America’s Covert War in Colombia Encourages Human Rights Abuses And Is Probably Illegal
The CIA and JSOC are engaged in a covert war in Colombia that involves intelligence cooperation and help in carrying out an assassination campaign against domestic rebels with U.S.-provided “smart bombs,” according to an investigative report from the Washington Post‘s Dana Priest.
“The secret assistance, which also includes substantial eavesdropping help from the National Security Agency, is funded through a multibillion-dollar black budget [that] is not a part of the public $9 billion package of mostly U.S. military aid,” Priest writes.
The covert program in Colombia provides two essential services to the nation’s battle against the FARC and a smaller insurgent group, the National Liberation Army (ELN): Real-time intelligence that allows Colombian forces to hunt down individual FARC leaders and, beginning in 2006, one particularly effective tool with which to kill them.
That weapon is a $30,000 GPS guidance kit that transforms a less-than-accurate 500-pound gravity bomb into a highly accurate smart bomb. Smart bombs, also called precision-guided munitions or PGMs, are capable of killing an individual in triple-canopy jungle if his exact location can be determined and geo-coordinates are programmed into the bomb’s small computer brain.
Priest’s report, which is a must-read, explains that the CIA and JSOC “target the FARC leadership” in “exactly” the same way they “had been doing against al-Qaeda on the other side of the world.”
“Most every operation relied heavily on NSA signal intercepts,” Priest notes.
One key difference between the war on al-Qaeda and the war on FARC is that there isn’t anybody in the world who would argue that FARC presents even the remotest threat to the United States of America. That brings up ideological questions – like, why are we secretly fighting a war against insurgents in Colombia that have nothing to do with us – but it also brings up legal questions. Priest:
It was one thing to use a PGM [precision guided missile] to defeat an enemy on the battlefield — the U.S. Air Force had been doing that for years. It was another to use it to target an individual FARC leader. Would that constitute an assassination, which is prohibited by U.S. law? And, “could we be accused of engaging in an assassination, even if it is not ourselves doing it?” said one lawyer involved.
It is also reported that the U.S.’s targeted assassination program in Colombia has spilled over the border into a third-party sovereign, Ecuador, which has implications for international law. Of course, the White House legal advisers decided the covert program was legal because the FARC are considered terrorists and “an ongoing threat to Colombia.” Big surprise.
What Priest completely omits from her report is the overall damage to human rights caused by U.S. support for the Colombian government. A whole host of abuses are correlated with U.S. support.
Right-wing paramilitary groups with close ties to the Colombian government rampage throughout the country with impunity thanks to an accommodative police force. These para-military groups “regularly commit massacres, killings, forced displacement, rape, and extortion, and create a threatening atmosphere in the communities they control” often targeting “human rights defenders, trade unionists, victims of the paramilitaries who are seeking justice, and community members who do not follow their orders,”according to Human Rights Watch.
Colombian soldiers, many of whom are trained by the U.S., have been implicated in a string of atrocities over the years referred to as “false positives,” in which U.S.-backed forces kill civilians and dress them up as rebels in order to score points with an army policy that rewarded high body counts. The Prosecutor General’s human right’s team investigated “more than 1,200 cases of extrajudicial executions,” prompting the then-U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston to write in 2009 that “the sheer number of cases, their geographic spread, and the diversity of military units implicated, indicate that these killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military.” Laws have been passed to try and avoid prosecution of these crimes.
Other scandals involving widespread illegal spying on innocent civilians, journalists and human rights workers, undoubtedly with help from U.S. intelligence agencies, have resulted in international condemnation of Colombian political leaders up to and including presidential administrations.
Yet again, the U.S. is meddling in a domestic conflict in a foreign country that has nothing to do with U.S. security. And yet again, nefarious U.S. support for this foreign government is encouraging incredible human rights abuses and shielding the perpetrators from accountability. And yet again, Americans don’t know anything about it.