House panel due briefing on Honduras

June 27, 1995|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun Sun staff writers Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The House Intelligence Committee, responding to a recent series of articles in The Sun, will get a briefing from the Central Intelligence Agency tomorrow on alleged human rights abuses by a CIA-trained Honduran military battalion during the 1980s.

"I am very concerned that we quickly establish the truth behind the allegations concerning Battalion 316, a Honduran military intelligence unit allegedly trained and equipped by the CIA and involved in the kidnapping, torture and murder of Honduran civilians," committee Chairman Larry Combest said in a notice to members.

Mr. Combest, a Texas Republican, said the series in The Sun had "raised questions regarding the CIA's knowledge of these alleged abuses." It could not be learned which officials would appear from the agency.

Since the series appeared, the CIA has taken the position that the agency's involvement with Battalion 316 had already been investigated by the CIA's inspector general and congressional intelligence panels in the late 1980s and there was no need for a new internal probe.

At the same time, however, the new director of central intelligence, John Deutch, told Congress last week that he wants to make sure the agency is sensitive to human rights concerns.

"I have asked for new guidelines that offer clear guidance on this subject beyond previous directives," he said during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Wednesday.

In a four-part series, The Sun reported that the CIA and State Department collaborated with the secret Honduran unit even though U.S. officials knew of its abuses.

The Sun reported that in order to keep up public support for the Reagan administration's war against communism in Central America, U.S. officials deliberately misled Congress and the public about the Honduran military's activities.

The collaboration and deception were revealed in classified documents and in interviews with U.S. and Honduran participants, many of whom -- fearing for their lives or careers -- have kept silent until now.

Among those interviewed by The Sun were three former Battalion 316 torturers who acknowledged their roles and detailed the battalion's close relationship with the CIA.

U.S. collaboration with Battalion 316 occurred at many levels, The Sun reported. The CIA was instrumental in developing, training and equipping Battalion 316.

Battalion members were flown to a secret location in the United States for training in surveillance and interrogation, and later were given CIA training at Honduran bases.

Starting in 1981, the United States secretly provided funds for Argentine counterinsurgency experts to train anti-Communist forces in Honduras. By that time, the Argentine military was notorious for its own "dirty war," in which it killed more than 10,000 people in the 1970s.

Argentine and CIA instructors worked side by side, training Battalion 316 members at a camp in Lepaterique, a town about 16 miles west of Tegucigalpa.

Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who as chief of the Honduran armed forces personally directed Battalion 316, received strong U.S. support -- even after he told a U.S. ambassador that he intended to use the Argentine method of eliminating subversives.

By 1983, when General Alvarez's oppressive methods were well-known to the U.S. Embassy, the Reagan administration awarded him the Legion of Merit medal for "encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras."

The Sun also reported that a CIA officer based at the U.S. Embassy went frequently to a secret jail known as INDUMIL, where torture was conducted. In 1983, that CIA officer visited the cell of kidnap victim Ines Murillo. The visits are significant because at the time Battalion 316's jails were off-limits to Honduran officials, including judges and lawyers seeking to find kidnap victims under Honduran habeas corpus laws.

The visit to the jail where Ms. Murillo was held was confirmed in 1988 by Richard Stolz, then the CIA's deputy director for operations, in secret testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. A transcript of that testimony was released at the request of The Sun.

In the testimony, Mr. Stolz also confirmed that the CIA trained former members of Battalion 316 in interrogation techniques.

Battalion 316's violence was at its peak during the early 1980s when Honduras, which shares borders with El Salvador and Nicaragua, was Washington's principal base for its largely clandestine effort. Keeping Honduras secure from leftists was the mission of Battalion 316.

It often used electric shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, were killed and buried in unmarked graves.

U.S. government officials knew about these abuses, and continued to support the battalion with money and equipment.

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