Pentagon mishandled discovery of torture manual, report says Admonishing 1992 memo said to have 'little impact'

February 22, 1997|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- An internal report criticized the Defense Department yesterday for failing to respond properly to the discovery in 1992 that Americans had instructed Latin American military officers in the use of torture, threats, bribery and blackmail.

The Pentagon's inspector general charged that a 1992 memorandum, intended to prevent a repeat of the improper training, "had little impact" on those it was intended to reach because it was not given as a direct order.

The report recommended that this be done now.

The inspector general reported that use of the materials stemmed from "many mistakes" made in several organizations in Panama, Georgia and Washington.

The 29-page inspector general's report is among the fallout from U.S. support during the 1980s of Latin American regimes that suppressed leftist insurgencies.

The Army materials used in the 1980s offer instruction similar to that found in a training manual used by the Central Intelligence Agency during the same period.

The CIA manual, and an earlier one dating from the 1960s, were obtained by The Sun last month under a Freedom of Information Act request made as part of the newspaper's investigation of human rights abuses conducted by a CIA-trained military unit in Honduras known as Battalion 316.

The battalion was responsible for the kidnapping, torture and execution of hundreds of suspected subversives in Honduras during the 1980s.

The forms of coercion and torture in the CIA manuals included inflicting pain or the threat of pain, inducing dread, imposing solitary confinement and stripping subjects naked.

The 1982 manual obtained by The Sun was modified in 1983 and 1984 to alert trainees that so-called "coercive techniques" were illegal and against U.S. policy.

However, from 1982 through 1989, materials offering lessons in executions, beatings and physical and mental torture, threats and bribery continued to be used to teach intelligence-gathering techniques to Latin American military officers at the U.S.-run School of the Americas.

The school, which opened in 1946, has trained nearly 60,000 officers. Its graduates have included Roberto d'Aubuisson, the leader of death squads in El Salvador; 19 Salvadoran soldiers linked to the assassination in 1989 of six Jesuit priests; and Manuel Antonio Noriega, the Panamanian dictator now imprisoned in the United States on a drug conviction.

These alumni would have attended the school before the training materials were in use.

At least a dozen members of the Honduran Battalion 316 were also graduates of the school.

Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who has tried to focus public attention on the torture training, criticized the inspector general for an incomplete probe.

"The torture manuals of the School of the Americas were one piece of the larger problem. Somewhere in the vast military bureaucracy, someone got the message from the upper echelons of power that the rules don't matter," Kennedy said. "That is why these manuals managed to come into existence and stay in circulation for years."

The School of the Americas teaching materials were included in training manuals in 1987.

The instructions originated with a foreign intelligence assistance program called Project X developed at the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird in Baltimore in 1965 and 1966, according to the IG's report.

The material was first used to teach South Vietnamese and other allies at the U.S. Intelligence School on Okinawa, Japan.

The use of the improper materials was documented in 1992.

In September, the Pentagon asked its inspector general to investigate how the Pentagon had responded to the discovery.

Yesterday's report was the result of that inquiry.

The IG concluded that "from 1982 through early 1991, many mistakes were made and repeated by numerous and continually changing personnel in several organizations from Panama to Georgia to Washington, D.C."

Panama was the original home of the School of the Americas, which was later moved to Georgia.

"Lack of attention to Department of Defense and U.S. Army policies and procedures by those personnel and organizations perpetuated the assumption that the materials in the Spanish language intelligence training manuals were proper and doctrinally correct," the report said.

But it concluded that no "deliberate" attempt was made to violate Pentagon policies.

To prevent a recurrence, the Pentagon issued a memo intended to make sure that any future training would be consistent with the department's policy.

"We conclude that even though the policy memorandum was well-intentioned, it had little impact," the report said.

As a result, the issue "evaporated," and current staff members "have little or no recollection of the 1992 memorandum."

Had it been issued as a department directive, or order, staffers would have been compelled to report how they complied, the IG said.

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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