In yesterday’s New York Times, I was surprised to see a story about a NYT investigation into prison guards killing unarmed inmates on January 19 in a Haitian prison located in Les Cayes. I wasn’t surprised that the the guards killed the men in cold blood, but, I was flabbergasted that NYT would devote seven pages to the story with accompanying photos and a video.
Rather than launch an equally in-depth investigation into the US-French-Canadian coup in 2004 which removed the democratically-elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, and the killings of at least 8,000 of his followers for the next two years, the NYT chose to issue stories and editorials which demonized Aristide and criminalized his supporters. Other major US and foreign newspapers pursued the same strategy so that as Aristide supporters were being gunned down in the street, there was a journalistic chorus suggesting it was somehow “okay” because, well, they were just “bandits” and “thugs.”
By DEBORAH SONTAG and WALT BOGDANICH
Published: May 22, 2010
LES CAYES, Haiti — When the earth shook violently on Jan. 12, the inmates in this southern city’s squalid prison clamored to be released, screaming: “Help! We’re going to die in here.”
Elsewhere in Haiti, inmates were fleeing largely undeterred. But here, where the prison itself sustained little damage, there was no exit. Instead, conditions worsened for the inmates, three-quarters of them pretrial detainees, arrested on charges as petty as loitering and locked up indefinitely alongside convicted felons.
After the earthquake, guards roughed up the noisiest inmates and consolidated them into cells so crowded their limbs tangled, former prisoners said. With aftershocks jangling nerves, the inmates slept in shifts on the ground, used buckets for toilets and plotted their escape.
The escape plan, set in motion on Jan. 19 by an attack on a guard, proved disastrous. With Haitian and United Nations police officers encircling the prison, the detainees could not get out. For hours, they rampaged, hacking up doors and burning records, until tear gas finally overwhelmed them.
In the end, after the Haitian police stormed the compound, dozens of inmates lay dead and wounded, their bodies strewn through the courtyard and crumpled inside cells. The prison smoldered, a blood-splattered mess.
Haitian officials here say they did not use lethal force but rather found lifeless bodies when they entered the prison. They attribute the killings to a prison ringleader who, they say, slaughtered his fellow inmates before hopping over the wall and disappearing.
But an investigation by The New York Times casts doubt on the official version of events and instead indicates that Haitian authorities shot unarmed prisoners and then sought to cover it up. Many of the bodies were buried in an unmarked grave.
Kesnel Jeudi, a recently released inmate, said in an interview that nobody was dead when the police rushed the prison. “They shouted: ‘Prisoners, lie down. Lie down. Lie down,’ ” he said. “When the prisoners lay down — while the prisoners were lying down — they began firing.”
Continue reading article at NYT site where you can also view a video about the Les Cayes prison killings.