Cover-Ups, Coups and Drones

Human rights advocates have significant new sources of information to hold the United States accountable.  The transparency, which Wikileaks has brought about, unveils many cover-ups of injustices in US relations with Honduras, Spain, Thailand, UK and Yemen over issues of torture at Guantanamo, civilian casualties from drones, and the war in Iraq.

US Government is Two Faced Over Wikileaks

The US government has twisted itself into knots over Wikileaks.  It routinely disregards the privacy of citizens while at the same time trying to avoid transparency for itself.

The US claims broad authority to secretly snoop on the lives of individuals inside and outside of the US.  It also works tirelessly to prevent citizens from knowing what is going on by expansively naming basic government information “state secrets.”  The government says it has to have the right to keep things secret in order to prevent crime.

But when it comes to revealing evidence of illegal acts by the US government it seeks the most severe sanctions against any transparency.

The most glaring example of the twisted logic is on display within the US Department of Justice.  DOJ is searching for creative ways to criminally sanction Wikileaks for publishing US secrets.  But the same Department of Justice solemnly decided it should not prosecute the government officials who brazenly destroyed dozens of tapes of water-boarding and torture by US officials.  So, DOJ, destruction of evidence of crimes is OK and revealing the evidence of crimes is bad?

Holiday Sampler from Wikileaks

Here is a Holiday Sampler of what Wikileaks has published revealing the US role in cover-ups, drones, and coups.



The US worked with high-ranking officials in Spain to try to derail legal accountability for torture by US officials.

Spain has opened two judicial inquiries into torture allegations against US officials at Guantanamo.

A series of cables details secret meetings and communications between officials of the two countries.  An April 1, 2009 cable (Reference ID 09MADRID347) describes a meeting between the main Spanish prosecutor and US officials.  The prosecutor promises to proceed slowly and to try to make sure the case is not assigned to the most pro-human rights judge in Spain, Judge Garzon.  An April 19, 2009 cable (Reference 09MADRID392) tells of numerous meetings between US officials and Spanish officials, including the Attorney General of Spain, who promises not to support the case.  A cable dated May 5, 2009 (Reference ID 09MADRID440) describes further meetings between US officials and the prosecutor who promises to “embarrass” the Judge into dropping the case.

It is noteworthy that the pro-human rights judge, Baltasar Garzon, was later indicted in April 2010 for probing into Spanish civil war atrocities in a way that Spanish government said was an abuse of power.


The UK promised to protect US interests in the UK review of Iraq war.  In a September 22, 2009 cable (Reference ID 09LONDON2198) UK officials “promised that the UK had put measures into place to protect your interest during the inquiry into the causes of the Iraq war.  He noted that Iraq no longer seems to be a major issue in the US, but he said it would become a big issue ? a feeding frenzy ? in the UK when the inquiry takes off.”

Drones and Cover-ups

Amnesty International released pictures of a US manufactured cruise missile that carried cluster bombs used in December 17, 2009 attack on a community in Abyan, Yemen which killed 14 alleged members of Al Qaeda and 41 local residents ? including 14 women and 21 children.  At the time of the AI report, June 6, 2010, Yemeni officials said that its forces had carried out that attack.  AI asked the US to explain its role but the US did not.  After Wikileaks disclosures, it is clear that the US carried out the attack and both countries were lying.

A January 4, 2010 cable, (ID Reference 10SANAA4), noted Yemen officials expressed concerns about the killings of civilians in Yemen by US drone attacks.  The US has been bombing Yemen with drones and other missiles for over a year, often trying to assassinate US citizen and accused Al Qaeda leader Anwar Awlaki and others. In this cable, US officials said “the only civilians killed were the wife and children an [al Qaeda]  operative at the site.” Yemen officials complained that US cruise missiles are “not very accurate” and reportedly welcomed the use of aircraft-deployed precision-guided bombs instead. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” said the Yemen leader, prompting a Deputy Minister to joke that he had just “lied” by telling the Yemen Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the Yemen military.

Coups and Cover-ups

When is a coup not a coup?

Wikileaks documents show the US knew in advance about the 2006 military coup in Thailand and changed its definition of the 2009 coup in Honduras within a 30 day period.

In a September 19, 2006 cable, (ID Reference 06BANGKOK5811) written just after a military coup deposed the elected government in Thailand while the Premier was at the UN, the US reminded Thai military coup leaders of an earlier conversation that promised US aid would be cutoff if there was a coup.  The cable makes it clear that the US knew of the planning for the coup in advance.  The cable goes on to observe that “a coup is a coup is a coup?”

In a July 23, 2009 cable (ID Reference 09TEGUCIGALPA645) written after “the June 28 forced removal of President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya” from Honduras, “the Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court, and national congress conspired on June 28 in what constitutes an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while accepting there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may have committed illegalities and may have even violated the constitution.  There is equally no doubt from our perspective that Roberto Micheletti’s assumption of power was illegitimate.”

Yet, a month later, in a August 25, 2009 Special Briefing by US State Department included this exchange with journalist Sergio Davila.

Davila: “If this is a coup ? the State Department considers this a coup, what’s the next step? And I mean, there is a legal framework on the U.S. laws dealing with countries that are under coup d’?tat? I mean, what’s holding you guys to take other measures according ? the law?”

The State Department official responded:

“I think what you’re referring to, Mr. Davila, is whether or not this is ? has been determined to be a military coup. And you’re correct that there are provisions in our law that have to be applied if it is determined that this is a military coup. And frankly, our lawyers are looking at that exact question. And when we get the answer to that, you are right, there will be things that ? if it is determined that this was a military coup, there will be things that will kick in.

“As you know, on the ground, there’s a lot of discussion about who did what to whom and what things were constitutional or not, which is why our lawyers are really looking at the event as we understand them in order to come out with the accurate determination.”

The US backpedaling on the coup in Honduras continues to this day.

Wikileaks has revealed evidence of US human rights abuses around the world.  Now the question is what are human rights activists going to do with this information?

Full Disclosure: The Center for Constitutional Rights is representing detainees in Guantanamo, is supporting the investigation into US human rights abuses conducted by Spain, is looking into the coup in Honduras, is challenging the use of drones in Yemen to target and kill US citizen Anwar Awlaki, and has repeatedly condemned the US war in Iraq.

BILL QUIGLEY is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Contact Bill at



Bill Quigley teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and can be reached at