#16 US Military Sexual Assault of Colombian Children

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

According to an 800-page report commissioned by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), US military personnel raped at least fifty-four children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007. Adriaan Alsema, writing for Colombia Reports, was first to report the story in the English-language press on March 23, 2015.

Alsema’s article highlighted the subsection of the report authored by scholar Renan Vega, who documented that US military contractors sexually abused more than fifty underage girls in the town of Melgar in 2004. Vega reported “abundant information about the sexual violence” as well as the US contractors’ “absolute impunity” due to “bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials.” According to Vega, the US military contractors also “filmed [the abuse] and sold the films as pornographic material.”

His report documented additional instances of sexual abuse, including the drugging and rape of a twelve-year-old girl by Sergeant Michael Coen and defense contractor César Ruiz in 2007. Despite warrants issued for the arrest of Coen and Ruiz by Colombian prosecutors, the warrants were not executed due to diplomatic immunity granted to US military personnel and civilian contractors. In fact, Alsema reported, no arrests have been made in any of the cases regarding children raped by US military contractors.

Three days after Columbia Reports published Alsema’s article, Adam Johnson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting quoted extensively from it and noted the lack of coverage in major US outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times, among others. Johnson concluded, “There’s a virtual media blackout in America over the case.” Noting that these “aren’t fringe claims, nor can the government of American ally Colombia be dismissed as a peddler of Bolivarian propaganda,” Johnson wrote, “a blistering report about systemic US military child rape of a civilian population should be of note—if for no other reason than, as the report lays out, it undermined American military efforts to stop drug trafficking and fight leftist rebels.” (Also see a later Al Jazeera opinion piece by Jonathan Levinson, who wrote: “The United States has little interest in drawing more attention to its controversial assistance to Colombia, much of it covert, and its support for a regime that has almost entirely disregarded human rights and accountability. But in turning a blind eye to crimes committed by its troops, the U.S. is essentially validating corruption and indifference in the Colombian military and ensuring Plan Colombia’s failure.”)

Johnson’s assessment of a virtual media blackout in the US remains accurate, with a small handful of telling exceptions. For example, in mid-April 2015, Time and National Public Radio each ran stories that questioned the allegations. Time reported: “There’s no dispute that thousands of Colombians were sexually abused during the country’s 51-year-old conflict. The perpetrators were usually Colombian soldiers, paramilitaries or guerrillas. But a Colombian truth commission report claims that U.S. troops and foreign military contractors were part of the problem.” The article subsequently characterized Vega as “a left-wing university professor,” and “a FARC appointee,” who “is fiercely critical of U.S. troops and foreign contractors in Colombia.” John Otis, the Time reporter, wrote that Vega “does not cite criminal complaints or other sources to back up his claim of 53 sexual assaults,” and that he “could not be reached for comment.” Otis did quote a spokesman for the Colombian attorney general’s office and Keith Sparks, who during the 2000s was country manager for DynCorp, one of the largest US military contractors in Columbia. Both the Colombian official and Sparks denied any record of sexual abuse or rape by US troops or military contractors. NPR’s coverage featured a four-minute interview with John Otis in which he previewed most of the points from his Time article.

Adriaan Alsema, “At Least 54 Colombian Girls Sexually Abused by Immune US Military: Report,” Colombia Reports, March 23, 2015, http://colombiareports.co/more-than-54-colombian-girls-sexually-abuses-by-us-military-report/.

Adam Johnson, “Colombian Report on US Military’s Child Rapes Not Newsworthy to US News Outlets,” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, March 26, 2015, http://fair.org/blog/2015/03/26/colombian-report-on-us-militarys-child-rapes-not-newsworthy-to-us-news-outlets/.

Student Researcher: Madeline Pajerowski (Burlington College)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (Burlington College)