Friday, April 27, 2007

Opposition to ILEA has faulty premise

Reviewing news articles this week, I came across an article in Upside Down World calling for protests to close the US-sponsored International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in El Salvador. The article, written by J.L. Heyward of CISPES, is an unfortunate collection of unsupported allegations, irrelevant connections, and logical fallacies.

Heyward's basic position is:

The project is a US attempt to continue militarizing Latin American police and to essentially "export" the US's criminal justice system to Latin America from a base in El Salvador.

It can also be thought of as a last ditch attempt of the US government to maintain dominance in the Latin American region, as socialist movement and electoral revolution is on the rise.

I would think most people would think that exporting the US criminal justice system -- where judges and prosecutors are not corrupt, where the rights of the accused are respected, where police are experts at investigating crime -- would be a significant improvement over the system which El Salvador has now. In a country where 90% of homicides go unsolved, training of police and prosecutors would seen to be a necessity.

The article contains the usual claim that the ILEA is another School of the Americas, where the US trained Latin American military officers in the 1970s and 1980s, including many who were horrific violators of human rights. But there are important differences. First, the ILEA is not run by the US military. Second, the persons trained at the ILEA are police officers and prosecutors, and not military personnel. Third, the ILEA has opened its doors and permitted one of El Salvador's most respected human rights institutions, the Institute for Human Rights at the University of Central America, to monitor the training and provide instruction on human rights. As I pointed out last year, the participation of this respected force for human rights provides safeguards that the ILEA will not become a place for training human rights abusers.

Police who are poorly trained, who lack techniques for crime prevention, and who lack resources and support, are more likely to be violators of human rights than a well-equipped, professionally trained police force. El Salvador desperately needs to upgrade criminal justice from the investigation of crimes through trial and punishment. Opposition to the ILEA appears to be primarily rooted in anti-Americanism, and overlooks what can be the very real benefits of such a project. (Still, given the magnitude of the problems in El Salvador, it is doubtful that the training of a few hundred Salvadoran police officers a year will make a significant, short term difference).

The CISPES attack on the ILEA points to police corruption, unsolved crimes, and lack of investigation as a reason not to have the ILEA in El Salvador. I say those are precisely the reasons the ILEA is needed.

11 comments:

Larry said...

"I would think most people would think that exporting the US criminal justice system -- where judges and prosecutors are not corrupt, where the rights of the accused are respected, where police are experts at investigating crime -- would be a significant improvement over the system which El Salvador has now."

Unfortunately, you do not take the current state of U.S. law enforcement into consideration. Granted, things are not as bad as they are in El Salvador. But the U.S. government has justified torture. It has ablolished the right to habeas corpus for anyone it deems "illegal enemy combatants." And then there is all the warrantless surveillance. I strongly suggest supporting public security reform in the U.S., including HR 1352, HR 1415, HR 1416, S 185, and S 576!

I would also keep in mind the prior record of U.S. involvement in police training. During the implementation of the Peace Accords, the U.S. government pushed for the US-trained CIDH--known for covering up the UCA massacre--to be preserved and transfered into the new "civilian" police force--a serious violation of the peace accords. The resulting Divisision of Criminal Investigation went on to engage in and cover up such important postwar violations as Francisco Velis, Adriano Vilanova, and Garica Prieto.

Another potential problem is that the US has cited the PNC as "one fo the best police forces in the region" (following the Gilberto Soto verdict last year.) Imagine using the PNC as a model to train other police forces!!!!

By the way, I was fortunate enough to meet Father Roy Bourgeois outside the House Cannon building yesterday. The longtime SOA watch leader was very deelply concerned about ILEA.

Anonymous said...

If the region includes Mexico and Guatemala, I have to say that the PNC probably is one of the best in the region, although this only shows how corrupt the entire region is, and how desperately in need of reform.

Although the U.S. federal government has overreached it's power and made questionable legal decisions, when we speak about police problems in el salvador, we have to begin with every day issues like policing neighborhoods.

There's an area in La Libertad where anyone who wanders in can get a hit of crack for $2, as well as a myriad of other drugs. The drug dealers sell to kids as young as 14-years-old (and they'll sell weed to kids younger than that). The police know where this area is, the mayor knows about it, and so does anyone who spends more than a few weeks in La Libertad and engages the locals in conversation, but no one does anything about it because of a combination of fear of retaliation and a cut of the profits. There are examples of this kind of thing in the states, but they are the exception. In El Salvador, it's all over the place, in the small towns like Opico or Zaragoza, and in larger cities like El Puerto.

