Haiti Archives 1995-1996
23/05/95 THIS WEEK IN HAITI May 17 – 23, 1995 Vol. 13, No. 8

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CAPTAIN ROCKWOOD FOUND GUILTY IN ARMY COURT-MARTIAL

"I am what others fear to be. I went where others fear to go. And I did what others should have done."

With these words from "The Soldier's Poem," Capt. Lawrence P. Rockwood responded to the guilty verdict handed down May 13 on four of five charges levelled against him during a 7-day court- martial trial. After sentencing deliberations on May 14, the Army jury of 2 colonels and 3 majors did not give Capt. Rockwood prison time, which would have sparked even more public outrage than the verdict, but instead dismissed him from military service and reduced his benefits. Rockwood said he will appeal.

Lead prosecutor Capt. Charles Pede attempted to portray Capt. Rockwood, a counter-intelligence officer who sought to personally inspect Haiti's National Penitentiary for human rights abuses last Sept. 30, as "a misdirected and dangerous officer who thumbed his nose at the fabric of the army, endangering himself and others." Pede argued that Rockwood's human rights initiative had endangered the lives of US soldiers and the entire US military mission in Haiti. Pede also said that there were no reports of atrocious conditions and human rights violations in the National Prison. He branded Rockwood's actions "inexcusable."

During the court martial Rockwood maintained that if the US military was really concerned with protection of human rights in Haiti, as stated by the Commander-in-Chief President Bill Clinton in a Sept. 15, 1994 national television address, primary consideration should have been given to protecting those in prison. Rockwood supporters were present throughout the trial, including Haitians. Amnesty International, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Citizen Soldier, and the Haiti Commission sent observers to the court martial.

One of the prosecution's key witnesses was Lt. Col. Frank Bragg, who was Rockwood's direct superior in Haiti. Bragg said he tried to get Rockwood to address not on human rights issues but "force protection" i.e. US soldiers protecting themselves rather than the Haitian people. "That was our number one priority," Col. Bragg said. "That's what we focused on. I advised him, 'You've got to get your priorities straight.'" Bragg admitted under cross-examination by lead defense lawyer Ramsey Clark, the former US Attorney General, that the US occupying forces made no efforts to investigate or respond to reports of human rights abuses.

Finally Rockwood expressed his distress over US inaction to Bragg shortly after being returned to the US base from his visit to the National Penitentiary. The prosecution said that Rockwood displayed "disrespect;" the defense called it "anguish." Another prosecution witness, Staff Sergeant Foeller, recalled hearing Rockwood tell Bragg, "I am an American officer, not a Nazi officer."

One of the defense's key witnesses was Capt. Hugh Thompson, who had acted to stop the My Lai massacre in Vietnam 26 years ago. While under orders flying a combat mission, he witnessed soldiers commanded by Lt. William Calley, Jr. executing more than 100 Vietnamese women and children in a village. Abandoning his mission, he ordered his helicopter gunner to fire upon the U.S. troops involved if he was unsuccessful in stopping the massacre. A superior office, who overheard the radio exchange between Thompson and his gunner, ordered Calley down. Capt. Thompson was decorated for his actions but has sought to avoid the public spotlight. However, he felt he had to come forward to defend Capt. Rockwood at the Fort Drum proceedings.

Thompson took the stand May 12 to vividly recount his own experiences in the Vietnam war and compared his actions to Capt. Rockwood's. "In my opinion, he could have been court-martialed for not doing it," Thompson said referring to Rockwood's attempt to inspect the National Penitentiary. "If he thought somebody was in danger of their life, he has a moral obligation to do everything he can to stop the loss of human life." Thompson said that he felt that Rockwood's superiors were derelict in their duty by not acting when Rockwood informed them he suspected human rights violations were occurring at the prison. Outside the court-house, Thompson characterized the proceedings against Rockwood as a "kangaroo court."

Issues of international law took the spotlight in testimony from expert witnesses on both sides. Professor Francis Boyle, a University of Illinois law professor, maintained that the United States sent 20,000 troops into Haiti and, under covenants of international law, had an obligation to secure human rights.

Boyle was followed by prosecution witness, William Hayes Parks, the special assistant for Law War Matters for the Army Judge Advocate General at the Pentagon. Parks argued that the US troops in Haiti were not an occupying force and thus rules relevant to responsibility for international law did not apply since Haiti was, at the time, a "sovereign nation." In addition, his testimony supported the government's position that there is "no individual responsibility of soldiers to enforce human rights against another nation."

Some controversy arose over Parks participation in the proceedings. Ramsey Clark notified the judge that witnesses had seen Parks enter the building where the jury was sequestered. On the stand, Parks revealed that he had socialized over coffee with the jury, a huge breach of trial rules. Clark moved for a dismissal, but the judge refused. Parks and jury members swore that they had only talked about incidental matters and not the case.

Final arguments began on May 13. Capt. Pede showered Rockwood with denigration, calling him "arrogant… contemptuous… pompous… self-centered… self-important… condescending… and patronizing." Pede said that Rockwood had created "a dangerous and unstable incident" and that the Army was not "uncaring" but rather was "there to help restore stability" for President Aristide's return. He said that the Army's primary "focus" was to stop human rights violations in the streets, not the prisons. (One might note that on Sept. 30th, the day of Rockwood's actions, the US Army did nothing to protect the human rights and lives of unarmed protestors in the streets of Port-au- Prince from the onslaught of FRAPH gunmen, who killed 6 people and wounded scores more.) Capt. Rockwood had "no defense, none whatsoever," Pede concluded. "We must make an example of him. Soldiers in the field must follow orders."

