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FRIDAY, MAY 6, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Covert operations give United States bad reputation

How do you give someone $3 billion and still make an enemy of them? The United States is managing it quite easily in its dealings with Colombia.

The Colombian government announced the most recent embarrassment Wednesday. That country's police raided a house and discovered two U.S. soldiers in possession of 22,000 rounds of ammunition. Colombia's educated guess is that the rounds were destined for outlawed right-wing paramilitary forces.

Less than a month ago, government agents caught five U.S. soldiers from an anti-narcotics base in eastern Colombia. What were these anti-narcotic soldiers doing wrong? What else. Smuggling narcotics into the United States.

Particularly disturbing is that almost all U.S. troops in Colombia are military advisers drawn from elite Special Forces or Rangers units.

The United States poured the $3 billion into Colombia since 2000. President Bush is planning to send the country another $600 million this year.

That should have bought us some friendly relations, maybe even some international clout. But the memory of seven bad eggs will continue long after the U.S. money is spent.

The miscues in Colombia come as a parallel disaster unfolds in Iraq. Dozens of U.S. soldiers and contractors are under investigation for prisoner homicides.

Publicity of the Abu Ghraib abuses left many Iraqis puzzling over which was worse, U.S.-administered torture or torture by Saddam Hussein-backed thugs. The mistrial declared Wednesday of Private Lynndie England, charged in the scandal at Abu Ghraib, will increase their puzzlement.

The vast majority of U.S. soldiers are honorable and courageous. In any group, however, there are exceptions. And there are the CIA operatives.

Hopefully, President Bush and future leaders are learning from these public relations disasters. One lesson is to increase the effectiveness of supervision over U.S. troops and agents.

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