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U.S. Captain faces court martial. Tried to expose prison atrocities in Haiti

By Deirdre Griswold, in Workers World,
11 May, 1995

U.S. Army Capt. Lawrence Rockwood took the pronouncements of his commander-in-chief literally when President Bill Clinton said the U.S. mission in Haiti was to defend human rights and restore democracy.

Now Rockwood faces 10 years in a U.S. military prison for having tried to investigate conditions in the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. Charges against him include conduct unbecoming an officer and failure to be at his appointed place of duty.

Rockwood told his story via satellite hookup to an April 27 New York meeting called by the Haiti Commission. He was barred from attending the meeting personally by a military order restricting his right to travel.

As an intelligence officer, Rockwood had been responsible for gathering human-rights information in preparation for U.S. forces landing in Haiti. But once he got there and tried to continue his work, he was blocked by his superiors.

Finally, on Sept. 30, 1994, Rockwood went to the National Penitentiary on his own authority to investigate the conditions of the hundreds of political prisoners there. He had just heard of the horrific situation uncovered in a similar prison in Les Cayes.

Four months later, an inspection team of International Police Monitors would say about the National Penitentiary: This is the worst prison we have ever seen.

A 15-year veteran officer, Rockwood is ready to sacrifice his career in defense of his principles. He told the New York meeting, held at the Newspaper Guild hall, that this case isn't about the charges against him.

The real issue, he said, is the conditions between Sept. 19 and Dec. 19 in the National Penitentiary. Why did over 400 people in cramped conditions, 85 percent of whom were charged or convicted of no crimes, [have to] stand in six inches of their own feces while listening to the voices of American soldiers in the street outside?

That's the issue--not what's being done to a little captain in the Army.

Rockwood is voicing the dismay of many U.S. soldiers who thought they were being sent to Haiti to protect the population against the violent military that had overthrown elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Once they got there they found they were supposed to disarm the populace and protect the ruling elite.

Many veterans of the Vietnam War voiced support for Rockwood at the New York meeting. Rockwood told of receiving many letters and calls, including one from Capt. Hugh Thompson--who, Rockwood said, had been a helicopter pilot present at My Lai when U.S. troops massacred many civilians. Thompson tried to stop the massacre, and finally ordered his gunner to fire on the U.S. troops, who were bayoneting babies and shooting their mothers.

Rockwood goes before a general court-martial on May 8 at Fort Drum, N.Y. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark will defend him.

Gen. David Meade, the commanding officer at Fort Drum, also commanded U.S. forces in Haiti from September 1994 to January 1995. In a pre-trial hearing, Clark argued that the charges against Rockwood should be dismissed because of this apparent conflict of interest.

Gen. Meade has an interest other than an official interest because his mission [in Haiti] is challenged by Capt. Rockwood. If Capt. Rockwood is acquitted, Gen. Meade will be humiliated, said Clark.