Breaking the Sound Barrier, Part Three of Democracy Now!'S Exclusive Interview with Jailedactivist Lori Berenson, From Her Prison Cell in Lima, Peru

There are many other audio stories on Berenson (some do have transcriptions) at Democracy Now! and you can search there (or you can just click on this for the search results).

Most recently (May, 2004) Amy Goodman interviewed Mark Berenson for the report Lori Berenson's Case Goes Before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (this comes with a transcript).

Also note The Committee to Free Lori Berenson which provides more information and also some activism.

Let's close by returning to Jehl & Johnston's article. That "heads up!" resulted in?

Nothing. From the article:

"The agencies declined to comment about it until Friday, when Mr. Sierra, the Justice Department spokesman, said the department would not prosecute."

Officials wouldn't identify anyone, as Jehl & Johnston note, who might be "the subjects of the investigation, but said that some were now serving at a senior level within the C.I.A."

The "heads up" (benefit of the doubt) was an attempt to get an official response. ("No comment" and "the Department chose not to respond" are official responses as well.) The Times sat on the story and others (as usual) broke it. Had the Times run with it (and it not broken on Friday), who knows what the reaction in the media and among the people might have been. Instead it's one more story lost in the ready-for-the-weekend haze.

"Might have been"s and "could have been"s don't make the paper worth reading.