Guatemala Massacre

Excerpts from "Charlie Rose," March 31, 1995
Guests: Rep. Robert Torricelli, Elliot Abrams, Allan Nairn

This may not be news to most Deep Times readers, but it is a conveniently packaged interview that might be effective with students when discussing "human rights" and imperialism. The massacre in Guatemala of 100,000 is on a proportionate scale, equivalent to TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND Tienamien Square incidents. That's 25,000 times as many deaths, in relation to the size of the country, and of course, students know quite a bit more about the China incident than they do about Guatemala.

-----(forwarded by Alan Spector)

. Rose: Tell me what you have found out, Allan. You've got a story in the Nation magazine thats called "CIA Death Squad: Americans Have Been Directly Involved in Guatemalan Army Killings." What can you add to this story before I go to Elliot in Washington?

. Nairn: Alpirez is one Colonel on the CIA payroll who committed two murders. From talking to both Guatemalan and US operatives involved in this, its clear that there are many, perhaps dozens of Guatemalan military officers on the CIA payroll who've been involved in thousands of killings. The G-2, the military intelligence service which coordinates tha assinations and disappearances -- their top officials have for years been paid by the CIA. I was able to learn the names of three of them who've been on the payroll, as well as General Hector Gramajo, General Roberto Matta, two of the top officers, closest US proteges, who've been directly involved in commanding massacres in the Northwest Highlands. Furthermore, there are actual US CIA agents who work directly inside the G-2. I was able to learn the names of two of them, Joe Jacarino and Randy Capister. They provide what's called technical assistance and advice. I was able to reach colonel Alpirez on the phone in Guatemala. He denied being involved in the Devine and Bamaca killings, said the CIA wasn't paying him, but he talked rather extensively about how the CIA essentially helps to run the G-2 with ongoing advice and American advisers right there inside this systematic killing operation.

Rose: You recorded this conversation?

Nairn: No, I took extensive notes on it. And its not just the CIA. Its the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House as well. For example, here are some internal State Department records which indicate that during both the Bush and Clinton administrations after there was a supposed cutoff of military aid to Guatemala, the State Department authorized at least 114 separate sales of pistols and rifles to Guatemala. The US military has been planning joint maneuvers with the Guatemalan military this spring. This is an across the board policy and you have to hold the President accountable for that.

Rose: Elliot, you were Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American affairs during the Reagan administration. Tell me what you make of this story, what you know about what went on during the Reagan administration and perhaps what you have learned about this story since it broke.

Abrams: I may not know as many facts about this as Bob Toricelli does but from what I can see there's a lot less here than meets the eye. The fact that the CIA maintains relationships with intelligence people and military people in Central America and throughout the world is not news. The fact that some of them are pretty unattractive people is not news... That we had an ongoing CIA program in Guatemala at a time there was a military cutoff, you can't do that without a finding, its got to be approved by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. So one question to ask is: if the intelligence committee's didn't like this why didn't they stop it? Before we start jumping up and down here and saying this is another case of the CIA out of control, here I think I might agree with Mr. Nairn that if this was a Bush and Clinton policy, then lets talk about the policy of the President in both cases, and lets not start talking about a rogue CIA which does not yeat appear to me to exist.

Rose: Let me just ask you a hypothetical question. Would you as an assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, if you found out that our government was paying a man in the Guatemalan military after it learned that he had been implicated in the assassination of an American or someone married to an American , would you be outraged?...

Abrams: I would certainly be outraged in the Devine case which looked like the cold blooded murder of an innocent American. The notion that we would continue to employ such a person would give him and others in the Guatemalan military the sense that we just didn't care about the killing of American citizens. The Bamaca case is a different case. That guy was a guerrilla and he was not an American.

Rose: Yeah but he wasn't killed in battle, he was killed in prison.

Abrams: No, but it is a different case. And the responsibility we have is to protect above all American citizens, not Guatemalan guerrillas. So it is a different case, different kind of level of seriousness for the US government.

Rose: Allan.

Nairn: Charlie, you asked a hypothetical: How would Mr. Abrams react? In fact we have the historical record. We can see how he and the other Reagan and Bush and Clinton officials have reacted.

Rose: In the State Department, or in the CIA, or both?

Nairn: Across the board. And in the face of this systematic policy of slaughter by the Guatemalan military, more than 110,000 civilians killed by that military since 1978, what Amnesty International has called a "government program of political murder," the US has continued to provide covert assistance to the G-2 and they have continued, especially during the time of Mr. Abrams, to provide political aid and comfort. For example,

Abrams: Uh, Charlie.

Rose: One second.