A friend of mine got her car stolen a couple of days ago, and walking into some police stations was a big wake-up call for me as to just how decrepit the justice system is here. Many police stations don't even have typewriters, much less computers. The stations often have paint peeling off of them, and the officers don't make much money, leaving open the temptation for looking for bribes or cuts from organized crime.

At least the ILEA is trying to help the situation. What other alternatives are out there?

Larry said...

Anonymous raises some important points.

Consider, though, that the U.S. government (under Clinton, not Bush) pushed for the tranfer of the National Police's antidrug unit into the PNC. Unfortunately, the new DAN was heavily involved in the drug trade itself. Eventually, the unit revolted and had to be disbanded.

Funding is very important. It is not clear, however, how the ILEA will help provide computers, or even new paint. What would help, however, would be a decision by the Salvadoran government to stop using soldiers in public security and invested the money in the development of the police force.


Larry

Anonymous said...

The army isn't necessary to repress populations. Any armed body can do it, any intelligence body can do it, and seeing US track record of sabotaging sovereign movements throughout the nation, it wouldn't surprise me at all if this ILEA were just another way to tighten their stranglehold in the region. Specially if, and correct me if I'm wrong here, if this school is overseen by the FBI? What can we expect here? For the ILEA to set-up a COINTELPRO program to sabotage and inflitrate all non-US affiliated groups, meaning all those groups that aren't related to ARENA, PDC, PCN and therefore against US interests? Or can we expect for this new institution to teach how to deploy anti-mob squads faster, give them improved weapons to disperse crowds, and how to cause the greatest damage with non-lethal equipment? How to serve as a secret police and commit extraofficial arrests while appearing to act within every boundry of the law?

Secondly, when you consider how US more likely than not has a dossier on every Latin American crooked public official, businessman, drugdleaer, etc., how exactly can we trust that ILEA will be created to uphold the law instead of providing a way to further concentrate the trafficking-spy ring that was initially set up by the north as a way to finance anti-popular movements throughout the region?

Will UCA have full access to every ILEA related program?

I know I sound slightly paranoic, it's just that in my opinion, you cannot trust US at all because of past track record, including the present administration's, specially now when the things that started happening 15-20 years ago (leftist movements fighting/taking control) have made a resurgance. The only US looks for is its own personal interest, and Latin American developement hasn't every really been one of 'em, the weaker Latin American institutions are the more easier it is for them to be purchased by US transnationals (Chiquitia Food Co, Coca Cola in Colombia for example).

Ixquic* said...

Hola Tim. Estoy de acuerdo con tus puntos.

A diario en El Salvador se cometen crímenes que quedan impunes, a veces, porque los victimarios influyen en eso pero en muchísimos casos es por incapcidad técnica de la policía.

Sólo para ilustrar, En el Caso de Gilberto Soto: hay una escena criminal, el cuerpo de la víctima y una bicicleta abandonada -desde la cual se le dipsaró- por el asesino. LLegó un policía y no acordonó la escena, subió la bicicleta a la patrulla y se la llevó. Cuando se dio cuenta del error, regresó y la puso en el lugar que la encontró. el pobre policía no se dio cuenta que contaminó la escena!

Eso es básico y eso pasa a diario.

ILEA aporta algo en estas cosas, y quienes se oponen en lugar de criticar debe buscar el monitoreo de esta instancia.

Los fantasmas ya no contribuyen en nada. No le veo relación con el tema militar, como algunos señalan.

La única certeza que tengo es que el día que la Policía fracase, serán los militares quienes reclamarán esa misión, y eso es lo que se puede evitar si tenemos una policía eficaz y profesional.

Saludos!

burke said...

Tim,

I usually don’t bother with news blogs and especially this particular one, choosing instead to get updates and analysis from organizations like CISPES that are actually working to defend human rights in El Salvador and are supporting social movement groups fighting for change. [ok, I admit it, I work with CISPES, but that’s precisely because our analysis comes out of relationships built of 27 years of solidarity!] Anyway, someone forwarded me this post about the ILEA it which you denounce CISPES activist J.L Heyward’s article as “an unfortunate collection of unsupported allegations, irrelevant connections, and logical fallacies” and I had to respond… are you out of your mind?!? I actually thought your post was a parody before reading it more closely and realizing that what I had hoped was irony was in fact self-righteous nonsense.

