Honduran abuses concealed by CIA Agency collaborated with military, misled Congress, records say

1st admission of violations

October 24, 1998|By Gary Cohn | Gary Cohn,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.

The Central Intelligence Agency knew that the Honduran military committed repeated and systematic human rights abuses in the 1980s but continued to collaborate with its Honduran partners and misled Congress about the abuses, the agency has acknowledged in declassified documents.

"The Honduran military committed hundreds of human rights abuses since 1980, many of which were politically motivated and officially sanctioned," a declassified CIA report states. It adds, "CIA reporting linked Honduran military personnel to death squad activities."

Even though the CIA knew about the abuses at the time, the agency deliberately understated them. And it minimized the violence in reporting to Congress.

"CIA reporting to Congress in the early 1980s underestimated Honduran involvement in abuses," states a previously-secret CIA inspector general's report obtained by The Sun. "By the mid-1980s, CIA provided more detailed information to Congress, but some of the notifications were inaccurate."

The disclosures are contained in more than 250 pages of heavily censored, previously classified documents relating to the agency's collaboration with a Honduran military unit that kidnapped, tortured and murdered suspected subversives during the 1980s. The documents were provided on Thursday to Leo Valladares, Honduras' human rights commissioner.

For the past five years, Valladares has been investigating the kidnapping, torture and murder of more than 180 people in Honduras during the 1980s. He has been seeking information about human rights violations from the CIA, Defense Department and State Department, and about U.S. knowledge of the abuses.

Valladares said yesterday that he had only conducted a preliminary review of the documents. But he added, "The important thing is that the CIA recognizes that in Honduras authorities violated human rights. If they [the CIA] recognized this, why didn't they stop these violations from happening?"

"It's the first time the CIA has stated outright that the Honduran military committed human rights abuses in the 1980s and that the CIA had knowledge of those abuses," said Susan Peacock, a research fellow at the National Security Archive, who has closely followed the administration's release of information about Honduras.

The CIA inspector general's report and an earlier agency review were prompted by a series of articles published in The Sun in 1995. The articles reported that the CIA trained and equipped a secret Honduran army unit known as Battalion 316, that the agency knew about torture and murder, and that a CIA officer went frequently to a secret jail and other Battalion 316 installations.

Also, the articles reported that in order to keep U.S. dollars flowing into Honduras the Reagan administration knowingly made a series of misleading statements to Congress and the public that denied or minimized the violence committed by the Honduran military.

At the time, Honduras was the staging ground for the Reagan administration's war against communism in Central America.

The CIA inspector general's report states:

"There is no information in CIA files indicating that CIA officers either authorized or were directly involved in human rights abuses." This statement is apparently in response to allegations that a CIA officer visited a secret Battalion 316 jail and witnessed Honduran authorities questioning a suspected subversive named Ines Consuelo Murillo. In interviews with The Sun, Murillo told of being imprisoned for 78 days and tortured in the battalion's secret jails in 1983.

"The Honduran military committed hundreds of human rights abuses since 1980, many of which were politically motivated and officially sanctioned."

"CIA reporting linked Honduran military personnel to death squad activities."

"The CIA's record in reporting human rights abuses was inconsistent. In some cases, reporting was timely and complete. In other cases, information was not reported at all or was mentioned only in internal CIA communications and not disseminated to other agencies" involved in Honduras.

"Reporting inadequacies precluded CIA headquarters from understanding the scope of human rights abuses in Honduras."

"CIA reporting to Congress in the early 1980s underestimated Honduran involvement in abuses. By the mid-1980s, the CIA provided more detailed information to Congress, but some of the notifications were inaccurate."

Mark Mansfield, a CIA spokesman, said yesterday that "CIA activities in the 1980s concerning Honduras were guided by and integrated into the larger context of the foreign policy of the United States."

Asked about the failure to report the abuses in the 1980s, he said, "These shortcomings were addressed and corrected years ago."

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