Nairn: during the Northwest Highland massacres of the [early] '80s when the Catholic Church said: "never in our history has it come to such grave extremes. It has reached the point of genocide," President Reagan went down, embraced Rios Montt, the dictator who was staging these massacres, and said he was getting "a bum rap on human rights." In 85 when human rights leader Rosario Godoy was abducted by the army, raped and mutilated, her baby had his fingernails torn out, the Guatemalan military said: "Oh, they died in a traffic accident." Human rights groups contacted Mr. Abrams, asked him about it, he wrote back -- this is his letter of reply -- he said: yes, "there's no evidence other than that they died in a traffic accident." Now this is a woman raped and mutilated, a baby with his fingernails torn out. This is longstanding policy.

Rose: I want to come to Congressman Torricelli in a moment, but these are specific points raised by Allan having to do with your public conduct.

Abrams: I'm not, I tell you, whatever Allan Nairn wants to do, Charlie, I'm not here to refight the Cold War. I'm glad we won, maybe he's not. What I'm here to say is we're talking not about US policy in the world

Nairn: Won against who, won against those civilians the Guatemalan army was massacring?

Abrams: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. We're not here to refight the Cold War. We're here to talk about, I thought, a specific case in which an allegation is being made that the husband of an American, in another case an American citizen, were killed and there was a CIA connection with, allegedly, with the person allegedly involved in it. Now I'm happy to talk about that kind of thing. If Mr. Nairn thinks we should have been on the other side in Guatemala, that is we should have been in favor of a guerrilla victory, I disagree with him.

Nairn: So you're then admitting that you were on the side of the Guatemalan military!

Abrams: I am admitting that it was the policy of the United States, under Democrats and Republicans, approved by Congress repeatedly to oppose a Communist guerrilla victory anywhere in Central America including in Guatemala.

Nairn: "A Communist guerrilla victory!" Ninety-five percent of these victims are civilians -- peasant organizers, human rights leaders, priests -- assassinated by the US - backed Guatemalan army.

Rose: I'm happy to invite both of you, I'm happy to invite both of you back to review Reagan and Bush administration policy. Right now I want to stick to this point [re Alpirez scandal]...

. Nairn: Lets look at reality here. In reality we're not talking about two murders, one Colonel. We're talking about more than a hundred thousand murders, an entire army, many of its top officers employees of the US government. We're talking about crimes and we're also talking about criminals; not just people like the Guatemalan Colonels but also the US agents who've been working with them, and the higher level US officials. I mean, I think you have to apply uniform standards. President Bush once talked about putting Saddam Hussein on trial for crimes against humanity -- Nuremberg style tribunal. I think that's a good idea. But if you're serious, you have to be even-handed. If you look at a case like this, I think we have to start talking about putting Guatemalan and US officials on trial. I think someone like Mr. Abrams would be a fit subject for such a Nuremberg-style inquiry,

Abrams: (laughs)

Nairn: but I agree with Mr. Abrams that Democrats would have to be in the dock with him.

Rose: Well, well I,

Nairn: The Congress has been in on this. The Congress approved the sale of 16,000 M-16s to Guatemala. In '87 and '88

Rose: All right, but hold on one second,

Nairn: they voted more military aid than the Republicans asked for.

Rose: And again, I invite you and Elliot Abrams back to discuss what he did, but right now,

Abrams: No, thanks Charlie, but,

Rose: Hold on one second, Elliot, go ahead Elliot, to repeat the question, do you want to be in the dock?

Abrams: It is ludicrous, it is ludicrous to respond to that kind of stupidity. This guy thinks we were on the wrong side in the cold war. Maybe he personally was on the wrong side. I am one of the many millions of Americans who

Nairn: Mr. Abrams, you were on the wrong side in supporting the

massacre of peasants and organizers and anyone who dared to speak. Absolutely. And thats a crime. Thats a crime, Mr. Abrams, for which people should be tried. Its against the law.

Abrams: All right, we'll put all the American officials who won the Cold War in the dock.

Rose (to Torricelli): All right. You have read this article.

Torricelli: I have read the article.

Rose: Did you find anything that your information contradicts, in this article by Allan Nairn in the Nation magazine? You have said its the talk of Washington, this article.

Toricelli: Every day this story has surpassed expectations of the day before, even in Washington where people tend to be cynical on these things. What this article suggests to us is rather than a few Guatemalan military officers who've abused rights, that indeed the entire military leadership in Guatemala may be rife with US informants.

Rose: And also that there are disturbing connections between American agents in Guatemala and the activities of what can be called nothing more than killer squads. [to Nairn:] Yes?

Nairn: Yes, correct.

Torricelli: There is death squad activity in which the intelligence communities of the United States have been deeply involved. I don't want to get into this debate about the Guatemalan civil war. I only want to say this. That the United States had no role in being this deeply involved in the Guatemalan military, being this involved in these death squad activities, there was no effort to separate ourselves. I think when all is said and done we are going to find that there have been rouge operations in the United States intelligence community outside even the control of the Director of Central Intelligence.

