Series on Honduras Should Prompt ActionThe excellent...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

July 15, 1995

Series on Honduras Should Prompt Action

The excellent series (June 11, 13, 15, 18) about "disappearances" in Honduras perpetrated during the 1980s by a military unit that was trained and equipped by the CIA undoubtedly will further weaken public confidence in the U.S. government's commitment to human rights and to the truth.

Instead of moving aggressively to get to the bottom of this story, the State Department's initial reaction to the series was a disappointing assertion that no further probe is needed because (1) the crimes described by The Sun happened long ago during a previous administration and (2) the obligation to investigate these crimes rests with the government of Honduras, not with the U.S. Neither of these assertions justifies inaction by the Clinton administration.

Only by opening its files and telling the whole truth about what it knew -- and when -- can the U.S. government and the public determine what must be done to make sure that we will never again provide aid to military and police units that commit human rights crimes.

Silence, inaction and apathy by our government regarding human violations have not served U.S. taxpayers well. It would be a shame for the Clinton administration to continue this long and ignoble tradition.

As The Sun has documented so effectively, the claim that U.S. personnel had no knowledge of torture and murder by Battalion 316 is indefensible.

The annual reports the State Department is required by law to publish were -- at least in the case of Honduras -- deliberate deceptions . . .

Some who served in the State Department in the early 1980s would have us believe that they worked "behind the scenes" to encourage the Honduran government to improve its human rights performance. If, indeed, there was any such effort, everything we now know underscores just how ineffectual that policy was.

After all, when the torturers were visited in their clandestine torture centers by CIA agents like "Mr. Mike," who never asked questions about the treatment of prisoners and never objected to the evidence of torture that they must have seen, why should the torturers not have assumed their activities had the blessing of the U.S. government?

At the same time, it is difficult to see how the failure to report the Honduran situation accurately in the State Department's annual country reports on human rights practices contributed in any way to improving respect for human rights in Honduras.

Unfortunately, indifference on the part of the U.S government may be more than a relic of the past. The Clinton administration has so far failed to seize the opportunity to restore some of its citizens' lost confidence in government by demonstrating a clear commitment to break with the past.

For example, 18 months ago, Honduran Human Rights Commissioner Leo Valladares submitted a list of specific questions to the U.S. government regarding its relationship to Battalion 316 and its knowledge of abuses by the battalion. The Clinton administration has not yet responded . . .

If we really do want to give the current government of Honduras the promised "all the support that we can" in investigating past crimes, a sincere effort to expose the whole truth about the U.S. relationship with the perpetrators would itself be a crucial expression of support for the Honduran investigatory process . . .

Finally, the Clinton administration should make a special effort to ensure that all U.S. government employees serving abroad -- from ambassadors to junior embassy staff -- understand that they have a responsibility to report evidence of human rights abuses promptly to their superiors and to speak out against abuses.

This is particularly important with respect to human rights crimes by military and police personnel with whom the U.S. government has a financial relationship. Concealing such information should carry a serious penalty.

This issue is not about the past. It is about promoting respect for the rule of law today and tomorrow. It is about our shared responsibility to avoid encouraging egregious human rights crimes by directly aiding the perpetrators or simply through silence.

The Clinton administration can significantly advance these objectives by exposing the full truth about the U.S. relationship with Battalion 316 and by making clear what it expects of all U.S. personnel regarding the reporting and investigation of human rights abuses.

Gay Gardner

Washington

The writer is country coordinator, Honduras and El Salvador, for Amnesty International U.S.A.

Setback for Blacks

The recent 5-4 decisions of the Supreme Court in the minority set-asides, desegregation remedies and legislative redistricting in Georgia cases have eviscerated the drive for equality of opportunity in employment, schools and voting representation for 32 million black Americans.

The Supreme Court has placed its judicial imprimatur in a resuscitation of separate but unequal treatment for black citizens.

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