Sunday, June 4, 2023

U.S. bomb dogs slept in hotel beds in Colombia security scandal: report

Secret Service agent stands guard as U.S. President Obama departs on the Marine One helicopter
for travel to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas, from Washington (JONATHAN ERNST,
REUTERS / August 3, 2012)

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Security personnel entangled in a prostitution scandal in Colombia in April irritated hotel staff by letting bomb detection dogs sleep in hotel beds and soil the linens, a U.S. military report released on Friday said.

Hotel guests “thought to be American” were “bothering and propositioning” college-age female greeters working at the hotel for the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the report by the U.S. military’s Southern Command.

The report gave details of how unhappy hotel staff contacted U.S. officials the day before President Barack Obama arrived in Cartagena, Colombia, to complain of misbehavior by the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. military troops who were there to help provide security for the Summit of the Americas.

It became the biggest scandal ever to hit the Secret Service, with a dozen of its employees accused of misconduct for bringing women – some of them prostitutes – back to their hotel rooms.

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Twelve U.S. military service members also brought “foreign national female guests” to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, according to the report. The U.S. military said last month that it was not pursuing criminal charges against these service members, choosing lesser punishments instead.

Prostitution is legal in Colombia and the women had been registered at the hotel as overnight guests. What bothered the staff at the Hotel Caribe, a luxurious colonial-style building, was that some of the Americans’ guests stayed in the rooms past 6 a.m., when hotel policy said they should be gone.

“El Caribe Hotel allows overnight guests only from 2300 to 0600 because the hotel does not want families and other registered guests to witness their presence,” the report said. After this rule was broken by the Americans, the hotel banned overnight guests for the duration of the summit.

U.S. officials met hotel staff twice on April 12 to hear their complaints. One concern was that “explosive detection dog handlers were allowing their animals to sleep in hotel beds, soil the linens, and urinate and defecate in inappropriate locations on the hotel grounds, leaving the waste,” the military report said.

The military report concluded that there was no evidence that service members’ interaction with the women threatened U.S. national security.

“There is no evidence that any of the female guests signed in to hotels by military members to el Caribe Hotel were part of a human trafficking network or associated with the FARC or any other terrorist or drug trafficking organization,” it said. FARC refers to a leftist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — Latin America’s longest-running insurgency.

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Eight of the women were interviewed in the presence of U.S. personnel, the military report said. The Colombian police performed a background check on 11 of the women, and none had a criminal record.

However, a 12th woman remains unidentified, the report said.

Even though prostitution is legal in Colombia, it is illegal for U.S. service members under U.S. military law. Of the 12 service members involved, nine have been served with “non-judicial” punishments; three of these have requested a court martial, the military said last month.

Two military cases remain under legal review and one was reprimanded but cleared of any violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The report said six of the military members accused in the scandal were Army non-commissioned officers. Five others were embedded with the Secret Service explosives detection team.

At least seven of the accused Secret Service employees left the agency and three were cleared. An agency spokesman said on Friday he had no information on the disposition of two other cases.

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