There is a long, sad history of human rights abuses in Guatemala. The Spanish conquistadores were the first to systematically exploit, torture and kill the heirs of the Mayan civilization. Today it is the Guatemalan army. Understandably, many U.S. citizens, including members of Congress, are angry to learn that for decades U.S. tax dollars have supported that army.
We know the CIA successfully plotted to help overthrow the leftist, but democratically elected, government of President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. That military coup began a series of guerrilla wars that over the last 40 years have claimed thousands of Guatemalan lives. Since 1984, it is suspected that a number of U.S. citizens have been abused, kidnaped or killed by the Guatemalan army.
A U.S. group, assisted by some members of Congress, is trying to establish who abducted and killed Michael DeVine, an American, in 1990 and tortured to death Efrain Bamaca Velazquez, a Guatemalan guerrilla married to an American citizen.
What makes those two cases particularly troubling is the fact that the man suspected of killing them, Guatemalan Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, was a paid CIA informant. If CIA agents were involved in either case, the American public deserves to know the whole truth behind U.S. government collaboration with a notoriously brutal army.
The CIA inspector general has completed a 700-page report on the cases of DeVine and Bamaca, but it has not been made public. A publicly released summary exonerates the CIA. It does concede, however, that "certain agency officers did not meet the agency's professional standards." It adds that some reports prepared by the spy agency about Alpirez "were flawed" and "unintentionally misled" policy-makers in Congress, and that neither congressional intelligence committees nor several U.S. ambassadors to Guatemala were kept informed on what the CIA knew about the two cases.
Such a brief summary raises more questions than it answers.
President Clinton has asked the State, Defense and Justice departments to give him their own investigation reports in the matter. The White House's Intelligence Oversight Board will prepare a final report combining the information from all four inquiries. The President should make that report public, being careful only to protect CIA sources who might be in jeopardy if their identities were revealed.
An independent report on the CIA's activities in Guatemala is needed not just to keep the spy agency accountable but to inform the American people of CIA activities that improperly may have been kept secret for many years.