The Cable

Senators Call for U.S. Accountability in 2012 Honduran Killings

A report detailed how DEA misled Congress on the attack that left four civilians dead. Senators are furious no DEA officials were punished.

Marines of the Honduras Navy patrol the Fonseca Gulf on March 26, 2013. Maritime borderlines between Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador are often violated by fishermen causing  tensions among the countries.  AFP   PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA.        (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Marines of the Honduras Navy patrol the Fonseca Gulf on March 26, 2013. Maritime borderlines between Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador are often violated by fishermen causing tensions among the countries. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA. (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

Congress is calling for accountability after a report showed that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) misled lawmakers for years about the fatal shootings of civilians in anti-drug operations in Honduras in May of 2012.

The report, written by the Offices of the Inspector General of the State Department and the Justice Department and released in May, details how top federal drug officials lied to Congress and withheld information from the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras with regard to three separate incidents, including a shootout that drew widespread international attention after it left four civilians dead, one a 14-year-old boy.

DEA officials told lawmakers that, in the midst of a counternarcotics mission, civilians on a boat being interdicted fired first, prompting Honduran officers to return fire. That is the story congressional staffers heard when the State Department and the Justice Department briefed them on the matter between 2012 and 2014.

“The DEA and the State Department insisted the DEA was only in an advisory role,” said one Senate aide familiar with the briefings.

But according to the report, “not only was there no credible evidence evidence that the individuals in the passenger boat fired first, but the available evidence places into serious question whether there was any gunfire from individuals in the passenger boat at any time.”

The 424-page report doesn’t specify whether DEA officials fired their weapons, but it does say they “directed” Honduran authorities to do so.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The revelations have left stunned lawmakers calling for a reckoning. In a letter penned Tuesday afternoon, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), expressed “serious concerns” that the DEA and the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement misled congress, undermined the ambassador at the time, and failed to “establish clear guidelines for the use of lethal force.”

“As always, the Department will respond to Congressional correspondence as appropriate,” said a State Department official, adding, “[w]e acknowledge the release of the report regarding the 2012 incidents in Honduras. The Department has taken a number of actions in response to the report’s recommendations. We are pleased to see the report released and concluded.”

But while the bulk of the scandals have been brought into the limelight with the lengthy report’s release, lawmakers are yearning for accountability. The senators expressed concern that “many of the agents involved in the operations continue to work in the field,” and demanded a list of the officials and personnel involved in the incidents still employed at the departments.

“What we found in the end was that no one received disciplinary action,” the aide said. “It is one thing to say ‘mea culpa,’ it is another thing to take the necessary steps to making sure this doesn’t happen again.”

July 12: This piece has been updated to include a comment from the State Department. 

Photo credit: ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

Ruby Mellen is a fellow at Foreign Policy. @RubyMellen

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