CIA to review torture battalion Honduras army unit's link to U.S. agency due further scrutiny

December 24, 1996|By Ginger Thompson and Gilbert Lewthwaite | Ginger Thompson and Gilbert Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON MARK MATTHEWS OF THE SUN'S NATIONAL STAFF CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- The CIA's inspector general has taken over an on-again, off-again investigation into the agency's relationship with a Honduran military unit that tortured and killed hundreds of men and women during the 1980s.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said yesterday that the inspector general has taken over a review that began 18 months ago of the CIA's involvement with the unit, known as Battalion 316, but that he may need "several months, at least," to complete his report.

The initial investigation, authorized by Director of Central Intelligence John M. Deutch and assigned to a special "Honduran Working Group," was completed in August, and some of its findings were presented to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Mansfield said. But CIA officials concluded that "certain aspects" needed further investigation and turned to Inspector General Frederick P. Hitz, he said.

Deutch announced the initial investigation after The Sun published a series of stories documenting U.S. government collaboration with Battalion 316 during the 1980s, including the CIA's role in developing, training and equipping the battalion.

Mansfield refused to provide details of the inspector general's effort, but congressional officials familiar with the investigation said it focuses on communication between Honduras and Washington about the battalion's abuses.

"The problem may be not at the national level, not at CIA headquarters, but at the local level in Honduras, where reporting was not coming out," said a congressional staff member, who asked not to be identified. "It was not coming out of the station."

The CIA has been reviewing its role in Honduras since June 1995. Deutch had said he expected the investigation to provide lessons on "how not to do things" in the future.

His statements were followed by Congress passing a resolution urging President Clinton to "expeditiously" declassify government documents about the abuses of the Honduran military.

Mansfield explained the latest delay yesterday by saying that at least 100 boxes of documents needed to be reviewed and that dozens more interviews had to be conducted. "Our first priority is to be thorough, comprehensive and accurate," Mansfield said.

The Honduran government has subsequently asked repeatedly for the declassification of the documents. Honduran military officers who were members of Battalion 316 have been indicted there on torture and murder charges, and the Honduran government has maintained that U.S. documents are critical to the prosecution.

Leo Valladares, Honduras' human rights commissioner, has traveled several times to Washington to meet U.S. officials and urge them to release the documents.

In March, the State Department released some 2,000 pages. But the CIA has not declassified its documents. Valladares' first request to the agency was sent more than a year ago.

The relatives of those killed by Battalion 316 say that the CIA's delay in releasing information threatens to hobble their effort to punish Honduran officers responsible for the abuses.

"We had so much hope that we would finally see those murderers go to jail," said Berta Oliva, whose husband was kidnapped and murdered by Battalion 316 in 1981. "But as more time passes, it gets harder and harder to sustain that hope."

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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