The details are somewhat murky, but we know the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is heavily involved in counternarcotics in Honduras. A shooting incident last Friday reportedly left four innocent people dead–including two pregnant women. Questions are being raised about whether they were shot by DEA agents who were apparently going after a boat carrying drug smugglers.
The story has become a scandal in Honduras, as the New York Times reports today (5/18/12)
Residents of the isolated Mosquito Coast of Honduras have burned down government buildings and are demanding that American drug agents leave the area immediately
With a story like this, evidently the Times thinks it can get important information from–what a surprise–unnamed U.S. officials:
While acknowledging that the circumstances of a middle-of-the-night firefight are murky, an American official briefed on the matter cast doubt on the local account.
What follows is a long, detailed account of what the United States says happened–which, for whatever reason, a named government official cannot say. And, according to the official, the whole town where the shooting happened is suspicious:
The official also expressed doubts that villagers would be out fishing in the middle of the night, near where helicopters had landed an hour or so earlier. The official added that the large number of people seen in surveillance video unloading the plane showed that many members of the impoverished community of Ahuas were involved in drug trafficking.
“There is nothing in the local village that was unknown, a surprise or a mystery about this,” the official said. “What happened was that, for the first time in the history of Ahuas, Honduran law enforcement interfered with narcotics smuggling.
The Washington Post has a similar take (5/18/12):
U.S. officials said Thursday that at least “several” DEA agents had served as advisers during the raid but that the American officers, while armed for self-defense, did not fire their weapons.
The U.S. officials, representing law enforcement agencies, and diplomats who have been briefed on the mission also cast doubt on the allegations that innocent people were killed during the 2 a.m. mission, though they said an investigation is ongoing. The U.S. officials said it was not unusual for local authorities to work with smugglers and also said they wondered why innocent civilians would be on the water in the middle of the night.
Both papers, remember, have rules about when people should be granted anonymity. In both cases it would seem the papers think that readers deserve to know why a source must remain anonymous. The Post and Times don’t bother to make any such case in either story on Honduras, leaving readers with the impression that these people who were killed were probably up to no good. That’s a pretty remarkable thing to say; it’s a lot easier to say when a newspaper will let you say it without naming you.