A guilty plea of sorts in Honduras Taped confessional: Torturer says he did it, remains a fugitive from justice.

February 24, 1996

ON APRIL 27, 1982, the Honduran army's Battalion 316 raided the home of a legal official, Rafael Rivera Torres, and took away six students living there. The students were tortured but later released, to tell their stories years later, unlike at least 184 people who disappeared forever in that period.

The investigation by Sun reporters Ginger Thompson and Gary Cohn into Battalion 316, its training by U.S. agencies and the cover-up of its abuses, quoted two of those students. Gilda Rivera told how she was kept blindfolded and naked in the basement of the house of a general. The captors told her they had slain her sister, Suyapa, who was similarly held.

Milton Jimenez, a 20-year-old leader of student protests, told The Sun he was tortured and made to face a firing squad which pretended to execute him. Eventually, he and another law student were charged with "totalitarian activities against the republican and democratic government of Honduras," specifically owning the collected works of Lenin. Mr. Jiminez said he did not own those books.

Last July, 11 officers were charged in the Honduran courts with the kidnapping and torture of the six students. In October, 10 were ordered by a judge to stand trial.

In a recorded statement on Honduran radio Feb. 19, Captain Billy Joya Almendola, one of the accused, all but pleaded guilty. "I ask pardon for having contributed to that history of pain and suffering that you experienced," he said to the victims. But he did not report for trial. He remains at large. He cited acts of terrorism he said had been committed by groups supported by human rights organizations, apparently as justification of his own actions.

The six students did not suffer the worst crimes committed by Battalion 316. But they are able to testify in and out of court. Those who disappeared cannot. If the courts can reveal the truth to all Hondurans, they will have made great strides in restoring civil society.

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