In the federal government’s relentless and futile pursuit to control what Americans can and cannot put into their own bodies, all too often, innocent people become the victims of state-sponsored violence. Since its inception during the Nixon years, the drug war has not only failed at its task but it’s served to create a massive opioid epidemic and eviscerated rights—all while fostering corruption and violence within the government. At the head of this violent and corrupt beast is the government office known as the Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA.
A scathing new report out of ProPublica has just shined some light on the DEA’s dark and violent history. This new evidence, accompanied with a video, shows that for the past five years, the DEA has been lying about an incident that resulted in them killing four innocent civilians, including two women and a child.
The incident happened in Honduras during an operation carried out under the cover of darkness in one of many futile attempts to stop people from selling arbitrary substances.
According to the report from ProPublica:
In the DEA’s view, the dead — one man, two women and a 14-year-old boy — were among those on a boat that shot at a canoe carrying a joint DEA-Honduran anti-drug team. The DEA said it had evidence in the form of night-vision video taken from a surveillance plane showing an “exchange of gunfire” between the two vessels after the larger boat collided with the canoe carrying the agents.
Now, for the first time, the three-hour video has been released to the public. It strongly suggests that the DEA’s account of crossfire in the May 2012 mission was not accurate. The release of the video, under a Freedom of Information Act request, follows a scathing report published by the inspectors general of the Departments of Justice and State earlier this year that challenged the DEA’s version of events.
ProPublica, along with the NY Times hired a forensic expert to analyze said video. According to the expert, Bruce Koenig, the video shows numerous flashes originating from the DEA and not the family who was murdered.
Mr. Koenig, who formerly was the supervisor of the F.B.I.’s forensic audio/video group, examined the video frame by frame and concluded that only one flash originates from the passenger boat, according to the report. However, it was determined that this single flash could’ve been caused by a gunshot to the motor of the victim’s boat. Indeed, experts later found a bullet hole in the motor.
Just prior to the release of this video—in a likely attempt to quell backlash beforehand—the DEA disbanded the agency’s program that carried out this attack in Honduras. The operation was named the Foreign-Deployed Advisory Support Teams, or FAST, and it provided military-style training to law enforcement officers in other countries to counter drug traffickers.
According to ProPublica, the inspectors general report, which found no evidence to support the DEA’s account that its agents were fired upon, has also drawn attention from lawmakers. A bipartisan group of four senators asserted that the DEA and State Department “repeatedly and knowingly misled members of Congress and congressional staff.”
“The DEA convinced themselves of a false version of events due to arrogance, false assumptions, and ignorance,” said Tim Rieser, an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy and one of the staff members who has spent years delving into the shooting. “They rushed to judgment and then stuck to their story.”
For over five years, the DEA kept this video secret despite claiming that it exonerated the officers in the killing of the man, two women, and one child. Peter Quilter, a former staff member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who attended some of the initial briefings explained the DEA’s deception from the beginning. “It was very difficult to second-guess them,” he said, adding, “They very simply misled the Congress. The video did not back up their story of what happened.”
ProPublica detailed the events of the video which sounds like a scene straight out of Hollywood.
In the video, the cocaine-filled pickup truck can be seen driving through the village to a landing on the twisting Patuca River. There the traffickers offload the drugs into a motorized canoe.
Four government helicopters appear and chaos erupts. The traffickers quickly abandon their task. One of them pushes the drug-laden canoe into the middle of the river and flees into the jungle with the others. Three members of the anti-drug team — two Honduran police and one DEA agent — ignore the men and pursue the canoe downstream.
The three men manage to climb on board. The DEA agent, sitting in the back, begins to pilot it back toward the landing. But the motor stalls and the canoe starts to drift downstream. The DEA agent can be seen vainly jerking the starter rope to try to restart the engine.
As he does this a second boat appears in the frame. It seems to be maneuvering directly toward the drifting canoe carrying the drugs. This second boat would turn out to be a water taxi, carrying a dozen passengers and cargo upriver to Ahuas.
The passengers and pilot on the civilian boat would later say they were terrified by the helicopters and did not intend to steer toward the canoe containing the law enforcement agents. For their part, the drug agents assumed the second boat was trying to recover the drugs.
It remains unclear why the civilian craft steered directly into the boat with the agents, but the boats collided.
The video clearly shows gunfire from the anti-drug agents. As passengers leap into the water, the anti-drug team continues to fire at them. An eight-second burst of machine gun fire comes from one of the helicopters. (The inspectors general report said a DEA agent ordered a Honduran door gunner to fire.)
The footage cuts away for a moment, and the edges of the video are blocked by DEA redactions, obscuring the surveillance plane’s altitude and other technical intelligence-gathering data the agency deemed sensitive.
The DEA was unable to show that anyone in the boat had been armed as no bullets struck the agents, the helicopters, or their canoe. In total, three people were injured and four were killed.
Below is a video illustrating how the government can quite literally get away with murder and justify it by claiming to keep you safe from substances they deem illegal.
ProPublica reached out to one of the victims of the shooting who still has no idea why the DEA shot at them. Hilda Lezama, who operated the boat with her husband says she is no longer able to work as both of her legs suffered debilitating bullet wounds. “I can’t afford to support my daughters,” she said. “We still don’t know why this happened.”