Guatemala has been handled as a backwater of the intelligence community of the United States, its own private preserve.

Rose: For what objective?

Torricelli: I think we're headed for some very startling weeks ahead.

Rose: To learn what? I mean, tell me what it is that was at stake here and what is going to be so startling that might be discovered. Give me a preview of what you think is around the corner.

Torricelli: I think that there were operations of the intelligence community, of individuals in that community, that were engaged in activities beyond the policies and the scope of the United States government for a variety of purposes, thats as much as I'm going to say, but I think we're in for some startling revelations.

Rose: What kinds of activities? Without naming names, what kinds of activities?

Torricelli: I think there were a variety of illegal activities taking place.

Rose: This is more than giving money to people who are going out killing Americans or spouses of Americans. You're talking about Americans who you believe might have been in some cases involved in commiting the acts themselves?

Torricelli: I don't believe that the likes of a Webster or a Gates or a Woolsey, all directors of the Central Intelligence Agency, would be condoning or even knowledgeable of the kinds of activities that we're now hearing about occurred in Guatemala.

Rose: I assume you would agree with that Elliot?

Abrams: Well I, we'll find out, lets see if they were not aware.

Rose: That all this could take place without being reported up the line to the Director.

Abrams: If all of this happened and none of them were aware, one has to say: what kind of managers were they? I would urge Bob Torricelli to stick to the facts and to avoid the kind of crackpot theories that we're getting from Mr. Nairn. If you stick to the facts there may be quite enough to get people's attention.

Torricelli: Well, I'm trying to stick to

Rose: I, I also have to say that Allan Nairn is a distinguished reporter who won the George Polk Award last year. So, I mean, you know, I don't want him characterized on this broadcast as a crackpot. I mean, you can have a personal argument about what he says about you specifically, but,

Abrams: Well, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, when a guy tells me,

Rose: Go ahead.

Abrams: When a guy tells me that he thinks that the entire American leadership during the Cold War needs to have a Nuremberg trial, he's a crackpot.

Rose: OK, I mean, I, I would'nt, point well taken.

Nairn: Well, its Mr. Abrams', its Mr. Abrams' right to say whatever he wants, but the facts speak for themselves. And in the case of Guatemala you have this ongoing pattern of murder which has been public record -- the Catholic Church in Guatemala has documented it, all the human rights groups have documented it. And on the public level, not even talking about the covert level, year after year the US has continued to provide all different kinds of aid to the Guatemalan miitary. Right now its the Clinton administration thats talking about a joint maneuver with the Guatemalan army, its the State Department that was licensing these 114 pistol and rifle sales. The idea of a rogue

operation is really preposterous when you have this kind of systematic, ongoing program that stretches back over years over both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Rose: I've got a couple of one last questions. Robert Torricelli, I think you know this better than anyone else. One, what's happened to Colonel Alpirez?

Torricelli: Colonel Alpirez remains in the Guatemalan military. He is claiming that he never received payments from the United States.

Rose: He said that to Allan in the phone conversation.

Torricelli: He's threatening libel suits. I suggest that he come to the United States, under oath, under the threat of perjury or write to the State Department and ask that his file be released. In fact the question of whether he received payments is not seriously debated in Washington. But Charlie, what I think people should know, though, of real concern about this is, this debate that we're having here may never be settled. As you know, we have had informants now from the National Security Agency that have written to me, communicated with other news media in Washington.

Rose: On NSA stationery.

Torricelli: On NSA stationery, that files and computer records regarding army and CIA activities in Guatemala this week were being systematically destroyed. So whether or not there was knowledge, whether or not the activities I'm suggesting might have occurred, the fact is we may never know and therefore never learn any lessons about civilian control of the CIA.

Rose: Any fear you're out too far on a limb on this?

Torricelli: From the day this began I was afraid I was out too far on a limb and every day I wake up to find the limb has moved way out beyond me. This is moving very quickly. But I am aware of the fact that given the sources we may have that the evidence may be destroyed and we may never know.

Rose: Robert Torricelli, Congressman, United States, from New Jersey, a Democrat, Allan Nairn from Nation magazine, Elliot Abrams, former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American affairs in the Reagan administration, thank you very much, pleasure. Last word to you Elliot? Anything you want to add to this, since you're in Washington?

Abrams: I would just urge Bob Torricelli again, the facts may be dynamic enough so lets just all stick to the facts and go no further than they take us.

Nairn: This is mass murder. This country should not be supporting it. If Americans knew about it, they wouldn't stand for it.

Rose: All right, thank you all.

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