Ramsey Clark delivered a starkly different message to the jury. "Capt. Rockwood chose the single most significant thing in practical human terms he could do," Clark said. He said that the Army had taken the absurd position that it had no obligation to stop human rights violations in the prisons, which are the most likely place for such violations to occur. Clark maintained that Capt. Rockwood was "stonewalled" by his command while 400 to 500 prisoners wasted away in the penitentiary.

"I've been told that the long struggle for freedom has been between memory and forgetting," Clark said. "The whole world knows Capt. Rockwood was right about prison conditions at the National Penitentiary… If you pronounce what he has done a violation of law, you're telling the whole world that the US Army has no duty protecting human rights." Referring to his client: "There are two keys to Rockwood's character – his love for the Army, and he really believes that all people are equal. He believes in Third World people: in their humanity and their equality. He went to save lives because he thought it was his duty, that it was the thing an officer and a gentleman had to do." In closing Clark told the jury that Capt. Rockwood "acted to save life. His was an act of love and those who punish people for an act of love assume terrible responsibility."

The jury deliberated for 7 hours before returning at 8:45 pm with a verdict of guilty for four of the five charges: failure to go to his place of duty, being disrespectful to a superior officer, disobeying a superior officer, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. He was found innocent of dereliction of duty.

The military panel met the next day to determine sentencing, which could have reached a maximum of 6 years and 3 months in prison. Surely the panel realized that sending Rockwood to prison would have only increased public interest in his case. So instead they gave him the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge and cut his benefits by two-thirds.

The verdict and sentencing will be reviewed by Gen. Meade who "may approve the findings and sentence as adjudged or take various actions more lenient to Capt. Rockwood," said an Army press release distributed immediately after sentencing. Perhaps Gen. Meade will try to pose as a "generous" commander and display even more "tolerance" in an effort to blunt Capt. Rockwood's resolve and sap his popular support.

But Capt. Rockwood is clear on the Army's tactics. "They don't want me behind bars," Capt. Rockwood said after sentencing. "They are looking after their own self-interest. They want this story and the allegations against their criminal negligence to go away. By sending me to prison, of course, those allegations would not go away. It was not their ideals that motivated them. It's their lack of moral courage."

Rockwood plans to take his case to an Army appeals court in Washington, D.C.. The case can be further appealed to a civilian court which hears military appeals and can finally go to the US Supreme Court.

Thus, the case of Capt. Rockwood is far from over. The Army is doing its best to banalize the affair, to reduce it to a case of Army discipline and regulations. But the case of Capt. Rockwood lays bare the lie of the US occupation: it had nothing to do with protecting the Haitian people and everything to do with protecting US interests. In the months ahead, Haitians and Americans must continue their support for Capt. Rockwood as he challenges the hypocrisy of the US occupation of Haiti and fights for respect of Haitian human rights.

(This article was written in conjunction with Rebecca Riehm, a correspondent of Peace Media Service.)

WHAT LIES BEHIND THE ARREST OF "TOTO" CONSTANT?

When the FRAPH's leader Emmanuel Constant fled to the United States last December, the government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide expressed dismay. The Haitian government called for extradition of Constant back to Haiti, but the fugitive had completely disappeared somewhere in the US. "The Americans promised they would help," complained President Aristide this past March about the seeming inability of the US government to locate, capture, and extradite the CIA agent. "Clearly, we have our eyes open," Aristide said, suggesting that he was observant of US duplicity in hiding Constant.

But with the arrest of the 38-year-old Constant last week in Queens, NY, the Haitian government may now rue its fierce calls for his extradition. Over the past 8 months, the Aristide/Michel government has failed to prosecute even one person for crimes committed during the dictatorship of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, and it has become clear that the Haitian government lacks the will to bring justice for the crimes of the coup. The return of Constant would likely further highlight the moribund state of Haitian justice and thus increase popular frustration and unrest.

If the Haitian government sees Constant as a hot potato, Washington is using the May 10 arrest to squeeze out maximum political mileage. The Clinton administration was embarrassed by revelations late last year that the CIA helped create FRAPH and is now trying to forge the impression that it is at odds with the death-squad leader. Constant, a co-founder of the neo-Duvalierist FRAPH in 1993, never made secret his attachment to and affection for the US government. FRAPH demonstrations were frequently led by a US flag, and the organization officially welcomed US troops. After the US intervention, the US Embassy organized an outdoor press conference for Constant, where he proclaimed his desire to participate in upcoming elections. (Haiti's 1987 Constitution bans "zealous" Duvalierists from occupying elected office until 1997.) Indeed, Constant's "mysterious" entry into the United States was widely interpreted as the US government giving protection and payment to their erstwhile "asset.&qut;

Nonetheless, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said last March that the FRAPH leader's presence in the United States "would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences." He asked Attorney General Janet Reno to annul Constant's visitor visa and seek his deportation. But Constant remained on the loose.

So why has Constant now been picked up? Most likely, the US government wants to use Constant as a lure to detour the growing popular movement for justice in Haiti. By dangling Constant before the Haitian people, Washington may hope to distract the Haitian people from confronting the more global lack of justice.

The US is prudently holding Constant at the Wicomico Detention Facility in Maryland, away from US cities with large Haitian populations, while he awaits a hearing from the Executive Office of Immigration Review. Different appeals could take months, INS officials say.

Meanwhile, the United States' total control of the restructuring of a new repressive apparatus in Haiti — the National Police Force — appears not to be enough. The Clinton administration now wants to take the "new" police and train them in the United States. According to press accounts of letter sent by President Clinton last month to President Aristide, the United States wants to increase the number of US-trained police, from some 4,000 to 7,000, by sending them to a US military base in Alabama. Clinton suggested the training begin June 1.

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