Responding to demands from Congress, President Clinton has set specific dates when the government will declassify and release information about collaboration with a CIA-trained Honduran military unit that kidnapped, tortured and murdered suspected leftists in Honduras during the 1980s.
In a letter to members of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Clinton promised that by mid-July the CIA will begin releasing documents requested by the government of Honduras two years ago.
Honduran human rights investigator Leo Valladares requested the information in his campaign to find out what happenned to 184 people who disappeared in the 1980s and are believed to have been executed by the CIA-trained unit known as Battalion 316.
The president promised to meet other deadlines:
By the end of this month a group formed by the CIA inspector general "to review CIA activities in Honduras" should have completed its report. "The Inspector General's report will be shared with the appropriate committees of Congress," Clinton wrote.
By early September, the CIA "expects to release any human rights-related material" on Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, the late commander of Battalion 316.
By "late November" the CIA is expected to release the same information on Battalion 316.
By the end of this month, the Defense Department will complete its review of materials "responsive to the Honduran government's request."
In the letter sent June 13, Clinton said he had spoken to Honduran President Carlos Roberto Reina about the declassification and assured him that "backing for regional efforts to protect human rights and democracy is at the core of U.S. policy toward Central America."
Pressure from Congress
Clinton was responding to a May 13 letter from 51 members of Congress demanding that he "expedite the declassification and release of documents on all of the subjects identified by Mr. Valladares, by an agreed upon date."
Valladares, the Honduran human rights commissioner, said the letter represents one more step forward in the country's pursuit of justice for the crimes of Battalion 316. He says he was especially pleased because after years of requests to the Clinton administration, a concrete schedule for the declassification finally exists.
"He has given us specific months, and months that are fast approaching," Valladares said. "I am a person of good faith. And I believe President Clinton is a person of good faith as well. I just hope that these positive feelings will materialize into information that can help us resolve these cases."
Data on disappearances
The information scheduled to be released next month has to do with the disappearances of four Honduran men and the kidnapping and torture of a suspected subversive named Ines ** Consuelo Murillo.
In interviews with The Sun, Murillo described her 78 days in the battalion's secret jails in 1983. She was denied food and sleep, shocked with electricity and dunked into vats of water until she nearly drowned.
The CIA is also scheduled to release information about four men who have not been seen again and are presumed dead.
Eduardo Lanza was a 24-year-old medical school student when he was abducted by Battalion 316. He had led numerous demonstrations against government policies that he felt were repressive and unjust. Lanza was last seen on Aug. 1, 1982.
German Perez Aleman, a union leader, was abducted at a busy bus stop in broad daylight on Aug. 18, 1982. The father of two has not been seen since.
Gustavo Adolfo Morales, an economist and union leader, was kidnapped March 18, 1984. He has not been seen since.
Tomas Nativi, a university professor, was dragged away from his bed on June 11, 1981, by six members of Battalion 316 wearing black ski masks. The husband and father of one son was 33.
"This is the first time President Clinton has spoken so firmly about his willingness to cooperate with our struggle," says Berta Oliva, director of the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared and the widow of Nativi. "It is good news for us."
A CIA spokeswoman, Carolyn Osborn, said yesterday that Clinton's letter "accurately reflects our estimates of when material can be made available." She added, "We can't quantify what will be released. Sources and methods concerns may prevent us from releasing all pertinent documents."
At the Pentagon, spokesman Kenneth Bacon said: "The Department of Defense is doing its best to comply with the president's policy of openness in this matter and is reviewing its records."
The Clinton administration has been promising for more than two years to release files on the U.S. government's conduct in Honduras during the 1980s, when that country was the staging ground for the Reagan administration's war against communism in Central America. The CIA has released documents relating to the death of an American priest in Honduras, but it has been slow to comply with the bulk of the Honduran government's request.
The president's letter is the first indication that additional CIA documents are really forthcoming. However, the president warned that "this release will not include any material that could be expected to cause damage to national security."
The CIA's review of its conduct in Honduras began two years ago after a series of articles in The Sun about CIA collaboration with Battalion 316.
The articles, published in June 1995, reported that CIA and State Department officials knew of numerous crimes, including murder and torture, yet continued to support Battalion 316 and collaborate with its leaders. The articles reported that U.S. officials deliberately misled Congress and the public about the abuses to keep up public support for the Reagan administration's war against communism in Central America.
Pub Date: 6/20/97