Admissions and omissions
--the CIA in Guatemala
by Linda Haugaard
We at last have in writing what the U.S. government has denied
for years-we have been fighting the dirty war in Guatemala,"
said Dianna Ortiz, a U.S. nun who was tortured by the Guatemalan
military in 1989, and who has since sought to discover who was
behind her torture. The president's advisory Intelligence Oversight
Board (IOB) report on human rights cases and the ClA's role in
Guatemala, released on June 28, shows that the CIA knowingly hired
paid informants who were involved in assassinations, kidnappings
and torture. The report also asserts that U.S. support was "vital"
to the Guatemalan intelligence services.
Buried on page 32 of the 67-page study is the revelation that
from 1982-91, the School of the Americas and the U.S. Army's Southern
Command used instruction materials in training Latin American
officers, including Guatemalans, that "appeared to condone
practices ... such as executions of guerrillas, extortion, physical
abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment," The School of the
Americas, under attack for the poor human rights record of its
graduates, has long maintained that its instruction is above board
and that notorious graduates are "a few bad apples."
According to the IOB, virtually the entire report was released
to the public-an unusual occurrence due largely to intense public
pressure on the Clinton administration. Some 400 CIA and Defense
Department documents were declassified and released to the public
at the same time, along with additional material from 450 of the
5,000 documents released by the State Department in May. American
lawyer Jennifer Harbury's search for her husband, Guatemalan guerrilla
leader Efrain Bamaca, who vanished March 12, 1992, after a skirmish
with the Guatemalan army, led to last year's revelations of CIA
involvement with human rights violators in that country. By means
of repeated protests and hunger strikes, Harbury sought to force
the U.S. and Guatemalan governments to release information relating
to her husband's whereabouts. Finally, in March 1995, Rep. Robert
Torricelli (D-NJ), a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence,
disclosed that the CIA had known for years that one of its paid
assets, Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, may have been involved in
Bamaca's killing as well as in the 1990 assassination of Michael
DeVine. The connection to the DeVine case was particularly startling,
since the U.S. government had suspended military aid to Guatemala
because of its failure to fully investigate and prosecute the
case against the killers of DeVine, a U.S. citizen who owned an
inn in the Guatemalan countryside.
After these allegations became widely publicized, the White House
ordered the IOB in March 1995 to conduct a government-wide review
of the DeVine and Bamaca cases, as well as any intelligence bearing
on the torture, disappearance or death of U.S. citizens in Guatemala
since 1984. These cases include the 1984 killing of Peace Corps
volunteer Peter Wolfe, the 1985 killings of journalists Griffith
Davis and Nicholas Blake, the 1989 stabbing of human rights worker
Meredith Larson, the 1990 assault on social worker Josh Zinner,
and the 1992 death of archaeologist Peter Tiscione. Many of these
victims and family members had joined an informal network called
"Coalition Missing" to demand an accounting on their
As the months stretched into a year of waiting for the lOB's report,
Sister Ortiz began a five-week vigil outside the White House in
March. She was there all night as well as all but three hours
of the day, sleeping fitfully in a sleeping bag, accompanied by
members of religious and peace organizations. The vigil, which
ended with a week's fast, attracted considerable congressional
and public support. One hundred and one members of the House of
Representatives signed a letter calling on President Clinton to
declassify documents on Guatemala.
Human rights advocates are disappointed by how little the long-awaited
report reveals about specific cases. Dianna Ortiz's case is barely
touched upon, since the IOB decided to reserve judgement until
the Justice Department's separate investigation into her case
is concluded. The IOB said it had no information about her claim
that a man with an American accent, called Alejandro by her torturers,
was present at her torture. According to Ortiz, her torturers
appeared to report to Alejandro.
Citing conflicting information from intelligence sources, the
report concludes that CIA paid asset Alpirez was not involved
in the deaths of Bamaca and DeVine, although it asserts that he
was involved in the interrogation of Bamaca and the cover-up of
the DeVine case. Little new information is revealed in the cases
of other U.S. citizens killed or wounded in Guatemala since 1984.
For Dianna Ortiz and other victims and relatives, the report provides
little relief. "I know what few U.S. citizens know,"
she stated at a July 1 press conference. "I know what it
is to be an innocent civilian, and to be accused, interrogated
and tortured. I know what it is to have my own government eschew
my claims for justice because they cause political problems for
a close ally. I know what it is to wait in the dark for torture,
and what it is to wait in the dark for the truth. I am still waiting."
