Bloody hands

June 13, 1995

The unearthing -- literally -- of a body buried a decade ago in Honduras is one of the keys unlocking another sordid tale of U.S. complicity in political murders in Latin America. A series of articles which continues today, the product of a 14-month investigation by The Baltimore Sun, reveals a sickening tale of mayhem and murder by Honduran death squads financed and abetted by the Reagan administration in the '80s.

Honduras was a valuable base camp for the Reagan administration and its CIA operatives to fight communism elsewhere in Central America. It had to be purified of subversives. If it took torture and murder to succeed, so be it.

CIA officers did not participate directly in kidnapping foes of the VTC Honduran regime, or torturing and murdering them. They explained later that would have been wrong. And ineffective. Yet some of them witnessed evidence of torture and walked away silently. No CIA hands got dirty training Honduran troops in the techniques of physical torture. They brought in Argentine intelligence agents, already well known for making domestic enemies "disappear," and the CIA let them do the teaching. If U.S. law applied to the circumstances, it would constitute being an accessory -- a prison offense.

Some of the hundreds of Hondurans who "disappeared" in the early '80s may actually have been subversives under Honduran law. Perhaps some of them belonged in jail. But by no standard did they deserve to be killed without even the semblance of a trial. What many of them did would come under the heading in this country of exercising their right of free speech. Who were some of these threats to Honduran political stability? Among them were a journalist who criticized the Honduran military, a law student who demonstrated for lower tuition and a teacher protesting a fee imposed on students.

The key man in this loathsome episode was, once again, one of those thugs in uniform who was the eager tool of cold warriors in Washington. Even after Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez' leadership of a secret death squad was well known in Honduras, the Reagan administration awarded him a medal and the CIA station chief made the officer godfather to his child. But fellow Honduran officers deposed him at gunpoint and shipped him into exile the next year.

What of his U.S. sponsors? Most are retired and do not face the severe punishment they deserve. As will become clear in subsequent articles by reporters Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson, key U.S. officials in Honduras abetted these atrocities, while their superiors in Washington blithely claim ignorance of them. Technically they can't be prosecuted, but some of them should have been.

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