U.S. occupation of Haiti exposed

By MARTY GOODMAN

Chelsea (Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden have become contemporary folk heroes—like Daniel Ellsberg, after his outing of the U.S. role in Vietnam in the 1960s. These heroes exposed the lies, hypocrisy, and brutality of U.S. policy.

Although less well known today, Capt. Lawrence Rockwood of U.S. Army counter-intelligence challenged the U.S. policy makers in 1994 to live up to the haughty ideals proclaimed by President Clinton before ordering the occupation of Haiti, misnamed “Restore Democracy.” Clinton had said that the U.S. was going there “to stop brutal atrocities.”

Rockwood put his career and personal freedom on the line to expose Clinton’s pompous propaganda. It changed his life. Rockwood states that “the United States has always said, tongue in cheek, we’re not really imperialist like the Europeans. But that’s baloney, absolute baloney.” Rockwood says his experiences in Haiti made him a socialist, and he is now a member of the Socialist Party.

Rockwood recently spoke with Socialist Action about his time in Haiti. He joined the U.S. Army in 1977, served in army counter-intelligence, and worked with the CIA in Haiti in 1994. He had previously been stationed in Central America, Somalia, and Guantanamo, Cuba (“a concentration camp,” Rockwood called it). “I still had not realized that the United States could not be a force for good in my lifetime,” he said.

In early 1994 in Guantanamo, Rockwood was struck by the racist double standard that U.S. authorities metered out to Black Haitian refugees fleeing a CIA-backed coup compared to émigrés from Cuba. The Cubans were labeled “political refugees” and anti-communists, and virtually assured political asylum in Miami.

Haitians, in contrast, were considered merely “economic refugees,” and routinely denied asylum rights under racist U.S. immigration policies after they had been intercepted at sea. U.S. and international asylum law was brazenly flaunted by both Bush I and Bill Clinton. Said Rockwood, “Bill Clinton was in a situation where basically the inherent racism in American culture couldn’t be denied.”

Many Haitians were delivered back into the arms of the CIA-backed junta. Up to 6000 deaths were attributed to the junta, mainly impoverished supporters of President Aristide.

On Sept. 19, 1994, the U.S. Marines led a fig-leaf-covered United Nations force to restore the deposed elected Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been toppled by a CIA-backed military coup in September 1991. When Clinton announced the occupation Rockwood was elated, “Before we went into Haiti I was on cloud nine.”

This, however, wasn’t Haiti’s first U.S. occupation. The first, in 1915, lasted 34 years; others took place in 1994, 2004, and in 2010 by Barack Obama, under cover of earthquake relief.

Aristide was returned to Haiti on Sept. 19 on an Air Force C-130 plane, and “democracy” was restored—or so Rockwood thought. As a member of Army counter-intelligence working with the CIA, Rockwood was shocked by extreme right-wing CIA reports about Aristide’s “Lavalas” (“the Flood”) movement. Rockwood recalled, “All the CIA information on Haiti was unbelievably horrible. It was extremely, extremely biased. Aristide was ‘a monster’ who wanted to put tires around everybody’s neck and burn them.”

In reality, Aristide, who had once proclaimed himself to be a socialist, was no longer pretending to be radical. He agreed to an occupation based on reconciliation with the coup makers and a World Bank starvation plan for the masses, outlined in the U.S.-brokered “Governor’s Island Accord.” The U.S. strategy was to prevent a revolution against capitalism in Haiti and a racist backlash against “Black boat people” in Florida.

In Haiti, Rockwood realized that the U.S./UN wasn’t protecting Haitians on “the left” from violent rightists. These weren’t the human rights that Clinton had promised.

Exposés appearing in The Nation magazine and The New York Times supported Rockwood’s suspicions. Top military coup makers admitted to being on the CIA payroll, including General Raul Cedras, the coup leader. In addition, cutthroat paramilitary leader Emmanuel Constant was bankrolled with CIA cash to set up the paramilitary “FRAPH,” in order to, as the CIA described it, “balance the Aristide forces.” FRAPH became the most feared right-wing death squad.

