File No. 4247/14.

Minister Furniss to the Secretary of State.

No. 132.]

Sir: I inclose herewith copy of a letter from Mr. David A. Backer, an American citizen, who alleges that he was beaten and otherwise maltreated by certain Haitian officers. Together with said letter is inclosed the correspondence between this legation and the Haitian Government relative to the complaint therein made.”

The facts of the matter are these: Mr. Backer, while on his way to the field to cut grass for his horse, was called by a certain general of the Haitian army, who was accompanied by several soldiers on foot, and having guns and clubs. He was ordered to dismount and go with them to work the road. This he refused to do, giving as his reason that he was a foreigner and not obliged to do such work, and particularly when the work was not in his district. This seems to have incensed the officer, who ordered him clubbed, and the soldiers only desisted when the officer found out from others who came to the scene that Backer was a foreigner; then the officer liberated him and attempted to make an apology, which was not accepted.

Backer immediately after release came to the legation and showed every evidence of having been roughly handled. I accordingly addressed a note (No. 2 of inclosures) to the secretary of foreign relations, calling his attention to the matter, and stated that the treatment which Backer had received at the hands of the Haitian official was anything but proper and would not be tolerated for an instant by my Government when directed against American citizens.

A few days after my note had been sent General Carrié, who is the commanding general of the district in which the affair occurred, called upon me—he stated at the instance of His Excellency the President—and said he had investigated the case and made verbal report thereon. I asked him to furnish this report in writing, which he promised to do.

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After nearly a month’s delay, hearing nothing further of the case, I, on September 21, 1906, called the matter to the attention of Secretary Sannon, and on the 26th of the same month followed it with my No. 86 (No. 4 of inclosures), which was answered same day (No. 5 of inclosures). In the reply I was told that it had been impossible for the officials to locate Mr. Backer, and I was requested to give more explicit directions as to where he might be found.

This was followed by my No. 88 of September 28, 1906, in which I furnished the requested information and called attention to the fact that it seemed strange that if General Carrié investigated the case sufficiently to make a verbal report thereon that the Government did not know where to find Backer, as it must have been necessary for General Carrié to have seen Backer to have gotten material for a report.

It was not until a month later, after I had several times personally called Secretary Sannon’s attention to the fact that there had been no reply, and had sent him my No. 98 of November 6, 1906 (No. 8 of inclosures), that I received Secretary Sannon’s notes of November 6 and 3, 1906 (Nos. 9 and 10 of inclosures), the latter inclosing the originals of certain affidavits which had been made by the Haitian officials designated to make the investigation.

After studying the documents submitted and talking with Mr. Backer, I decided to go to the scene of the incident complained of and make investigation. I took Captain Young, military attaché, and had no trouble in finding witnesses to the scene, all Haitians, and some three or four others more or less related to Backer, and whose evidence, for that reason, could be only accepted as corroborative. All of these affirmed as Backer had originally stated, and further, that Backer had not attempted to use his machete. Accordingly I, under date of November 15, 1906 (No. 11 of inclosures), again called the attention of Secretary Sannon to the incident, informed him that I had made investigation and found the facts to be as Backer had detailed, and not as brought out in the testimony. I further stated that I was “not at all satisfied with the report which had been submitted to me, nor could I reconcile the apology made to this legation by General Carrie, shortly after I called your (Secretary Sannon’s) attention to this incident—he stated that he had come upon order of His Excellency the President—with the statement now made by those examined, who appear to be denying what I have reason to believe to be facts.”

In reply to the last-mentioned communication was received Secretary Sannon’s note of December 3, 1906 (No. 13 of inclosures), in which he chiefly discusses the right of the Haitian Government to force Backer to work.

In my notes throughout I have not so much argued the right to compel Backer to work as I have denied the right of an officer to beat him for not working. Even Backer’s threatening an officer with a machete, which was not the case, I held was not reason sufficient to warrant the officers beating him. Secretary Sannon says little as to this, other than that if Backer considers that he has been improperly treated he has recourse to the courts.

It is necessary to state that in one of my conversations with Secretary Sannon I called his attention to the fact that Mr. Backer had lost considerable time from his work and had spent considerable for doctors’ [Page 744] prescriptions, etc. I stated that, since it was evident that he had been improperly treated, it was only fair that he should be reimbursed. I suggested that the settlement be made personally with Backer, i. e., without the intervention of the legation.

With these facts I desire to place before the department this case for such instructions as it may warrant.

I have, etc.,

H. W. Furniss.