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Updated 06/09/2006

Opinion: Dear CBS, Did 'The Unit' Kill U.S. Citizen Father James Carney, Too?

by Joseph E. Mulligan


Outside the headquarters of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C., a large sign proclaims, in Spanish: "Whatever, whenever, wherever." Eric L. Haney, who trained in Delta Force at the base outside Fayetteville, probably never thought that "whatever" would include killing a former U.S. Green Beret in Honduras. 

In his book, “Inside Delta Force: the Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit,” Haney recounts the rigors of the selection process for Delta Force and his subsequent action in the super-secret unit. The book is the basis for the hit CBS series, "The Unit," and Haney is a technical adviser to the program. 

In the book’s final pages, Haney tells the story of killing a former U.S. Green Beret. He and other Delta Force soldiers were sent to Honduras, where they encountered "a guerrilla unit which had slipped across the Honduran border [from Nicaragua] and back upon their native soil." Haney spotted "the guerrilla leader, up and moving, his radioman at his side. I ... shot him through the neck..." 

Who was this rebel leader? "I had information that he was an American citizen who had gone over to the Sandinistas. I was supposed to bring his body, and the bodies of any subordinate guerrilla leaders, back to Tegucigalpa for positive identification." Haney asked another Delta Force soldier if he had ever seen the dead man before. "That’s Keekee Saenz. You remember him, don’t you? He was in my Special Forces class and he went to Selection [tryouts for Delta Force] with us." 

Haney recounts that he pulled out of his victim’s pocket a Nicaraguan military ID that bore the name "Capitan Enrique Eduardo Saenz-Herrera." Haney remembered the man: "Enrique Saenz-Herrera, staff sergeant in the United States Army Special Forces. He had been cut from Selection on the Day of Disappearances." 

Haney’s account coincides with the history of David Arturo Baez Cruz, a Nicaraguan-American who served as a Green Beret sergeant in Panama, returned to Nicaragua, entered Honduras with an insurgent group and disappeared. The U.S. Army reported that Baez was "killed in action" in Honduras in 1983. 

Juan Tamayo reported in 2003 in the Miami Herald, "When he turned over the body of the rebel with the radio after the battle, Haney recognized him: It was David Arturo Báez, a former U.S. Army Green Beret and, even more shockingly, Haney's roommate during tryouts for Delta Force four years earlier... He confirmed that 'Saenz' was 'Baez' after The Herald identified Baez independently, saying that he changed some details of the story in his book to sidestep his oath of secrecy and avoid possible retaliation from Sandinista sympathizers."  

On Nov. 14, 2002, Haney was interviewed about his book by Mike Rose on his Talk Radio1340 program on WFOM in Marietta, Ga. I called in and asked the author about "Father Jim Carney, a Catholic priest from the U.S. and also a U.S. citizen, who was in that group and disappeared. I was wondering if he might have been in that same group that you were shooting at, or if you had heard something from others about him." 

Haney responded, "Yes, I did hear about Father Jim Carney. He was not in that group. When that group of Cinchoneros crossed the border from Nicaragua ... into Honduras, they split in two, and Father Jim Carney was with a group up north. He was killed during that; and there was some talk, and I believe I had heard some evidence, that he did not die an easy death."  

I asked whether Father Carney "was killed in combat or killed after he had been taken captive and perhaps tortured by the Hondurans." Haney replied, "What I heard was that from the condition of his body, he was brutalized prior to his death, that the marks that were on his body had to have been inflicted while he was still alive." 

In a phone conversation on Jan. 13, 2003, Haney told me that David Baez's body "was taken to Tegucigalpa." When I asked for the source of the report about Carney's "brutalized" body, Haney replied, "I think I heard that from a CIA agent." 

Father Carney's defense of human rights and his support of farmers' organizing efforts during his 18 years in Honduras resulted in his deportation in 1979. In 1983 he returned to Honduras as a chaplain to a revolutionary column; the group was captured by the Honduran army, and Father Carney "disappeared." The Honduran military suggested that he had starved to death in the mountains. 

Five years later, a former sergeant of the Honduran army told The New York Times that he personally had interrogated Carney and that the priest had been tortured and executed. This fits with Haney’s description of what he heard—that Father Carney "was brutalized prior to his death." 

In early 2002, Lucas Aguilera of the Christian Democrat Party in Honduras stated publicly that he saw Father Carney alive in a military jail in Honduras after the priest had been captured (La Tribuna, Jan. 20, 2002). Aguilera later gave a sworn statement in court to this effect. 

Friends and relatives of Father Carney and David Baez, who have been seeking their loved ones' remains since 1983, would be grateful to CBS for an episode of "The Unit" dramatizing this chapter of Haney's book. Who in Tegucigalpa received David Baez's body? If Carney was "with a group up north," did part of Haney's unit go there and kill him? Who was the CIA agent who described the priest's "brutalized" body? Was it also taken to Honduras's capital? 

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Joe Mulligan, a Catholic priest (Jesuit) from Detroit, works in Nicaragua and has been investigating the case of the two disappeared U.S. citizens, James Carney and David Baez Cruz, since 1995. He serves as an advisor to May I Speak Freely and is a member of the coordinating committee of the Global Call Iraq Campaign (www.globalcalliraq.org). 

As a representative of the Baez Cruz and Carney families, he has discussed this case several times with the Honduran government's national commissioner of human rights and his staff, with the attorney general and the special human-rights prosecutor and her staff, and with Gen. Daniel Lopez Carballo. At the State Department in Washington some years ago, he discussed the case with Ambassador John D. Negroponte, current director of national intelligence, who told him that he accepted the Honduran army's statement that perhaps Father Carney died of starvation in the mountains.  

On Dec. 15, 2000, he gave a sworn declaration in the courthouse in Tegucigalpa, in which he referred to Lucas Aguilera, a noted political leader in Honduras, who states that he saw Father Carney alive in a military jail after the priest had been captured. This is very important since the Honduran military has denied ever capturing Carney (although they presented his priestly vestments to his relatives, saying they had found these items in an arms cache). Aguilera subsequently gave a sworn statement that he had seen Carney in a military jail.