A Survivor Tells Her Story

Treatment for a leftist: Kicks, freezing water and electric shocks. In between, a visitor from the CIA.

June 15, 1995|By Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson | Sun Staff

Day after day, for 78 days, Ines Consuelo Murillo was tortured by a secret Honduran military intelligence unit called Battalion 316.

Her captors tied the 24-year-old woman's hands and feet, hung her naked from the ceiling and beat her with their fists. They fondled her. They nearly drowned her. They clipped wires to her breasts and sent electricity surging through her body.

"It was so frightening the way my body would shake when they shocked me. They put rags in my throat so I would not scream," she said. "But I screamed so loud, sometimes it sounded like an animal. I would even scare myself."

Murillo is one of hundreds abducted and tortured during the 1980s by Battalion 316, a unit trained and equipped by the CIA to gather intelligence about subversives, at a time when Honduras was crucial to the Reagan administration's war against communism in Central America.

Many of those kidnapped were later murdered, their bodies discovered in fields and along riverbanks. At least 184 people are missing and presumed dead.

From interviews with Murillo, her parents, battalion member Florencio Caballero and others involved in the case, The Sun has pieced together the story of her days and nights in captivity.

Information about Murillo's ordeal also was obtained from secret testimony by a high-level CIA official before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In that June 1988 testimony, Richard Stolz, then the CIA deputy director for operations, confirmed that a CIA officer visited the jail where Battalion 316 held Murillo.

She and her captors recalled the visits by the American, a man they knew as "Mr. Mike."

The CIA's visits to the jail are significant because U.S. officials in Honduras repeatedly claimed at the time that they had no evidence that the Honduran military was engaging in systematic human rights abuses.

In his testimony, Stolz said: "I have no facts to contradict Ms. Murillo's statement that she suffered physical abuse at the hands of the Honduran military interrogators."

Stolz also confirmed that two battalion members, Florencio Caballero and Marco Tulio Regalado, were trained by the CIA. Murillo accuses those battalion members of being among her torturers. The two men graduated from a CIA interrogation course on March 13, 1983. It was the same day that Murillo was seized by Battalion 316.

Ines Murillo was abducted that evening as she walked with a friend along the dusty road from Choloma, a small town near the northern coast of Honduras.

She and her companion, shoemaker Jose Flores, were taken away by men who drove up in two trucks. The men beat them, she says, and threw them in the back of a truck.

Murillo said she felt Flores trembling. "Although they will tell you you are guilty of something, and they will tell you that I said you are guilty of something, do not fall into this madness," she says she whispered. "You are completely innocent."

By all accounts, Murillo was not innocent. She refuses to comment on any alleged subversion. But she has been identified as a member of the Lorenzo Zelaya Front, an armed leftist group that robbed banks and businesses and stole weapons from police. Her participation in the group was confirmed by one of its former leaders, Efrain Duarte.

Murillo acknowledges having used false names, carrying fake identification and sleeping in different places to avoid capture.

After their abductors drove for about an hour, Murillo and Flores were hauled from the truck, through a house and into a damp, chilly basement.

She says the men stripped her, then tied her hands and feet.

When they asked who she was, she told them she was Maria Odelia Duvon Medrano, an acquaintance whose name she had used to get the false identification she carried.

The men lifted Murillo and dunked her head in a barrel of water, holding her there until her flailing body went limp.

At first, she fabricated a story.

"I told them that I had gone to Nicaragua, fallen in love and fought with the Sandinistas. ... It was all lies, but it was what they wanted to hear."

For days, Murillo says, she and Flores were held in the basement with two or three torturers at a time and given nothing to eat or drink. Her captors fondled her and threatened to rape her if she fell asleep.

As torturers attached wires to her body, she saw through her blindfold that they wore graduation rings from the Honduran military academy.

"The rings have a blue stone," she said.

After 10 days, Murillo says, she felt so weak from lack of food and sleep that she was sure the next shock session would kill her.

It was then that a soft-spoken, heavily cologned officer offered relief. He removed Murillo's blindfold and asked her to look into his eyes to see that he meant no harm.

The heavyset man breathed as if his weight was too heavy to carry, she recalls. She says the man was Marco Tulio Regalado, one of the men of Battalion 316 trained in interrogation methods by the CIA.

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