Haiti Archives 1995-1996
02/05/95 THIS WEEK IN HAITI April 26 – May 2, 1995 Vol. 13 No. 5

From: Haiti Commission <haiticomm>

HAITI PROGRES newsweekly now publishes a section in English entitled "This Week in Haiti." For more information please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100, (fax) 718-434-5551

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THIS WEEK IN HAITI

Army Stacks Deck Against Rockwood for May 8 Trial

In a pre-trial hearing on April 22 at Fort Drum near Watertown, New York, a military judge struck down most of the witnesses proposed by the legal defense team for Capt. Lawrence Rockwood, the U.S. Army counter-intelligence officer who faces a general court-martial on May 8 for trying to rescue Haitian political prisoners. Rockwood's defense consists of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and an Army lawyer, Capt. Judith Camarella.

"This witness will have no relevant testimony," the prosecution's Capt. Edward O'Brien repeated each time the defense proposed a military or civilian witness who had visited the National Penitentiary about 2 weeks after Rockwood's Sept. 30th visit. Many would have testified to sub-human conditions and arbitrary brutality. "Those visits were too remote and have no bearing on Capt.Rockwood's actions," Capt. O'Brien argued to Chief Judge Col. Robert Newberry.

Among the defense witnesses blocked by the judge were Michael Levy, formerly of Amnesty International, who now works in the Haitian Government's International Liaison office; Mr. Paul Brown, a UN observer who inspected the National Penitentiary on October 13, 1994; and Sgt. Jacobson, a Danish military specialist in prison inspections world-wide who visited the prison as part of the "multinational" force in October, November, and December 1994. "Sgt. Jacobson has described the National Penitentiary as the worst prison he has ever seen," Ramsey Clark told the judge.

"One has the distinct impression that we are witnessing a cover- up," Ramsey Clark said when faced with the witness disqualifications. "These witnesses have important information on the conditions and dangers that existed in the National Penitentiary and which prompted Captain Rockwood to act."

The defense also wanted to call in five experts in international and military law. But Judge Newberry limited expert witnesses of the defense to three.

Clark also argued that the charges against Captain Rockwood should be dismissed due to the apparent conflict of interest the court-martial raises for Gen. David Meade, the commander of the 10th Mountain Division. Meade also commanded US forces in Haiti from September 1994 to January 1995. Meade has a personal stake in Rockwood's case, Clark said to Judge Newberry, an irregularity that the Army calls "unlawful command influence." "Gen. Meade has an interest other than an official interest because his mission [in Haiti] is challenged by Captain Rockwood," Clark said. "If Captain Rockwood is acquitted, Gen. Meade will be humiliated. If convicted, the General is vindicated."

Therefore, Clark asserted, Gen. Meade is exerting pressure on the military brass under his command at Fort Drum, in particular those officers on the panel which will judge Rockwood.

On September 30, 1994, Captain Rockwood attempted to inspect the National Penitentiary without specific permission from his superiors. For his efforts, the Army is now prosecuting him with a general court-martial – one of the military's harshest – which carries up to a 10-year prison sentence.

(Captain Rockwood will address a public meeting in New York City on Thursday, April 27th at 6:30 p.m. at the Newspaper Guild, 133 West 44th Street – between 6th and 7th Aves. – in Manhattan. The meeting is organized by the Haiti Commission at 212-633-6646.)

Haitian Children Imprisoned at Guantanamo: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

For nearly one year, the US government has imprisoned several hundred Haitian children at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba. There, on the hot tarmac of a unused air strip, the children face a hell on earth — repeated physical and verbal abuse, sexual assault, poor and even monstrous medical treatment, and inhumane living conditions. The some 250 children, aged between six and 18-years-old, live almost completely isolated from the outside world, cut off from their friends and families. Their lawyers, as well as journalists, have been barred from visiting the children in their "camp."

"I'm not happy. My tent is leaking, it's not been fixed. When it rains, I get wet. Sometimes I can't eat. I cry all the time. Sometimes I feel like killing myself," said one 16-year-old rape victim, whose mother is a US citizen living in New York City. Indeed, the conditions are so bad, and the children so traumatized, that many have tried to kill themselves — sometimes drinking glasses of Clorox bleach, other times attempting to hang themselves. Some children show signs of self-mutilation.

The US Coast Guard picked up most of the children between June and July last year when tens of thousands of people fled the terror of the military regime in Haiti. They were interned at Guantanamo and eventually separated from the other refugees because they were deemed "unaccompanied minors." Largely forgotten, the children are now being "processed" by the US Justice Department in conjunction with groups like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "US policy is not to keep unaccompanied Haitian minors at Guantanamo," a Justice Department official told The Washington Post recently. "The process has been very slow because of the difficulty of verifying whether a child has an able parent in Haiti to care for him," the official added. "Just because they say that they have nobody in Haiti doesn't necessarily make it so."

US officials claim they will act according to what is in the "best interest" of the children. Thus, more than 60 children have already been forcibly repatriated to Haiti. Only 19 have been allowed into the care of their families in the United States. The Clinton administration claims that "democracy" has been restored to Haiti and has forcibly returned most of the refugees to Port-au-Prince. "The children at Guantanamo are precisely the children of those in Haiti who were most committed to the re-establishment of Haitian democracy and most brave in its defense," said Cheryl Little, a Miami-based attorney leading the campaign to win the children's freedom. "To see their children's most fervent hopes now callously dashed in the name of democracy is ironic as well as deeply disturbing." Indeed, UNHCR guidelines state that "it is frequently recognized that a person who — or whose family — has suffered under atrocious forms of persecution should not be expected to repatriate."