So let’s talk about “unsupported allegations”. You say that the US criminal justice system is a model “where the rights of the accused are respected, where police are experts at investigating crime”. Huh? Perhaps you’ve heard of something called COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to illegally destroy leftist groups in the 60s and 70s. Similar tactics were used to target CISPES and other members of the Central American solidarity movement throughout the 1980s, and just last month the New York Times reported that the NYPD illegally investigated and harassed members of anti-war groups in the lead-up to the Republican convention of 2004. Or how about “habeas corpus”, that age-old right to challenge arbitrary imprisonment? It doesn’t exist anymore in the US(!) after President Bush signed the Military Commission Act last year. And the recent raids and detentions of thousands of undocumented immigrants by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE)? Not just draconian but illegal as well, such as arbitrarily locking up a 7-year old kid who is a US citizen and had committed no crime. [Incidentally, I would suggest some books which detail the recent history of the criminal justice system in the US, starting with “Agents of Repression”, which includes an excellent background of the FBI.] As for the US government, your “beacon of human rights” exporting our model to the rest of the world, I need only remind you of two things: Abu Graihb and Guantanamo.


Next up is “logical fallacies”. Ok, how about the one where you say that military are not involved in the ILEA. Given the lack of transparency at the Academy the participation of military remains a big unknown. In fact, the first international group to visit the ILEA asked for a guarantee that military personnel would not be involved; US officials declined to comment (
see the SOA Watch report here
.) Already in El Salvador there’s been a blurring of lines between police and military, as PNC officers have been pictured in the mainstream press patrolling the streets with soldiers.
It’s also worth noting that there's a clause within the ILEA agreement that grants immunity for all US officials involved in training and managing the ILEA, be them civilian or military.

And seriously Tim, let’s talk about “irrelevant connections”. It would be irrelevant to claim, as you do, that there’s no connection between the history of US training in El Salvador (which during the civil war was for both military and the brutal “Treasury Police”) and the new ILEA. Salvadorans are understandably skeptical of any US attempt to impose its values and tactics on military or police personnel, especially during a time of heightened violence and political tension between the Left and Right. You can’t erase the history of the assassination of Romero, the four churchwomen, the UCA Jesuits, the victims of El Mozote... they were all killed by graduates of US training facilities and the US government has done little to acknowledge that history or to prove that times have changed. Rather, as you yourself blogged back in 2005, the Bush Administration has celebrated US support of the Salvadoran death squad counter-insurgency campaign and even worked to emulate the so-called “El Salvador Option” in Iraq!

It seems to me that you entirely missed the point that Heyward was making: that a corrupt and repressive police force needs to be reformed and de-politicized, not taught more of the same from a government that still holds the “El Salvador Option” up as a model. The ILEA, of course, is not the answer to El Salvador’s problem of violence and corruption; a complete overhaul of the PNC is. By sponsoring and funding a police school – without transparency or checks on the human rights record of graduates, save the UCA’s participation which most Salvadorans see as a complete sell-out – the US is condoning the deplorable conduct of the PNC and inviting more of the same.

It’s not “anti-American” to point out that our country has come up short in promoting and practicing human rights both here and abroad; however, it would be “anti-humanity” if we didn’t work to shut the US-sponsored ILEA in El Salvador before it becomes another SOA!

-burke stansbury, CISPES

Tim said...

Let me address some of these comments:

1) Larry -- I strongly deplore the US government's approach to eliminating consitutional protections for US citizens by calling them "Enemy combatants", but I also know that the US has a court system which rejected that as well. I also deplore the actions at Guantanamo, but I also know that is a military, not a civilian police institution. But you aren't addressing the basic question -- what is being taught at the ILEA and is it an improvement over what happens today in El Salvador?

2) Ixquic says it best -- if you want to keep the military out of civilian policing in El Salvador (and we all recognize that the military is already being called on to play a role in such policing), then the best approach is to strengthen the civilian policing.

