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2000-12-07

Organization of American States Rules Against Guatemalan Military in Case of Murdered Rebel

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The Organization of American States issued a harsh ruling yesterday against the Guatemalan military. In a case that has been fought now for eight years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the Guatemalan army is guilty of murder, torture and other crimes in the case of Mayan rebel Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, who disappeared in 1992. [includes rush transcript]

According to the ruling, the Guatemalan military had killed Bamaca and obstructed justice after the killing.

But the guilt does not only rest with the Guatemalan military. A White House panel found in 1996 that the CIA knowingly hired a number of Guatemalan military officials suspected of political assassinations, extrajudicial executions, kidnapping and torture, and used them as paid informers. The panel concluded that one of those paid officers, a colonel named Julio Roberto Alpirez, took part in the interrogation and torture of Bamaca.

Guest:

  • Jennifer Harbury, Human rights lawyer and widow of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez. She went on hunger strikes in Guatemala City and Washington, DC to press for classified information on her husband’s case.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue with attorney Jennifer Harbury. The Organization of American States issued a harsh ruling yesterday against the Guatemalan military. In a case that has been fought now for eight years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the Guatemalan army is guilty of murder, torture and other crimes in the case of Mayan rebel Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, who disappeared in 1992. He was the husband of Jennifer Harbury. According to the ruling, the Guatemalan military had killed Bamaca and obstructed justice after the killing.

Jennifer Harbury, can you talk about the significance of this ruling?

JENNIFER HARBURY: Yeah, we’re — all of us who have ever lost family members throughout Latin America, whether it be under Pinochet in the stadium or in the dirty wars in Argentina or in Salvador or Honduras, Colombia, Guatemala, what all of us have always been told is your husband, your son, your daughter, your loved one, your sister, your brother, that person was into something political. Perhaps they were a dissident. Perhaps they were a church leader, you know, organizing the people. Perhaps they were a union organizer. Perhaps they were leaders of the groups for the disappeared, in fact, or they were doing civil rights work or anything progressive or dissident in any nature.

What the army would always say is your husband or your family member was into something [inaudible], with the heavy insinuation that they were a Communists, that they were insurgents, that they were rebels, and therefore deserved what had happened to them, that they deserved to be kidnapped, that they deserved to be tortured in secret cells, that they deserved to be flung from helicopters, stuffed down wells, dismembered or scattered across unmarked graves, that that was legal and justified in the context of a counterinsurgency movement by the army and that the army could in fact substitute itself for the courts of law. That’s what all of the military dictatorships have been saying for all of these years. That’s what the CIA, in fact, has been saying for all of these years.

And what the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Organization of American States has just said is, no, it is never legal. It is never justified. There are no exceptions. Every single one of those hundreds of thousands of murders — 200,000 of them alone in Guatemala — has been and always will be completely illegal.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the United States’s involvement? Where did the Organization of American States stand on that? You have the Guatemalan military, a White House panel finding in 1996 that the CIA knowingly hired a number of Guatemalan military officials suspected of political assassinations, ex-judicial executions, kidnapping and torture, and used them as paid informants. The panel also concluded that one of those paid officers, a colonel known as Julio Roberto Alpirez, took part in the interrogation and torture of your husband, Everardo.

JENNIFER HARBURY: That is correct. The case that was before the court is the case against the Guatemalan government, meaning specifically the Guatemalan military. We cannot bring the United States into the Inter-American system until I’ve exhausted legal remedies within the United States. And I still have a major civil rights case pending against close to thirty defendants from the CIA, from the White House, and from the State Department for their participation and collaboration in my husband’s torture, murder, and the cover-up that ensued, including the blocking of his rescue. We in fact could have saved his life if they had timely released the information they possessed, including specific bulletins that he was still alive, as were 300 other prisoners of war. As soon as that case is resolved, if resolved positively, we will not need to bring it to the Inter-American system. If resolved negatively, then I can bring the United States forward, as well.

Meanwhile, this ruling has very, very heavy implications, legal implications for routine practices of the CIA. They’ve always maintained that they have the right to collaborate and participate in certain "dirty practices," because it’s a necessary part of information gathering, intelligence work, and "national security work," meaning assassinations. What this case says is that that can never be legal and that none of those practices can ever be legal.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a lawsuit against the FBI and the CIA still pending here in this country?

JENNIFER HARBURY: It’s against individual officials in the CIA, the State Department and the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: Charging them with?

JENNIFER HARBURY: In — it’s the equivalent of a police brutality case. It’s a constitutional violations claim, a series of those claims together with the Federal Tort Claims Act. They basically divide into two categories. One is participation, collaboration and conspiracy to commit kidnapping, torture, and assassination, you know, which boils down to, you know, a police brutality case under the Constitution. They would be due process claims. The other category would be the equivalent of assault and battery under civil law, as well as intentional infliction of emotional harm and blocking of rescue attempts by myself, including fraud, as well, for leaving me out there thirty-two days on a hunger strike when they already knew that he was dead.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jennifer Harbury, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Jennifer Harbury, attorney for — well, the widow of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, the murder of which the decision came down yesterday in the Organization of American States, Inter-American court case, also the attorney for Leonard Peltier.

If people want to get in touch with the Leonard Peltier defense committee, where can they call?

JENNIFER HARBURY: The best line would be the main office in Kansas, which is (785) 842-5774.

AMY GOODMAN: One more time?

JENNIFER HARBURY: (785) 842-5774, and if people would call the White House comments line every single day, Mr. Peltier’s life hangs in the balance. He’s been in there twenty-five years. His health is seriously deteriorating. If Mr. Bush is going to be president, this is our last chance before Inauguration Day to undo some of the damage that’s been inflicted on Native people throughout the hemisphere by the United States government since its inception. We can’t bring back any of the dead. None of the 200,000 in Guatemala will ever come back alive, including Everardo. But Leonard Peltier is alive. And we can do something about the harms that our government has inflicted. The White House comments line is (202) 456-1111. Please call every single day and tell President Clinton that you are with him in any stand against the FBI to undo some of the injustices which have occurred and that you want Mr. Peltier released immediately. Please help us. It’s one of our last chances to undo one of the most serious human rights abuses in the country in many, many years.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jennifer Harbury, I want to thank you for being with us. I know you will be in New York this weekend —

JENNIFER HARBURY: I will be.

AMY GOODMAN: — for the Leonard Peltier march on Sunday that will ultimately be a major rally at the — outside of the United Nations on Sunday at 2:00 in the afternoon, and we’ll be reporting on that.

JENNIFER HARBURY: And I want to thank you, Amy, for being one of the few bright beacons of both free speech and free flow of information about world realities and civil rights realities, in specific, in this country. Thank you so much for all of the work you do.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thanks, Jennifer.

JENNIFER HARBURY: We’d be lost without you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you very much for being there, as well.

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