Monday, August 17, 2009

When is a coup a coup?

The Center for International Policy's Adam Isacson, who has been chronicling the Obama administration's efforts to station U.S. troops on bases throughout Colombia, highlights this revealing exchange from earlier this month between a reporter and State Department spokesman Robert Wood regarding the U.S. government's conspicuous refusal to declare the overthrow of Honduras' democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya a "military coup":
MR. WOOD: [W]e’re going to continue to try to convince both parties and go from there. But a coup took place in the country, and –
QUESTION: Well, you haven’t officially legally declared it a coup yet.
MR. WOOD: We have called it a coup. What we have said is that we legally can’t determine it to be a military coup. That review is still ongoing.
QUESTION: Why does it take so long to review whether there’s a military coup or not?
MR. WOOD: Well, look, there are a lot of legal issues here that have to be carefully examined before we can make that determination, and it requires information being shared amongst a number of parties. We need to be able to take a look at that information and make our best legal judgment as to whether or not –
QUESTION: It seems to be taking a very long time.
MR. WOOD: Well, things take time when you’re dealing with these kinds of very sensitive legal issues.
Having majored in English in college, I am ill-prepared for deciphering the language of government and State Department flacks. Indeed, my lack of education in bureaucratic legalese does not permit me to fully comprehend how Robert Wood can concede Zelaya was overthrown in a coup -- defined as "the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group" -- but at the same time claim it an unresolved question whether said overthrow was a military coup. My confusion is compounded by the widely reported and undisputed fact that it was the (U.S. School of the Americas-trained) Honduran military brass which forced Zelaya into exile.

In other news, a spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the department has concluded that the sun rises in the East, but that officials are still "carefully examining" whether it sets in the West.

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