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2008-10-20

Ignoring Evidence, Mexican Authorities Charge Activists with 2006 Murder of Independent Journalist Brad Will

Guests

John Gibler, independent journalist who has extensively covered the uprising in Oaxaca, where he also knew Brad Will. He is author of the forthcoming book Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, out in January from City Lights Books.

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Mexican authorities have arrested two activists in the murder of the independent journalist Brad Will. Speculation has long centered around police officers and pro-government militants in Will’s death. Some were initially arrested in the months after the shooting, but ultimately released. But today the government is accusing two members of the popular movement APPO, the group opposed to state governor Ulises Ruiz. Will’s family has criticized the charges, calling the arrests a sham. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today in Mexico, where two people have been arrested in the murder of the independent journalist Brad Will. Will was shot and killed on October 27, 2006, while covering the popular uprising in Oaxaca. Will’s own camera captured his shooting.

    [footage filmed by Brad Will]

AMY GOODMAN: Footage filmed by Brad Will right up until the moment he was fatally shot. For our radio listeners, you can go to our website at democracynow.org to see the video footage.

Far from satisfying the calls for justice, the arrests have only inflamed the controversy.

Speculation has long centered around police officers and pro-government militants in Will’s death. Some were initially arrested in the months after the shooting, but ultimately released. But today the government is accusing two members of the popular movement APPO, the group opposed to state governor Ulises Ruiz. Will was covering their struggle when he was killed. Will’s family has criticized the charges, calling the arrests a sham. In a statement, Amnesty International also said it’s "gravely concerned” Mexican officials are ignoring critical evidence, including "state agents potentially implicated."

John Gibler is an independent journalist who has extensively covered the uprising in Oaxaca, where he also knew Brad Will. He’s author of the forthcoming book Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, which is out in January from City Lights Books. John Gibler joins us now from San Francisco.

John, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us, how did these arrests happen? How did this whole story unfold to this point?

JOHN GIBLER: Since the very beginning of the so-called investigation, both the state and the federal officials have focused singularly on fabricating a theory that the people who tried to save Brad Will’s life were the very ones who killed him. For the past several months, the federal attorney general in Mexico, who is now carrying the case, has been leaking stories slowly into the Mexican national press, letting the press know that they were about to make a conclusion to identify the witnesses and people who tried to save Brad’s life, who they say had pulled the trigger.

So, the arrests come after months of the federal attorney general leaking false information into the press, ignoring real evidence and also ignoring several independent studies, both governmental and non-governmental, that have strongly urged the federal attorney general to investigate the paramilitaries and the civilian-clad police officers who were widely photographed shooting on protesters on October 27. The arrests came on Thursday last week, arresting two people initially and then a third person the next day. Two of the people have since been released on bail, but the man whom they charge with actually pulling the trigger is still in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: John Gibler, start from the beginning and how Brad Will was killed two years ago.

JOHN GIBLER: Brad was on the street known as Juarez Street. Originally, he had been filming an attempt of the local officials of the Santa Lucia del Camino municipality, which borders Oaxaca City, their attempt to lift a protester barricade on October 27th. This comes at a time in the conflict in Oaxaca when the tension was incredibly high. Over seventeen people had already been assassinated by the paramilitary forces. Those paramilitaries had been photographed, they had been filmed, they had been shown on national television, and yet, in nearly five months of the conflict, absolutely no investigation had been carried out by the Mexican government, much less someone had been charged with one of these seventeen previous murders. So the time Brad was killed, it was very much a murder foretold, something that should never have happened if the other assassinations had been properly investigated.

Brad was on the street filming the violent attack of the Santa Lucia officials as they tried to scare protesters away from their barricades. Well, as happened for months throughout Oaxaca, the protesters did not scare easily. Instead of running away, they ran towards. They — I mean, not out in the open street, but they headed towards the men who were attacking them with firearms, throwing rocks and shooting bottle rockets, trying to force them away out of the street.

So, Brad was standing on Juarez Street, filming amongst protesters. There were several other journalists there. In fact, one journalist for the newspaper Milenio had just been shot in the leg and taken around the corner. Another newspaper photographer for the national paper El Universal had just taken a now-very-famous photograph where he shows one of the local officials, Pedro Carmona, shooting at him, pointing the gun straight at the camera. Raul Estrella, who took the photograph, told me later he took that picture and then heard a bullet whiz over his head, and that’s when he ran around the corner. Only moments later, Brad himself was shot and was carried around the corner by the APPO protesters.

