Haiti: U.S. Response to Allegations of an Assassination Plot

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-02-14.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to Congressional Requesters

February 1997
                  U.S. Response to
                  Allegations of an
                  Assassination Plot

          United States
GAO       General Accounting Office
          Washington, D.C. 20548

          National Security and
          International Affairs Division


          February 14, 1997

          The Honorable Jesse Helms
          Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations
          United States Senate

          The Honorable Strom Thurmond
          Chairman, Committee on Armed Services
          United States Senate

          The Honorable Richard Armey
          Majority Leader
          House of Representatives

          The Honorable Benjamin A. Gilman
          Chairman, Committee on International Relations
          House of Representatives

          The Honorable Floyd Spence
          Chairman, Committee on National Security
          House of Representatives

          On March 28, 1995, Mrs. Mireille Durocher Bertin, a prominent attorney
          and critic of President Aristide and the government of Haiti, was
          assassinated. In response to your request, we are providing information
          regarding how the U.S. government handled the allegations it received
          regarding a plot to assassinate her. You asked us to respond to the
          following questions:

      •   Who decided that the government of Haiti was responsible for warning
          Mrs. Bertin of the assassination plot?
      •   Were other approaches to handling the assassination plot allegations
      •   What information was available to U.S. decisionmakers on the
          involvement of Haitian officials in political violence?
      •   Was Mrs. Bertin warned of the assassination plot?
      •   Did the Haitian government investigate the assassination plot allegations?
      •   Are there U.S. laws, regulations, or guidelines governing the notification of
          targets of assassination plots?
      •   Since Mrs. Bertin was assassinated, has the United States warned any
          individuals in Haiti of threats against their lives?

          Page 1                                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-87 Haiti

                   On September 30, 1991, 8 months after his inauguration as Haiti’s first
Background         democratically elected president, Jean-Bertand Aristide was overthrown
                   by a military coup. On September 18, 1994, after 3 years of economic and
                   diplomatic pressure, including the threat of direct U.S. military
                   intervention, Haiti’s military regime agreed to relinquish power and allow
                   Aristide to return to office in October 1994. Among other things, this
                   agreement allowed for the nonviolent entry of U.S. troops into Haiti on
                   September 19, 1994. From September 1994 through March 30, 1995, the
                   U.S.-led multinational force (MNF) of 20,000 U.S. and 4,100 foreign troops
                   was deployed to Haiti to establish a “safe and secure environment.” On
                   March 31, 1995, this responsibility was transferred to the U.N. Mission in
                   Haiti, with 6,900 troops, about half of whom were U.S. troops.

                   On March 19, 1995, a Haitian national working as a translator for the MNF
                   informed U.S. troops that he was part of a conspiracy to assassinate
                   Mrs. Bertin. The informant alleged that a group of four other Haitians
                   would be meeting at his home later that day and that they would stake out
                   Mrs. Bertin’s house that night. He also said that the Minister of the Interior
                   was somehow involved. MNF forces acted quickly to detain the informant,
                   his wife, and the four suspects. Subsequently, on March 28, 1995, Mrs.
                   Bertin was assassinated in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince while
                   driving with a client to a meeting.

                   The U.S. MNF Commander in Haiti decided that the responsibility for
Results in Brief   directly warning Mrs. Bertin of the threat against her life lay with the
                   government of Haiti, and the U.S. Ambassador concurred. As part of the
                   decision-making process, some U.S. Embassy officials initially argued that
                   U.S. officials should warn Mrs. Bertin directly to guarantee that she was
                   adequately alerted of the danger. MNF and U.S. Embassy officials ultimately
                   decided to inform both President Aristide and Justice Minister Exume of
                   the evidence they had regarding the plot and to urge them to warn
                   Mrs. Bertin and investigate the plot. They did so on March 22, 1995.
                   Embassy officials believed that notifying both the President and the
                   Justice Minister would better ensure that Mrs. Bertin was warned, yet
                   leave the government of Haiti responsible for the warning. According to
                   MNF officials, U.S. officials told the President and Justice Minister that if
                   they were not satisfied that Mrs. Bertin had been warned, they would warn
                   her directly. Both the President and the Justice Minister assured U.S.
                   officials that Mrs. Bertin would be warned and the allegations investigated

                   Page 2                                                    GAO/NSIAD-97-87 Haiti

Cables, and other documents, as well as discussions indicate that MNF and
Embassy officials were aware of allegations that high-level Haitian
security officials might be implicated in violent activities. The officials
indicated this did not influence the decision-making process.

It is impossible to determine whether Mrs. Bertin was adequately warned
of the assassination plot, as no one witnessed the conversations between
Mrs. Bertin and Justice Minister Exume. However, statements we obtained
from family members, U.S. officials, Haitian government officials, and a
U.N. representative provide information and perspectives on the events
leading up to the assassination.

Mrs. Bertin’s family members agree that Justice Minister Exume spoke
with Mrs. Bertin twice within a few days of receiving the plot information
from U.S. officials. However, we found no one who heard exactly what
was discussed. None of the family members believe that Justice Minister
Exume warned Mrs. Bertin of a murder plot because (1) she told the
family the Justice Minister said only that she might be arrested, (2) she did
not appear particularly concerned following the conversations, and (3) she
would have taken the Minister’s warning of an assassination conspiracy
seriously and would have taken appropriate precautions. Her father told
us, however, that his daughter was aware that individuals plotting to kill
her were taken into custody by the MNF.

