"I had allegations about vans coming up to police cells and taking out people they [the Honduran military] didn't want ... and shooting them," Chidester said. "I had allegations that, as part of the interrogation techniques, torture was being used."

He said he included the allegations in his draft of the 1982 report.

A supervisor, who Chidester will not name, demanded proof -- sworn testimony or photographs of torture victims. Chidester said he was admonished for basing his report on rumors when he was unable to produce such evidence.

Chidester said he argued that while he had not interviewed torture victims, the allegations came from too many credible sources to be ignored, and that the reports were not supposed to be limited to provable facts.

"While the State Department is not an investigative body, we're supposed to analyze political events and identify trends," Chidester said. "Our analysis is valuable, even if based on opinion and not admissible as proof in a court of law."

His arguments failed.

By the time the report reached the U.S. Congress, the serious accusations against the Honduran military had been removed. Allegations that remained were described as unsubstantiated or isolated abuses that had been dealt with swiftly by the Honduran government.

Overall, the report portrayed Honduras as an emerging democracy where the civilian government and military respected human rights.

The report was such a misrepresentation of the facts that Chidester recalls joking with others in the embassy: "What is this, the human rights report for Norway?"

While Negroponte has refused to be interviewed by The Sun, his boss at the time of his appointment to Honduras described the priorities on human rights.

Thomas Enders, the assistant secretary of state who told Negroponte's predecessor to stop reporting rights violations through normal channels, said it was crucial to keep U.S. aid flowing to Honduras.

"What we were attempting to do was, on the one hand, to maintain our ability to act in Central America. That is, our congressional authority to send economic and military aid, so we avoided direct public confrontations against the military in El Salvador and Honduras," he said.

"And at the same time, privately we were spending an enormous amount of effort in order to change the way they looked at how they behaved. There was endless jawboning."

Instead of telling Congress what was going on in Central America, the Reagan administration employed the State Department human rights reports as instruments to advance policy objectives.

Consequently, the human rights reports differed sharply in tone, depending on whether the government was a friend or foe.

The 1982 report on Nicaragua -- where the United States was trying to topple the Marxist Sandinista regime -- made strong charges against that government.

A section titled "Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from Killing" said: "There is credible evidence that security forces have been responsible for the death of a number of detained persons in 1982."

In the same section of the Honduras report for 1982, the State Department said: "Allegations that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras have not been substantiated."

Cresencio Arcos, press spokes-man in the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa from June 1980 to July 1985 and U.S. ambassador from December 1989 to July 1993, explained the difference:

"Invariably, the result in this process was to magnify your enemies' misdeeds and minimize your friends' misdeeds," he said.