Instead, the 1982 report asserted: "No incident of official interference with the media has been recorded for several years."

Inside the embassy

Negroponte's aides at the embassy told The Sun that they knew about serious human rights abuses by the Honduran military, and that the violence was a subject of constant discussion.

One of those aides was a junior political officer, Rick Chidester, who was assigned in 1982 to gather information for the embassy's annual report on human rights, a task that usually fell to a junior officer.

Chidester, now 43 and a private businessman, said that while in Honduras, he interviewed human rights advocates and journalists who provided him with information that the Honduran military was illegally detaining, torturing and executing people.

"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?"

An official explanation

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.