Thursday, September 8, 2011

A request for detailed accounting of U.S. assistance to Colombia's DAS

On Wednesday, September 7th, Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) sent a letter to four Obama Administration officials requesting a "comprehensive accounting of U.S. assistance to the Colombia government's Department of Administrative Security (DAS) during the period of August 7, 2002 to August 7, 2010." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus were all addressed in the letter, which asks specifically for detailed information on all "funds, training, lethal and non-lethal equipment, intelligence- and information-sharing, technical assistance, facilities construction and any other aid provided to the DAS, its officials, its employees or any of its subcontractors during this period."

The letter comes after the Washington Post published an article asserting that U.S. aid may be implicated in the abuses of power by the DAS, currently under investigation and being prosecuted in Colombia. Representatives McGovern and Schakowsky also express concern that former President Álvaro Uribe has publicly called the reporters of these articles "terrorist sympathizers," and a "terrorist ally."

The full text of the letter is below. Or download it as a PDF.

For more information on Colombia's DAS scandal, read Lisa Haugaard's blog, "Colombia's DAS Intelligence Agency: A Case of U.S. Aid Gone Bad," and the 2010 report written by CIP, LAWGEF, USOC and WOLA, "Far Worse than Watergate."

Dear Secretary Clinton, Secretary Panetta, Attorney General Holder and Director Petraeus,

We write to request a comprehensive accounting of U.S. assistance to the Colombian government's Department of Administrative Security (PAS) during the period of August 7, 2002 to August 7, 2010. Specifically, we request a full accounting of all funds, training, lethal and non-lethal equipment, intelligence- and information-sharing, technical assistance, facilities construction and any other aid provided to the DAS, its officials, its employees or any of its contractors during this period, whether in Colombia, the U.S., or at other facilities. We further request the information indicate any such aid or information provided to the National and International Observations Group of the DAS.

As you know, the Colombian Attorney General's Office is undertaking an aggressive investigation and series of prosecutions of illegal activities carried out by the DAS during these years. Six former high-ranking intelligence officials have confessed to crimes and more than a dozen other agency operatives are on trial, and several more are under investigation by the Attorney General or by a special legislative commission of the Colombian Congress.

These investigations have revealed a vast illegal network of surveillance of nearly all sectors of civil society, including human rights defenders, political party leaders, journalists and members of the Colombian Supreme Court engaged in investigations of elected officials with alleged ties to paramilitary groups or who engaged in corrupt practices. These illegal operations were also connected to threats received by many of the individuals under surveillance, and in some cases the DAS shared information with paramilitary and other violent actors that resulted in the assassinations of trade unionists and other rights defenders.

Recent articles in the Washington Post (8/21/11) assert that U.S. aid may be implicated in these abuses of power. We are concerned that former President Alvaro Uribe has made public statements claiming the reporters who wrote these articles are terrorist sympathizers (simpatizantes del terrorismo), going so far as to characterize one reporter as a terrorist ally (ocultador del terrorismo), language that increases the level of threat under which journalists work in Colombia. We strongly urge you to make clear to the former president that such statements are unacceptable and ask that he retract them.

We believe it is important to set the record straight in a clear and transparent manner by providing Congress with a comprehensive report on all forms of U.S. assistance to the DAS. We also believe it is important to provide Congress with this information in as rapid a manner as possible, but assuredly prior to when Congress begins debate on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

To the maximum extent possible, the information included in this comprehensive report should be provided in an unclassified format; if necessary, a classified annex should be made available for review by all Members of Congress. We further ask that you inquire and coordinate with your counterparts in other departments and agencies that might have been working with the DAS (e.g. Treasury/Internal Revenue Service) to ensure that the report is indeed comprehensive.

Thank you for your serious attention to this request. We look forward to your timely response
and the receipt of this comprehensive report regarding all forms of U.S. support for the DAS over the past decade.

Sincerely,

James P. McGovern & Janice D. Schakowsky