3) To the last anonymous poster -- my concern with the approach taken by CISPES and SOA Watch is that your entire lens for judging what should happen in 2007 in El Salvador is the 1970s and 1980s. I am aware of the illegal surveillance of CISPES during those years, I am aware of the horrible record of the graduates of the School of the Americas. That's why the US has a moral debt when it comes to dealing with El Salvador. But I reach a different conclusion from you. I do not have a knee jerk reaction which says that just because a program is funded by Washington, it must be evil. I am willing to believe that people of good faith from both the north and the south can believe that crime is a serious problem, can believe that drug trafficking is a serious problem, can believe that under-trained police forces are a serious problem. If the ILEA is going to address those problems, and is going to open its doors to a human rights monitor like the IDHUCA, then I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Anonymous said...

in response to tim's last comments,

"I am willing to believe that people of good faith from both the north and the south can believe that crime is a serious problem, can believe that drug trafficking is a serious problem, can believe that under-trained police forces are a serious problem."

i'm wondering if you think that a US prison population -- predominantly african american and latino people -- of over 2 million is also a problem. can you think of solutions that avoid the trappings of the prison industrial complex?

and it concerns me that the "good faith" people you seem to being speaking on behalf of know nothing about what it is to live in extreme poverty after twelve years of a debilitaing, imperialist war that left mass graves of indigenous people in the name of "anti-communism" and is still under fraudulent leadership which, among other more heinous misdeeds, recently squandered tens of thousands of dollars for drapes and wall to wall carpeting for the ministry of health while complaining to have run out of money for hospital repairs it has been promising since the 2001 earthquake.

the millenium challenge account awarded the ruling party in el salvador over $400 million which will be used to further gut or displace local economies of el salvador. in spite of this "gift package to salvadorans to increase education and development", in additon to washington's renewed financial investments in the salvadoran military, the president of el salvador -- ARENA party member tony saca -- slashed the health care budget in half for certain municipalities that voted for the FMLN opposition party and has raised bus fare and tuition costs to further punish people living and resisting outside of social and political circles of the salvadoran elite.

in closing, i must express intense frustration over your act of skimming over and neglecting to address pieces of the original article that denounced renewed death squad violence on behalf of CISPES and the human rights office of el salvador.

and does it not concern you that the salvadoran government refuses to investigate the PNC abduction of francisco contreras. enough of this rhetorical fantasy land which deludes historical memory and the possiblity of justice and reparations for the millions of lives that have been destroyed for the purpose of perpetuating gluttinous wealth and white supremacy. - heyward

Anonymous said...

obvious correction/clarification on my last post:

i must express intense frustration over your act of skimming over and neglecting to address pieces of the original article in which CISPES denounced renewed death squad violence and military collusion with the salvadoran national police (PNC), which the salvadoran human rights office has confirmed on multiple occasions.

Larry said...

"Larry -- I strongly deplore the US government's approach to eliminating consitutional protections for US citizens by calling them "Enemy combatants", but I also know that the US has a court system which rejected that as well. I also deplore the actions at Guantanamo, but I also know that is a military, not a civilian police institution. But you aren't addressing the basic question -- what is being taught at the ILEA and is it an improvement over what happens today in El Salvador?"

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other reputable human rights organizations have pointed out a global trend in which the U.S. "war on terror" has given a green light to governments around the world to violate human rights in the name of security. Let's look at what happened in El Salvador. Following September 11th, security at the airport was militarized--using death-squad linked security forces that were supposed to have been disbanded under the peace accords! ARENA, like many of its counterparts in the region, is very used to using the label "terrorist" to justify repression of legitimate dissent. It has continued to do so.

Yes, the courts rejected the first attempt at military trials at Guantanamo. We do not know, however, whether or not the Militiary Commissions Act of 2006 will stand. Either way, the violations at Guatanamo have not magically stopped following the court rulings!

And yes, Guatanamo is a military institution. But that is precisely part of the problem! The US has blurred the distinction between law enforcement and war. Also keep in mind that the US was supporting Salvadoran military involvement in public security following the peace accords. And don't forget the "war on drugs."

Anonymous said...

I have dealt with the police in El Salvador on numerous levels- as friends, neighbors and for legal reasons. 80% of the personnel I encountered were professional.
My opinion is that the US should not meddle in the PNC training.

And to the first anonymous who posted: drug activity in Puerto is a good example, but also a delicate situation, so take care when talking about it. Retailiation is a real.