Attorneys have now petitioned the US Supreme Court to order the Clinton administration to allow the children into the United States. "The children have nothing to go back to in Haiti, everything has been destroyed," said Cheryl Little. "It's not safe for these children, and their support system is in the United States — parents, aunts, uncles and other relatives." (The only living parent for at least 30 of the children lives in the United States.) Lawyers for the children also argue that the Haitian children face discrimination, since some 320 "unaccompanied" Cuban children have been permitted to enter the United States. "The attorney general explained her parole of the [Cuban] children as freeing them from the 'extraordinary hardship' of life in the camps," said Ira Kurzban, an attorney with the Haitian Refugee Center. "The Haitian children are still living in those same conditions that she deemed too harsh for the Cubans." The Clinton administration also plans to admit all the 3,000 Cuban "accompanied" children and 5,000 adult family members.

Even if the Haitian children are eventually released, it will be too late to stop the irreparable physical and psychological damage they've suffered at Guantanamo. Many of the children report that they have been raped, and subjected to sexual abuse, by other internees and US soldiers. One female US soldier reportedly said that rape was "part of Haitian culture," a quip which makes one recall when the US Embassy in early 1994 wrote in a confidential cable stating that rape was not a part of Haitian culture and therefore not a part of de facto terror. Sex in return for favors is also common between the children and US guards, according to testimony of the children. Soldiers sometimes remove the girls from the camp, claiming that they need to be taken to hospitals. In some cases, the children say they are lured into sex with promises of love and marriage, and then find themselves pregnant and unwanted. Anywhere from 20 to 40 children are now pregnant.

The children also report systematic physical abuse and severe repression by US authorities if they demonstrate or go on hunger strike. The children often speak of being "cracked" — their hands cuffed behind their back, their feet cuffed and then stepped on. For breaking camp rules, or earning the wrath of a guard, children's hands and feet are cuffed and they are interned in a special prison quarter: Camp 10. The cuffings often occur in conjunction with other punishments, such as solitary confinement, being cuffed to chairs or cots overnight, or being forced to kneel for hours on hot cement or beds of ants. "Such punishments are cruel and unusual for any child, all the more so when they have been imposed for such 'crimes' as participating in a hunger strike, failing to show sufficient enthusiasm for one's own forcible return to Haiti, or simply complaining about the mistreatment of others," argued Cheryl Little.

In response to the allegations of physical abuse, the US military launched an investigation earlier this year. "Two soldiers were found to have been involved in isolated cases of mistreatment," said a US Atlantic Command press release dated Mar. 1 "They used excessive force in subduing a number of adolescent Haitians, ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old. The force used included flex-cuffs, which are flexible plastic hand-cuffs, and forcing the minors to kneel on the ground for several hours. Some instances of verbal abuse also occurred."

The Atlantic Command continued: "Many of the Haitians frequently had been involved in acts of misconduct including fighting with other adolescents, assault on soldiers and repeated violations of camp rules. When military officials at Guantanamo learned of improper actions by soldiers, they immediately directed that use of flex-cuffs and kneeling be stopped."

In addition to the physical punishment, US authorities also impose forced labor. The children report having to clean the toilets of US soldiers or cleaning the cars of officials from the Community Relations Service (CRS), the US Justice Department's "mediation" service. If children refuse to clean the cars, they say that they are handcuffed and/or placed in "administrative segregation" — the euphemism for jail. The children also say that CRS officials regularly humiliate or demoralize them.

One 17-year-old from Cayes fled Haiti with an aunt and two older brothers last July. The brothers drowned at sea after the boat capsized while being picked up by the US Coast Guard. Her aunt died at Guantanamo and was buried at Camp Bulkeley, a remote site at the base. "I do not know much about her disease, but her stomach started to get big and one day she fainted. They took her to the hospital where she had surgery. Apparently, they removed a big stone from her stomach. After she came out of the hospital, she started losing weight and one day, she died. Now, when I think about my aunt and my brothers, I feel like I'm going crazy, like my head would explode." She was arrested and placed in the brig for 28 days after she told US authorities that she felt like killing herself.

The treatment of despondent children is particularly harsh. Apart from being imprisoned for talking about killing themselves, the children have been literally chained down. "It is very hard here. All you can do is think about why you left Haiti and it can drive you crazy. That is why some kids try to kill themselves," remarked a 16-year-old prisoner. One non-governmental psychologist who worked at the base made repeated requests send traumatized or mentally ill children to a psychiatric hospital in the United States where they could get some treatment. Instead, she said, "They were handcuffed, ankle-cuffed, tied to a tent pole, kept in isolation tents and at times kept in a facility described as 'cage like.'" Once inside a prison, these children are often drugged. Attorney Little saw one young girl who she believed had been drugged and found incapable of carrying on a conversation.

It is experiences like these that have galvanized an international campaign in support of the children's freedom. Amnesty International has launched an "Urgent Action Appeal" to stop any forced repatriations. Advocates for the children are asking that letters and phone calls demanding the release into the United States of all the children be directed to President Bill Clinton at Tel: (202) 456-1414 or Fax: (202) 456-2461.

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