Thursday, February 17, 2005

Was Oliver North Unavailable? or Virtue Rewarded, Pt. CXXVI 

The President has nominated John Negroponte as the first U.S. director of national intelligence, and you will be pleased to know that the man who will soon be looking out for You brings a unique admixture of experience, ingenuity, and (shall we say) discretion to the often-grimy job of protecting America's interests. If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Negroponte's achievements in Honduras during the Reagan administration, you will certainly enjoy the brief summaries below, beginning with a Terry Allen article from In These Times:
The captain of this ship, Negroponte was in charge of the U.S. Embassy when, according to a 1995 four-part series in the Baltimore Sun [see below -- S.], hundreds of Hondurans were kidnapped, tortured and killed by Battalion 316, a secret army intelligence unit trained and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency. As Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson wrote in the series, Battalion 316 used "shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves." Members of Battalion 316 were trained in surveillance and interrogation at a secret location in the United States and by the CIA at bases in Honduras. Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, the chief of the Honduran armed forces who personally directed Battalion 316, also trained in the United States at the School of the Americas.

Negroponte tried to distance himself from the pattern of abuses, even after a flood of declassified documents exposed the extent of U.S. involvement with Battalion 316. In a segment of the 1998 CNN mini-series Cold War, Negroponte said that "some of the retrospective effort to try and suggest that we were supportive of, or condoned the actions of, human rights violators is really revisionistic."
Noam Chomsky, interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! on the occasion of Negroponte's nomination as ambassador to Iraq:
[In Honduras] He had a huge embassy with 1,000 people. I'm sorry, that's -- he had a huge embassy, and he ran one of the biggest embassies in the country, in the world, and he also had the biggest C.I.A. station in the world in Honduras – obviously a terribly important place for the C.I.A. to concentrate. He had two jobs there. The article explains - one was to insure that congress didn't get upset about the fact that the Honduran security forces were carrying out tortures and massacres of the famous Battalion 316 that Amy was talking about. He had to deny those so that the military aid would keep coming for him to be able to carry out his major task, which was, of course, supervising the Contra Camps in Honduras from which the C.I.A., the Mercenary Army was attacking Nicaragua - not a small affair. The death toll in Nicaragua from the U.S. terrorist war based in Honduras per capita relative to population would be the same as about 2 1/2 million dead in the United States which turns out to be higher than the total number of American deaths in all wars in U.S. history, including the Civil War.
Statement of Sen. Christopher Dodd at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of John Negroponte as ambassador to the U.N., 9/14/2001:
The picture that emerges in analyzing this new information is a troubling one. Some of the key facts that the Committee put on public record during yesterday's hearing thanks to the cooperation of the State Department and CIA are the following: One, during 1980-84, the Honduran military committed most of the hundreds of human rights abuses reported in Honduras. These abuses were often politically motivated and officially sanctioned; two, Honduran military units were trained by the U.S.--members of these units have been linked to death squad activities such as killings, disappearances, and other human rights abuses; three, the CIA's reporting of human rights abuses was inconsistent. Reporting inadequacies precluded CIA headquarters from understanding the scope of human rights abuses; four, the responsibility for monitoring and taking action against domestic subversion in Honduras was first the responsibility of a special unit of the Public Security Forces, FUSEP; five, at the recommendation of a joint U.S./Honduran military seminar, this responsibility was transferred in early 1984 to a new unit (which came to be known as Battalion 316) under the supervision of the Military Intelligence Division of the Armed Forces General Staff; and six, the FUSEP special unit and Battalion 316 counter terrorist tactics included torture, rape and assassination against persons thought to be involved in support of the Salvadoran guerrillas or part of the Honduran leftist movement; seven, as many as 250 instances of human rights abuses in Honduras are officially documented, including disappearances, torture, extra judicial killings; and eight, at least one death squad was known to have operated during 1980-84. This death squad was called ELACH, The Honduran Anti-Communist Liberation Army. There is information linking this death squad to chief of the National Intelligence Directorate of the Honduran Public Security Forces. When Ambassador Negroponte came before the committee in 1989 in the context of his nomination to the position of US Ambassador to Mexico, I asked him a number of questions related to his tenure in Honduras, two questions dealt with human rights. Given what we know about the extent and nature of Honduran human rights abuses, to say that Mr. Negroponte was less than forthcoming in his responses to my questions is being generous.
The Baltimore Sun expose of Battalion 316 is online here. You may feel you've read it all before, even if you haven't. We fear you may soon have the opportunity to read it all again, and again:
The prisoners of Battalion 316 were confined in bedrooms, closets and basements of country homes of military officers. Some were held in military clubhouses at locations such as INDUMIL, the Military Industries complex near Tegucigalpa.

They were stripped and tied hand and foot. Tape was wrapped around their eyes.

Those who survived recall interrogation sessions that lasted hours. Battalion members shouted obscenities, accused them of being terrorists, and told them they would never see their families again if they did not answer questions and confess . . . .

"They never accused me of anything specific," said [Milton] Jimenez in an interview in Tegucigalpa, where he is now a lawyer. "They said they knew I was a terrorist and they asked, 'Who are your friends?'"

There was nothing sophisticated about the torture employed by Battalion 316. In addition to la capucha - a piece of rubber cut from an inner tube that prevents a person from breathing through the mouth and nose - they used rope to hang victims from the ceiling and beat them, and extension cords with exposed wires for shock torture.

Gloria Esperanza Reyes, now 52, speaking in an interview at her home in Vienna, Va., describes how she was tortured with electric wires attached to her breasts and vagina. "The first jolt was so bad I just wanted to die," she said . . . .

"The Argentines came in first, and they taught how to disappear people. The United States made them more efficient," said Oscar Alvarez, a former Honduran special forces officer and diplomat who was the general's nephew.

"The Americans ... brought the equipment," he said. "They gave the training in the United States, and they brought agents here to provide some training in Honduras.

"They said, 'You need someone to tap phones, you need someone to transcribe the tapes, you need surveillance groups.' They brought in special cameras that were inside thermoses. They taught interrogation techniques."
(A tip of the imperial diadem to Zemblan patriot Darms, who improved upon our original title gag in comments below.)

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