CNN published a devastating report this week about U.S. assistance to El Salvador’s security forces:
One police unit that killed 43 alleged gang members in the first six months of last year received significant US funding, CNN can reveal. Several of those deaths have been investigated as murders by Salvadoran police.
While the unit — known as the Special Reaction Forces (FES) — was disbanded earlier this year, many of its officers have joined a new elite force that currently receives US funding.
These abuses were revealed in August 2017 by El Salvador’s Revista Factum investigative journalism website. At the time, we wanted to know whether the FES had received U.S. assistance. We had two three thorough recent written sources:
- We had worked with a congressional office on a request to the Defense Department for “a list of Central American military and police units that received more than $50,000 in U.S. assistance in FY 2014, FY 2015, and FY 2016, or are likely to receive that amount or more in FY 2017.” The April 2017 response names four Salvadoran units, none of which is the FES (the four are Naval Task Force Trident, Joint Group Cuscatlán, Air Force, and Navy). So either the Defense Department deliberately omitted the FES, or the unit’s funding came entirely from the State Department’s aid budget (which seems unlikely but is possible).
- We had obtained a copy of a very detailed report of worldwide police assistance in 2015 and 2016, which is supposed to report on both State Department and Defense Department aid. Though the entire “National Civilian Police” often gets named as a recipient unit, the FES does not appear.
- (Update 11:15am—I actually forgot about this one) A May 2016 response to “questions for the record” from legislative staff listed 10 Salvadoran police units. The FES is not one of them.
It appears that the Obama and Trump administrations omitted critical information relevant to human rights from congressional requests for information. We’ll be following up on this.