U.S. Response to Allegations of an Assassination Plot

NSIAD-97-87: Published: Feb 14, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 14, 1997.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information regarding how the U.S. government handled the allegations it received regarding a plot to assassinate a prominent Haitian attorney and critic of President Jean-Bertand Aristide and the government of Haiti, focusing on: (1) who decided that the government of Haiti was responsible for warning Mrs. Mireille Durocher Bertin of the assassination plot; (2) whether other approaches to handling the assassination plot allegations were considered; (3) what information was available to U.S. decisionmakers on the involvement of Haitian officials in political violence; (4) whether Mrs. Bertin was warned of the assassination plot; (5) whether the Haitian government investigated the assassination plot allegations; (6) whether there are U.S. laws, regulations, or guidelines governing the notification of targets of assassination plots; and (7) whether the United States has warned any individuals in Haiti of threats against their lives since Mrs. Bertin was assassinated.

GAO found that: (1) the U.S. multinational force (MNF) Commander in Haiti decided that the responsibility for directly warning Mrs. Bertin of the threat against her life lay with the government of Haiti, and the U.S. Ambassador concurred; (2) MNF and U.S. Embassy officials ultimately decided to inform both President Aristide and Justice Minister Exume of the evidence they had regarding the plot and to urge them to warn Mrs. Bertin and investigate the plot; (3) it is impossible to determine whether Mrs. Bertin was adequately warned of the assassination plot, as no one witnessed the conversations between Mrs. Bertin and Justice Minister Exume; (4) Mrs. Bertin's family members agree that Justice Minister Exume spoke with Mrs. Bertin twice within a few days of receiving the plot information from U.S. officials, but none of the family members believe that Justice Minister Exume warned Mrs. Bertin of a murder plot; (5) U.S. officials said that Justice Minister Exume had personally assured them on at least two occasions that he had told Mrs. Bertin that she was in danger and offered her protection, which she rejected; (6) President Aristide provided a written response to the MNF, which stated that Mrs. Bertin has been warned; (7) a U.N. official told GAO that during a luncheon meeting she arranged with Mrs. Bertin, Mrs. Bertin spoke of her conversation with Justice Minister Exume; (8) in a letter dated March 24, 1995, the President of Haiti advised the MNF Commander that his initial investigation of the assassination plot did not indicate that the Haitian Minister of the Interior was involved; (9) the President indicated that Justice Minister Exume would continue to look into the matter; (10) however, the Justice Minister told GAO that he did not have sufficient time to investigate the accusations before Mrs. Bertin was assassinated, and was unaware of what inquiries President Aristide had made; (11) U.S. officials indicated they were skeptical that a thorough investigation actually took place; (12) while U.S. laws and regulations did not impose any legal responsibility on U.S. officials to warn Mrs. Bertin directly about the assassination plot, GAO did note that shortly after President Aristide returned to Haiti in October of 1994, Embassy officials directly contacted two Haitian citizens to discuss concerns about their safety; (13) after Mrs. Bertin's assassination, the Department of State issued guidelines requiring Embassy officials in Haiti to notify individuals when they have information that a credible threat exists; and (14) since that time, Embassy officials have notified nine individuals of threats against their lives.

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