Another recipient of CIA funding was S.I.N. (National Intelligence Service), outwardly a drug-enforcement unit, which became a den of drug dealers with close ties to the CIA and the coup. It compiled a nationwide database of Aristide activists.

Said Rockwood, “The [Clinton] administration, like the Carter administration, did not have the guts to get in a conflict with the CIA. Clinton didn’t give a shit about Aristide.”

Rockwood recalled, “I was receiving intel reports that people were being eliminated from the prison system and killed. I had 21 reports like that. They would be taken out of the penitentiary and taken to a police station and killed. Considering the history of Haiti, it was impossible to believe it wasn’t going on.” At the time, human rights reports were saying that up to 85% of the inmates in the National Penitentiary were in jail for political reasons.

Rockwood was told by superiors that “we were to go to the national prison to get the names [of prisoners]” to compile a list of inmates. But then Rockwood was told to wait a week. He protested the delay to his superiors and wrote complaints. Rockwood reported to Socialist Action, “I was told that prisoners would be eliminated within a week, [but] they weren’t going to lose sleep over a bunch of Aristide people being eliminated.”

Moreover, said Rockwood, “We were not in operation with the Haitian army. We moved back, and the killers came in.”

Rockwood decided to ignore orders to wait, picked up his rifle, and went alone to the National Penitentiary on the evening of Sept. 30, 1994. There was no electricity in the jail when he got there and feces covered the floor two inches deep. He had only obtained a few names when his own soldiers abruptly arrested him and “put me in a psych ward.” He had told one superior officer, “I am an American officer, not a Nazi officer.”

Rockwood was diagnosed by a sympathetic doctor has having “an extreme bout of ethics.” He was flown out of Haiti on Oct. 2 and soon contacted Amnesty International, who got former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark to be his attorney. A full three months later, he received a call that U.S. forces were to finally go into the penitentiary the following week. “When I heard that, I said I’m taking these guys down.”

I was told to write a detailed statement to my commander, General Mead, on my situation. Luckily, a legal clerk sent it over an unclassified fax machine, and because of that mistake, “I knew I could now go to the press and not be charged with espionage like Bradley Manning.”

The trial was in Fort Drum in New York in June 1995. The main charge against Rockwood was “conduct unbecoming an officer.” He faced 10 years in jail.

“The biggest issue in my trial,” Rockwood said, “was testimony from Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot at My Lai. He said I was justified.” In the Mai Lai massacre of 1968, which Thompson had been instrumental in halting, U.S. troops under Lt. William Calley killed close to 500 Vietnamese civilians, including children.

In the end, Rockwood was “dismissed” by a military court on May 14, 1995, a decision Rockwood says is like “Dishonorable Discharge” for an officer. He beat the main charge of “conduct unbecoming” but “they got me on raising my voice to an officer and not being at my place on duty. All the bullshit stuff. I didn’t do any jail time”

Afterwards, “I got my Ph.D. and my dissertation basically on the Nuremburg principles. How we as a country have not lived up to things we shove down other people’s throats. We don’t apply it and I cited the My Lai massacre.”

Rockwood later authored the book, “Walking away from Nuremberg,” which sharply challenges U.S. military practices and the U.S. refusal to sign treaties that stem from the Nuremberg trials.

Unfortunately, conditions in occupied Haiti have not improved since Rockwood’s time there. Almost 2000 Wikileaks cables received from whistleblower Chelsea (Bradley) Manning reveal more recent outrages in Haiti (see http://www.haiti-liberte.com). The cables show bullying of Haiti’s parliament by U.S. officials and sweatshop interests, who urged the legislators to reject meaningful minimum wage hikes for impoverished Haitian workers. Cables also reveal U.S./UN rigging of the last Haitian presidential election in favor of the current U.S.-friendly president, Michel Martelly, a notorious friend of Duvalier dictatorship-era families.

The moral strength of Lawrence Rockwood will be an example to those who are in solidarity with Haiti and a reminder that we still have far to go. Rockwood says, “You can’t have human rights without socialism.”

Photo: Tony Savino / Socialist Action