Congressional hearing on FRAPH documents (Haiti)
Q - the reports that the U.S. has some documents which were seized at the time of the intervention a year ago, and the Haitians think those documents belong to them. Can you shed some light on this?
MR. BURNS: Yes, let me shed some light. Let me give you some background and give you our position. The background is that way back in September 1994, during our initial military operations in Haiti, members of the 10th Mountain Division, United States Army, as part of the multinational force, sent to provide security in Haiti, seized documents, some photographs, some tapes from the FRAPH Headquarters in Port-au-Prince, and these items were forwarded through U.S. military command channels and are now being held by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
We received a request from the Haitian Government for these documents - photos and tapes - and that request was made on October 31 of this year. I can’t comment on the contents of the documents or the precise status of the DoD review of them. I’ll refer you to Mike Doubleday who is in the office today and is briefing on them.
But I will say this: We have a good relationship with the Haitian Government. The fact that the Haitian Government has made a formal request is important to us. We owe them a response. The ball is in our court, and we plan to get back to the Haitian Government as quickly as possible, so that we can end this misunderstanding.
Q- Nick, isn’t it sort of a question - at least the Haitians are framing it in terms of sovereignty. They’re Haitian documents. They want them back. What right does the United States have to hold onto them?
MR. BURNS: I don’t think anyone’s disputing the fact that in September 1994 the U.S. military was deployed to end the thuggery of Francois and Cedras, and I don’t think anyone is arguing the fact that the military came in and seized FRAPH documents.
FRAPH was an illegitimate organization which terrorized the people of Haiti. I don’t think anyone has sympathy for FRAPH. At this point, though, the Haitian Government has come forward and said he would like the documents back. We’ve heard that request, and, as I said, I want to emphasize this - we have a very good relationship with President Aristide and the Haitian Government.
We want to be receptive. The ball’s in our court. We certainly owe them a response, and we’re working on it.
Q -Is there any fear that these documents would incite more vigilante violence in Haiti against former FRAPH members, and that’s the reason that the United States is holding up -
MR. BURNS: I wouldn’t lead you in that direction, no.
Q Then what’s the problem? I mean, if they’re theirs, you’ve acknowledged they’re theirs, they’re a legitimate government, you support the government - why do you think that you should keep them?
MR. BURNS: These are FRAPH documents, and we held them - for what? - for 14 months - 13, 14 months - and we’ve just, in the last month had a request for their return. We are looking at that request. That request is in the purview of the Pentagon, so I can’t give you a detailed answer as to where the documents are, how many documents there are, how many tapes, how many photographs, but I can tell you this: I think this is important. We do owe them a response. We’re going to give them a response.
Q-The question is why? Not what, where or when, it’s why. Why couldn’t you just turn them over? I mean, why is there even a debate about this?
MR. BURNS: I think you may be presuming more than you should. This was a military operation to do away with FRAPH and to restore the democratically elected President of Haiti to power, which the United States accomplished, and which has since been continued. The mission has been continued by the United Nations.
It was a success. It was the right thing to do. In the course of that operation, our military came into possession, probably, of these items and many more items pertaining to the FRAPH organization. I can’t tell you specifically why these documents were held from September ’94 until today, but I can tell you that now that the Haitian Government has asked for them back, we’re looking at that request very seriously.
Q- You seem to be drawing a distinction between these documents belonging to FRAPH or belonging to the Haitian Government. Do you mean to do that?
MR. BURNS: I’m just saying that there was an illegitimate government in place in September 1994. It was removed from power, and a legitimate government came in and took its place. These documents belonged at the time to the illegitimate organization that no longer exists.
Now the government that clearly has sovereignty - the Haitian Government - has asked for them back. It’s a legitimate request. We’re looking at it. We’re going to get them an answer.
Q- There’s no question that these documents are not the current Haitian Government’s, is there?
MR. BURNS: Sid, I think I’ve given you a pretty clear answer. We’ve got a request. We’re looking at it. It’s under review. And I’m going to have to refer you to the Pentagon, which is in possession of these documents. These documents are not here in Foggy Bottom.
I haven’t seen the documents. I don’t know where they are. I don’t where they’re being held. I don’t know how many there are.
Q- Isn’t there disagreement between the State Department and the Pentagon as to whether or not these documents should be continued to be held or just, you know, handed over?
MR. BURNS: What I would just tell you, Carol, is this is a relatively recent request. We’ve had a lot of business with the Haitian Government over the last couple of weeks. I can tell you that the senior people in this Department - the Department of State - as well as senior people in the Department of Defense are very well aware of the request now, and they’re working on it. There’s a review underway of what the appropriate action should be, and I’m sure that the United States Government will come to the appropriate decision. I’m sure that we’ll be able to resolve this with the Haitian Government.
Q-You’re not saying it’s up to the Pentagon whether these documents go back or not, are you?
MR. BURNS: It’s a U.S. Government decision, but the documents are currently in the possession of the Pentagon, because the 10th Mountain Division took possession of the documents in September 1994.
Q-They may be sitting at the Pentagon, but the U.S. Government is in possession of them. It’s not up to the Pentagon to decide what this government should do.
MR. BURNS: The Pentagon clearly has an important role to play here, but the Department of State has a voice and the White House has a voice, and we have a collegial Administration. We usually work issues like this out, and I’m sure we’ll work this one out.
Q-After you work it out with the Pentagon, is part of the issue with the Haitian Government an orderly process by which these documents would be returned and a guarantee that they remain in the hands of the government for judicial purposes?
MR. BURNS: I just don’t know if that’s part of the Haitian Government request. I don’t know what the specific request was beyond the request made to ask the U.S. Government to turn these documents back to the Government of Haiti. I don’t know if there were specific conditions applied by the Government of Haiti.
Q-No. My question is actually directed at the conditions the U.S. Government is trying to impose upon their return.
MR. BURNS: Oh, I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know if there will be conditions. I can’t predict what our response is going to be. All I can tell you is there’s a review underway. We’re going to get back to the Haitians and very speedily, and, when we do, we’ll talk about it.
Q-Could you volunteer it when you do come up with a decision?
MR. BURNS: I’ll even volunteer it. I’ll come out and even make an announcement that we’ve done it. You won’t even have to ask.
Q-Before the snows come?
MR. BURNS: I don’t know when the snows are coming.
MR. BURNS: Yes. Now that’s a better formula.
Q-Quick follow-up question. Can you give us any idea what these documents and photographs are of?
MR. BURNS: No, I can’t. I am not an expert on these documents. I’ve never seen the documents. I don’t know where they’re being held. I don’t know what they represent. I don’t know how many of them there are.
Q-Are there photographs?
MR. BURNS: No, I just don’t know anything about them.