U.S. officials said that Justice Minister Exume had personally assured
them on at least two occasions that he had told Mrs. Bertin that she was in
danger and offered her protection, which she rejected. Furthermore,
President Aristide provided a written response to the MNF, which stated
that Mrs. Bertin had been warned. Minister Exume informed us that he
told Mrs. Bertin that the MNF had uncovered a plot to kill her and had
detained the alleged conspirators, but he said he did not discuss who they
were or why they might want to kill her. He also said he told Mrs. Bertin
that she should take necessary precautions and offered her protection,
which she declined. He said he also gave her his private telephone number
in case she felt threatened. He told us that he was very explicit in the
conversation about a threat to her life and did not see how she could have
misinterpreted the call. Nevertheless, he noted that Mrs. Bertin did not
appear to take his warning seriously, saying that the threat was probably
just another ploy to try to force her to leave the country.

A U.N. official told us that during a luncheon meeting she arranged with
Mrs. Bertin to explore what was happening politically in the country,

Page 3                                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-87 Haiti

Mrs. Bertin spoke of her conversation with Justice Minister Exume. The
U.N. official said that Mrs. Bertin told her that she had received a
disturbing call from the Justice Minister during which he informed her that
“she was in trouble.” The U.N. official stated that Mrs. Bertin appeared
concerned and commented that it would have to be very serious for a
Minister of the government to warn her and questioned whether the U.N.
official could help her if she were arrested.

In a letter dated March 24, 1995, the President of Haiti advised the MNF
Commander that his initial investigation of the assassination plot did not
indicate that the Haitian Minister of the Interior was involved. The
President indicated that Justice Minister Exume would continue to look
into the matter. However, the Justice Minister told us that he did not have
sufficient time to investigate the accusations before Mrs. Bertin was
assassinated, and he was unaware of what inquiries President Aristide had
made. U.S. officials indicated they were skeptical that a thorough
investigation actually took place. After the assassination, the Federal
Bureau of Investigation took control of the investigation at the request of
the government of Haiti.

While U.S. laws and regulations did not impose any legal responsibility on
U.S. officials to warn Mrs. Bertin directly about the assassination plot, we
did note, that shortly after President Aristide returned to Haiti in October
of 1994, Embassy officials directly contacted two Haitian citizens to
discuss concerns about their safety. Further, after Mrs. Bertin’s
assassination, the Department of State issued guidelines requiring
Embassy officials in Haiti to notify individuals when they have information
that a credible threat exists. Since that time, Embassy officials have
notified nine individuals of threats against their lives, including members
of opposition political parties, former military officers, and members of
the government, including the current and former president. Additionally,
Department of Defense (DOD) officials informed us that U.S. forces also
informed individuals of threats against their safety.

In a separate classified report, we provide supplementary information on
each of your questions and a chronology of events relevant to political
violence in Haiti.

Page 4                                                  GAO/NSIAD-97-87 Haiti

                  DOD, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency reviewed a
Agency Comments   draft of this report and supplied technical corrections and clarifications,
                  which we incorporated, as appropriate.

                  To determine who made the decision to ask the government of Haiti to
Scope and         notify Mrs. Bertin and what other approaches were considered to inform
Methodology       Mrs. Bertin about the murder plot, we met with the U.S. Ambassador, the
                  MNF Commander and Deputy Commander, and other officials from the
                  Departments of State and Defense in Haiti and in Washington, D.C., and
                  officials from the National Security Council. We also reviewed unclassified
                  and classified cables, memorandums, personal journals and reports, and
                  submissions to congressional committees from these organizations.

                  To determine the information that was available to decisionmakers on the
                  possible involvement of Haitian officials in political violence, we reviewed
                  classified cables, memorandums, and reports from the State Department,
                  National Security Council, MNF, and Defense Intelligence Agency. To
                  attempt to determine whether Mrs. Bertin was actually warned of the plot,
                  we met with current and former officials from the government of Haiti and
                  the United Nations, and interviewed members of Mrs. Bertin’s family.

                  We researched federal statutes and regulations and spoke with or received
                  information from general counsels from the Department of Justice,
                  Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration,
                  Department of State, and DOD to determine whether regulations or
                  guidelines existed regarding threat warnings. To determine whether the
                  United States has subsequently warned any individuals in Haiti of threats
                  against their lives, we met with the U.S. Ambassador and other Embassy
                  officials and reviewed cables and memorandums.

                  We did not receive access to staff or information from the Central
                  Intelligence Agency or Federal Bureau of Investigation interview
                  summaries. Additionally, former President Aristide did not respond to two
                  requests: to meet with us or to respond to a set of questions regarding the
                  assassination. The former Prime Minister declined the U.S. Embassy’s
                  request that he meet with us. Furthermore, it should be noted that because
                  individuals’ recollections of dates, conversations, and events that occurred
                  over a year ago varied, the accounts of events we received were not
                  entirely consistent.

                  Page 5                                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-87 Haiti

           We conducted this review from June to November 1996 in accordance
           with generally accepted government auditing standards.

           We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of State, the
           Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and appropriate congressional
           committees. We will also make copies of this report available to others
           upon request.

           If you have any questions about this report, please call me on
           (202) 512-4128. The major contributors to this report are Jess Ford, Ronald
           Kushner, Richard Newbold, Jose Pena, and Joan Slowitsky.

           Benjamin F. Nelson
           Director, International Relations
             and Trade Issues

(711233)   Page 6                                                  GAO/NSIAD-97-87 Haiti
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