WASHINGTON -- The CIA and high-ranking U.S. diplomats have known since at least 1994 that Colombia's Washington-backed security forces employed "death squad tactics" and collaborated with rightist militias deeply involved in the illegal drug trade.
That according to declassified U.S. government documents obtained by the National Security Archive, an independent research institute in Washington.
According to the Archive, Colombia's security forces cooperated with paramilitary groups and also used the tactic of inflating "body counts" by killing civilians and dressing them up as guerrillas.
That tactic of using so-called "false positives" is an old practice of the Colombian army, added Michael Evans, the Archive's Colombia analyst.
"These records shed light on a policy - recently examined in a still-undisclosed Colombian Army report - that influenced the behavior of Colombian military officers for years, leading to extrajudicial executions and collaboration with paramilitary drug traffickers," Evans said.
He noted that the secret report had led to the cashiering of 30 army officers and the resignation of the army chief, Gen. Mario Montoya.
Among the points that stood out most in the National Security Archive documents is the fact that, in a 1994 cable, then-U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Myles Frechette criticized the "body count mentality" that prevailed among the military officers.
"Field officers who cannot show track records of aggressive anti-guerrilla activity (wherein the majority of the military's human rights abuses occur) disadvantage themselves at promotion time," Frechette told the State Department in Washington.
That same year, a CIA report found that the Colombian security forces "employ death squad tactics in their counterinsurgency campaign."
That same CIA document cites the Colombian military's "history of assassinating leftwing civilians in guerrilla areas, cooperating with narcotics-related paramilitary groups in attacks against suspected guerrilla sympathizers, and killing captured combatants."
According to Evans, the documents released Thursday show that the "false positives" tactics were institutionalized within the security forces, and although the government of President Alvaro Uribe has taken measures to purge the military of corrupt officers clearly they have not been sufficient.
He added that the Colombian army needs to make public its report on the "false positives" scandal as the first step toward promoting greater transparency and justice in the Andean nation, which receives around $500 million a year in U.S. military aid.
The National Security Archive released the declassified documents six days before Uribe is to receive from outgoing President George W. Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom.