"The Argentines taught courses on torture," he said.

Barrera said U.S. instructors later taught him to tap telephones in a course conducted in San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second-largest city.

He said he served as a torturer and assassin in Battalion 316, traveling the country on "special assignments."

He said he employed a variety of methods to make prisoners talk. He hogtied and kicked them, pulled the hair off their legs, jolted their bodies with electricity and smothered them with a rubber hood.

If those methods failed, Barrera threatened to harm their families.

"The first thing we would say is that we know your mother, your younger brother, and it's better you cooperate, because if you don't, we're going to bring them in and rape them and torture them and kill them," he recalled.

"We would show them photos of their family. We would say, 'We're going to get your mother and rape her in front of you.' Then we would make it seem like we went to get the mother."

In 1986, Barrera said, officers accused him of betraying the battalion because he had friends suspected of being leftists. He had seen another member of Battalion 316 killed for the same reason. Fearing for his life, Barrera deserted in September 1986.

"I knew I was going to disappear," he said.

A month later he was seized from his home. He says he was taken to a secret jail and tortured.

Forty-eight days later, Barrera was released alive, after a campaign by relatives and leaders of human rights groups.

The activists helped Barrera flee to Mexico. From there, he moved to Canada.

Returning to Honduras would mean certain death, he said.

Many collaborators

BATTALION 316 DID NOT operate alone. Officers in all branches the Honduran military helped. The Honduran air force flew prisoners out of the country or to military camps throughout Honduras. Officers in the special forces raided the homes of suspected subversives or captured suspects camped along the Honduran border.

Honduran police stopped suspected leftists and turned them over to the battalion.

One collaborator was Fausto Reyes, chief of motorcycle police in San Pedro Sula from 1980 to 1986. The 39-year-old Reyes described how he helped Battalion 316 stage kidnappings.

He recalled the morning of Jan. 29, 1983, when he pulled over RTC Herminio Deras, a leader of the Honduran Communist Party. Reyes said he turned Deras over to three battalion members dressed in civilian clothes.

"I gave this guy to them alive," Reyes said. "After that, I went to have a soda and an enchilada. ... I returned when I heard the gunshot. ... Mr. Herminio Deras was dead. He was there on the street.

"I felt bad as a person. I felt bad as a man. I felt bad as a policeman. I felt like a violator of the law."