As you see in the video, which you’ve shown today, which Brad filmed, and his camera was still running as people carry him away, he falls, and immediately all the people around him rush to help him. They rush to pick him up and carry him to safety. Coming around the corner, many newspaper photographers then took pictures of the witnesses who were trying to resuscitate him and then who rushed him off to the hospital. Those very people who risked their lives to pick him up and to carry him to safety, the Mexican government is now saying those are the ones who shot and killed him, instead of the paramilitary forces down the street who had been shooting at people all day, whose photographs have been published in the national and international press with them pointing their guns straight at the camera.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain as much as you know about those people who the photos show pointing their guns.

JOHN GIBLER: Several of these people are local municipal police officers in Santa Lucia del Camino. Others are local city council officials. One is a judge in Santa Lucia del Camino. In the photographs that have been widely shown in the international press, one is carrying a rifle, two are carrying pistols. In one photograph, again, Pedro Carmona, who is a regional director of one of the neighborhoods inside of the Santa Lucia municipality, he’s pointing the gun straight at the camera.

Again, these are all people who are members of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, or the P-R-I in Spanish. This is the party that ruled Mexico for seventy-one years, but continues to rule Oaxaca, has ruled uninterrupted since the party’s creation over eighty years ago. Throughout the Oaxaca conflict, members of the PRI party from different areas around Oaxaca City and around the state were involved in these paramilitary-type attacks against the Oaxaca protesters. Again, these were attacks that were widely photographed, widely filmed, and shown on both international and national TV.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the response right now of APPO?

JOHN GIBLER: APPO categorically denies the involvement of any of their members in any crime against Brad Will. Quite the opposite, they were incredibly disturbed and saddened by his death. They were the ones who tried to save him.

The family is irate. Both Kathy and Hardy Will, Brad’s parents, have said to me that they think this is an obvious miscarriage of justice. Last night, on the phone, Hardy said that this just goes to show that the federal attorney general in Mexico and the special prosecutor are either corrupt or incompetent, or both.

International human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have decried the recent arrests, saying that it shows that the federal attorney general is only continuing to ignore all the incredible body of evidence pointing to the involvement of the paramilitaries and, instead, trying to focus uniquely, focus singularly on creating the evidence necessary for the hypothesis that the APPO in fact killed Brad.

And their evidence is itself internally contradictory. They released a PowerPoint — the Mexican federal attorney general released a PowerPoint last week, where they say that the first shot took place at a distance of two meters. The image from Brad’s camera that they used to substantiate that claim shows that everyone in front of Brad is at least five to six meters away. Their second claim is that the second shot, the second gunshot, took place at a distance of two to eight meters, and yet their own computer-generated illustration that they show to substantiate that claim shows the killer at a distance of less than a meter, about a foot away. So their own illustrations don’t even substantiate their claims, whereas the evidence that has been gathered by the Mexican National Human Rights Commission, by the International Physicians for Human Rights group, shows very conclusively that the gunshot took place at a distance of between thirty-five and fifty meters away. The Mexican National Human Rights Commission concluded that the gunshot took place between thirty-five and fifty meters away. Now, on the street where Brad was filming, there’s a red truck parked across the street. That red truck is about thirty-five meters away from Brad. On the other side of that red truck is where the paramilitaries were all gathered and from which point they were firing at the APPO protesters.

AMY GOODMAN: So, John Gibler, you, who have known Brad well, you’re usually based in Mexico, joining us, though, from San Francisco now. What are you calling for now?

JOHN GIBLER: I’m calling for justice with the family, definitely calling for the immediate release of the innocent witnesses and people who tried to save Brad, and a serious, rigorous, impartial investigation that leads to identifying the person who actually pulled the trigger and those who have been covering up his involvement in the murder, and that the cover-up may go pretty high.

AMY GOODMAN: John Gibler, thanks so much for joining us. Your piece that really goes into detail into these accusations, the arrests and the story behind this, called "The Rule of Impunity: Mexican Government Ignores Overwhelming Evidence, Charges Oaxacan Activists with Brad Will’s Murder," appears at The Indypendent, and we will link to it at democracynow.org.

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