The report, however, does provide a remarkable admission by the
U.S. government of the extent of American involvement with the
Guatemalan military and direct association with individuals implicated
in serious misdeeds. While Alpirez is judged not to have participated
in the DeVine and Bamaca killings-a judgment their widows still
doubt-the report confirms that "several CIA assets were credibly
alleged to have ordered, planned or participated in serious human
rights violations such as assassination, extrajudicial execution,
torture, or kidnapping while they were assets- and that the ClA's
Directorate of Operations headquarters was aware at the time of
the allegations." Moreover, "a number of the station's
liaison contacts -- Guatemalan officials with whom the station
worked in an official capacity- were also alleged to have been
involved in human rights abuses or in covering them up."
With the report, we now have the government's own admission that
the United States funded and supported the Guatemalan intelligence
service as a partner in pursuit of mutual objectives as late as
1995. Publicly, the U.S. government had stressed a very different
set of goals-U.S. support for democracy and human rights. "The
funds the CIA provided to the Guatemalan liaison services were
vital to the [Guatemalan intelligence services] D-2 and the [presidential
guard] Archivos," the report says.. "This funding was
seen as necessary to make these services more capable partners
with the station, particularly in pursuing anti-communist and
counternarcotics objectives. The CIA with the knowledge of ambassadors
and other State Department and National Security Council officials,
as well as Congress, continued this aid after the termination"
of U.S. military assistance to Guatemala in 1990.
While the report asserts that CIA funds were not increased to
compensate for the cut off of military aid, the $1 million to
$3.5 mil lion per year that flowed from FY 1989 to FY 1995 represented
a significant sum. Direct military aid in 1990 before the cutoff
was only $9 million.
The report paints a picture of a CIA station that closely identified
with its counterparts in the Guatemalan intelligence services
and military. The end of the Cold War "had only a limited
effect upon the mechanics of how the CIA carried out its business
and upon the mind-set of CIA officers dealing with Guatemala,"
the report says.
"Station officers continued to view the communist insurgents-who
seemed to threaten a more democratic government-as the primary
enemy. and they viewed the Guatemalan government and security
services as partners in the fight against this common foe and
against new threats such as narcotics and illegal alien smuggling."
Although U.S. Embassy officials were aware of CIA funding for
the Guatemalan intelligence services, the station failed until
the end of 1994 to inform them that its assets and contacts were
involved in human rights abuses. In its reports to Congress on
how CIA programs in Guatemala furthered respect for human rights,
the station consistently put a positive spin on the actions of
the Guatemalan intelligence services and withheld information
concerning their involvement in human rights abuses.
The IOB report, rich in these kinds of revelations, comes to a
set of disappointing conclusions and recommendations. It fails
to challenge the propriety of the basic policy: U.S. government
association with the very forces most damaging to human rights
in Guatemala. Instead, it says that occasional association with
"unsavory" groups and individuals is necessary to further
foreign policy goals. At a July 2 press conference, former CIA
officer David MacMichael challenged the relative usefulness of
such intelligence sources, and emphasized the damage this does
to the United States. "If you lie down with dogs," he
pointed out, "you get up with fleas."
The IOB recommends that U.S. intelligence agencies establish clear
"guidance" on the recruiting and maintaining of assets
with human rights or criminal allegations against them. As the
report notes approvingly, the CIA has recently issued such guidance
in response to this scandal. But it includes a loophole allowing
senior officials to approve use of such assets where national
security interests warrant. Carlos Salinas of Amnesty International
challenges such a loophole, given its implication that national
security interests can outweigh human rights imperatives. "How
can any one involved in human rights violations be considered
an 'asset' to the U.S. government?" Salinas asks.
The IOB report itself judges the CIA leniently, since in most
cases the agency broke no laws-there are only "guidelines"
regarding reporting to Congress. This suggests the importance
of establishing laws, not mere guidance, prohibiting the funding
of individuals and institutions involved in gross human rights
violations. Only the force of law would make lack of compliance
a serious matter.
The IOB also admonished the State Department, the National Security
Agency and other government agencies for failing to provide relevant
information on cases to victims and relatives. In its recommendations,
the IOB urges the State Department to provide information from
intelligence reports where needed in briefings to such U.S. citizens.
Unfortunately, the report also comes down hard on administration
officials and members of Congress who leak information to the
public. This is a "backhanded slap" at Rep. Torricelli,
says MacMichael. Without Torricelli's leak, none of this debacle
might have come to light.
The IOB report on Guatemala offers an insider's peek at the shady
underworld of CIA operatives. It shows that U.S. government support
for foreign forces actively engaged in repressing their own people
did not end with the Cold War. And as evidence about the U.S.
role in Haiti and Honduras suggests, this practice is not limited
from In These Times magazine, July 22, 1996
and Third World