CIA to review its operations in Honduras during 1980s

June 29, 1995|By Mark Matthews and Karen Hosler | Mark Matthews and Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- John M. Deutch, the director of central intelligence, has ordered the CIA to review the history of its relationship with the Honduran military during the 1980s, a spokesman said yesterday.

Mr. Deutch's order was issued last week, after the publication of a series in The Sun that detailed how the CIA equipped and helped train a Honduran military battalion that engaged in torture and execution of Honduran citizens.

An agency inspector general investigated the CIA-Honduran relationship in 1988 and found no wrongdoing by CIA officials, according to agency spokesman Mark Mansfield.

"We will be taking another look at the record and what the documentation shows," the spokesman said. Mr. Deutch, he said, "wants to be absolutely certain that everything was looked at thoroughly and comprehensively at the time."

Mr. Mansfield said that the decision reflected Mr. Deutch's commitment to making human rights a high priority in CIA operations.

"If there are lessons to be learned from looking at this again, we want to have the benefit of those lessons in our current and future initiatives," he said.

The review, due to last six to eight weeks, will be conducted by agency officials, Mr. Mansfield said. He did not elaborate.

The House Select Intelligence Committee was briefed privately for about an hour yesterday on the alleged human rights abuses committed by the CIA-trained Honduran military unit known as Battalion 316.

The meeting was called by the committee chairman, Rep. Larry Combest, a Texas Republican who told members that he was eager to "establish the truth behind the allegations concerning Battalion 316."

As is customary after closed briefings, Mr. Combest declined to say what was disclosed. But another official close to the committee said that its staff would closely monitor the CIA's review. The official said that committee members are determined to pursue the matter aggressively.

Yesterday's briefing was attended by Mr. Combest; the ranking Democrat, Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, and Reps. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., Ronald D. Coleman, D-Texas, and Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.

In a four-part series, The Sun reported that the CIA and State Department collaborated with Battalion 316 even though U.S. officials knew that the battalion was kidnapping, torturing and executing people.

The series, drawing on interviews with U.S. and Honduran participants and newly declassified documents, reported that in order to keep up public support for the Reagan administration's war against communism in Central America, U.S. officials misled Congress and the public about Honduran military abuses.

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.

The CIA was instrumental in developing, training and equipping Battalion 316. Battalion members were flown to the United States for training in surveillance and interrogation, and later were trained by the CIA at Honduran bases.

Starting in 1981, the United States secretly provided money 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 the military massacred more than 10,000 people in the 1970s.

Argentine and CIA instructors trained Battalion 316 members at a camp in Lepaterique, a town about 16 miles west of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who as chief of the Honduran armed forces 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 in the U.S. Embassy frequently visited a secret jail where torture was conducted.

State Department human rights reports on Honduras during the period consistently portrayed Honduras as a democratic nation where civil liberties were respected.

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