Army captain court-martialed for resisting human rights abuses in Haiti
Captain Lawrence Rockwood was assigned to the U.S. Army General Staff in Haiti in 1994, and tasked with reporting on human rights abuses after the coup overthrowing Haitian president Aristide. While there, he realized that the U.S. was not interested in his findings, nor would it act to stop abuses. Acting on his own, he left his base to document human rights violations in a Haitian prison and was subsequently court-martialed for his actions.
During a presentation at the Civic Media Center August 14th, Capt. Rockwood spoke about his experiences and pointed out the Catch-22 of US policy in Haiti during 1994. While the US military was there to support democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in his return to power following the military coup which had overthrown him, the US had been financially underwriting the leaders of the military coup under the guise of the drug war. This was true of both the intelligence network of Haiti, and the para-military organization called FRAPH, a sort of dirty work death squad operating as a non-uniformed, above the law arm of the army of Haiti. The U.S. Army School of Americas had trained its leaders and US tax dollars were in their pockets. It was FRAPH which was responsible for the thousands of deaths in the coup which overthrew Aristide. According to Rockwood, the U.S. government's line was, "We have the files which belong to FRAPH, we have the files of the Haitian military . We [the U.S.] will not release that information so ... if you killed during the coup period, you were basically granted immunity."
The image put forward by the U.S. Embassy in February 1994 was that the human rights violations against Aristide supporters during the coup were exaggerated. They later had to admit this was an error. "One of the greatest oversimplifications we make as Americans is we think that when the President of the United States, or our ambassador to the UN makes a speech about foreign policy, that's what's carried out by our armed forces, or our intelligence agencies, or our diplomatic forces around the world. I wish that were true. ... We created FRAPH, these were 'our Haitians'".
"One of the great ironies of this period of intervention is [that] President Clinton earmarked $6 million to be used to actually nullify, neutralize the anti-Aristide operation . . . This $6 million went to the Central Intelligence Agency, which to me," Rockwood continued "is like giving $6 million to the Ku Klux Klan to eliminate racism in the South. The CIA was the nucleus of the anti-Aristide opposition. We gave them $6 million to tell them to go shoot themselves. And that's part of the contradiction."
These contradictions existed when Rockwood arrived in Haiti and when he was briefed on Haiti by the CIA and the State Department. He was to be "made smart" by these experts. One example was a Coast Guard officer who, Rockwood reported, stated "Before the coup [against Aristide], the streets were dangerous. Haiti was out of control. The crowds had gathered, you were scared when you went to work. You were scared when you drove home from work. After the coup, the streets were safe. There was security, you were safe. Now when you drove to work and came home you'd see bodies by the road, but other than that . . ." This kind of mindset, presented in all sincerity, is what Rockwood says exists in the U.S. military occupations of other third world nations, as well. The US officials live apart from the reality of the people of the nation they're in.
Rockwood's mission in Haiti was to present a record of human rights abuses, although they didn't call it human rights, but instead "monitoring Haitian on Haitian violence." Many sources brought information; and Rockwood's job was to disseminate that information to anyone on staff who could act on it. The violations and atrocities were massive; prisons, torture sites, execution sites, body dumps. He was receiving reports of bodies stacked in jail cells--living and dead together in a pile. Rockwood made reports on Sept. 22 and Sept. 30, 1994. "But when I disseminated this information, I was told that, despite what you heard the President say on television, despite what the UN authorizes us, [countering these problems] this is not a priority." Rockwood saw this as opposing the mission statement that US troops came in with. "To go in and provide a safe and secure environment for the return of democracy to Haiti, that was our mission." As it came out, the real mission was "force protection," that is, there was a priority on self-protection at the expense of the stated mission.
Undeterred, Rockwood went to anyone he could for help. "The Civil Affairs officer, the senior human rights advisor, to the commanding general. I went to the UN military observers. I went to the division chaplain." His intelligence co-workers "supported getting a census" of prisons, execution sites and mass graves to determine who was being held, who had been killed. "We did not get support" from higher-ups, Rockwood reported.
"One thing that enraged me more than anything else was that I knew these officers who were yawning and shrugging their shoulders. I knew for a fact they went to church every Sunday. I knew many of them [have POW-MIA bumperstickers] ... These are people who ... empathize with Americans who've lost members of their families, they want to know 'is that person alive? Is that person being tortured? Is that person dead? Where's his body? Just let me know so I can grieve! But when it comes to Haitians, a shrugged shoulder. Now that's just hypocrisy. No matter what your political perspective is, that's just ethical and moral hypocrisy."
Rockwood went on to talk about other cases of war crimes, how his father had liberated Nazi concentration camps, and how he (Rockwood) is now working with Hugh Thompson, who was a door gunner in Vietnam who tried to stop the My Lai massacre by firing down on the Americans and now is working to establish a My Lai memorial. He spoke of how quick the allies were to prosecute Nazi sympathizers, hanging even those who had turned against the Nazis and were held in concentration camps. He said we said to them: "You should have said no. You could have resigned. ...Even though it could have cost you your life you could have said no. But ... in Haiti, what was the cost to ... them to save human life? Nothing. What a high standard we put on others, and a lack of standards we put on ourselves."
Rockwood's frustration led him to perform an act which effectively ended his military career. He knew of a prison which the US had not inspected, nor checked to see who was there and what the conditions were. At 8 pm in early October, on a day when FRAPH had killed a half dozen Haitians on the street, before his and a video camera's eyes; dressed in uniform and carrying an M16, Rockwood walked into that prison and demanded to see the prisoners. Following a five-hour stand-off, the prison warden eventually relented and, as to be expected, Rockwood found horrible conditions, prisoners standing inches deep in excrement, held for their pro-Aristide views. For weeks this prison had been unchecked by the US even though US military had headquarters at the US Embassy 250 meters from the prison walls. Were Rockwood's superiors happy with his direct approach to carrying out his mission? No. Far from it. Rockwood found himself court martialed and found guilty by the U.S. military, although his case is now under appeal.
Meanwhile the FRAPH leaders are still for the most part free, in fact, FRAPH members work as foremen at the plant in Haiti that makes the Disney-owned clothing line for Pocahontas pajamas and T-shirts. The pay there is 11 cents an hour, which is 17 cents below the 'living wage' in Haiti. The legacy of operation restore democracy is that President Aristide was forced to end his presidency on schedule, despite the illegal coup enforcing his absence for much of his term.
Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been scheduled by Accent to speak at the O'Dome on the evening of October 1, 1996. It will be at 8:00 pm, and is free and open to the public.
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