WASHINGTON -- Struggling to win congressional and public support for an invasion of Haiti, the Clinton administration offered assurances yesterday that U.S. soldiers would do little more than restore Haiti's exiled president to power and issued a grim new litany of human rights abuses by the ruling junta.
Senior officials said the military force will restore the democratically elected president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and help him remain in office until his mandate runs out at the end of 1995. But the mission does not aim to rebuild the country or insure that Father Aristide and his new government succeed, they said.
"The criteria would be the removal of the illegal government, the restoration of civil law, and giving the Haitian people an opportunity to have the kind of freely elected government that they chose in 1990," Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher said. "That's the fundamental issue."
But Mr. Christopher made it clear that it was not the responsibility of the United States to rebuild the country's failed institutions or hunt down the three military leaders who currently run the country and oppose Father Aristide's return.
"The aim of the United States here, is not to be involved in nation-building, but to give the people of Haiti an opportunity to build their institutions, to reclaim their country, and have that opportunity with respect to the building of their own institutions," he said.
As for the ruling military triumvirate who are called upon to relinquish power and flee the country, Mr. Christopher said that only if "we find them there, we encounter them there" during an invasion, would they be detained and turned over to the new government of Haiti.
That means that if Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who leads the military junta; Lt. Col. Joseph Michel Francois, the police commander; and Gen. Philippe Biamby, the army chief of staff, go into hiding, U.S. troops will not pursue them the way they did Gen. Manuel A. Noriega during the invasion of Panama in 1989.
The attempt to impose analytical clarity on what would be President Clinton's first deployment of thousands of U.S. troops into battle is driven in part by the administration's determination to avoid the mistakes of the Somalia experience.
That mission, a limited operation that began with U.S. soldiers feeding starving masses, ended up as a high-risk, open-ended nation-building mission.
The administration is also keenly aware that it does not enjoy broad public or congressional support for an invasion of Haiti. Officials hope that by defining limited goals and an exit strategy they can deflect mounting criticism of the prospect of putting U.S. troops in harm's way.
At the same time, the administration is trying to convince Congress and the nation that the ruling military regime is so repressive and the situation so untenable for Haiti's 6 million people that an invasion is warranted.
To that end, the State Department has prepared a new human rights report describing the violence under the current military junta as even worse than "during the notorious regime of 'Papa Doc' Duvalier."
The grim report, which will be presented to Congress today, states: "The de facto government promotes general repression and official terrorism. It sanctions the widespread use of assassination, killing, torture, beating, mutilation, rape, and other violent abuse of innocent civilians, including the most vulnerable, such as orphans."
The report says that the military regime has killed nearly 4,000 Haitians, and that as many as 300,000 Haitians -- 5 percent of the population -- have been driven into hiding by the pervasive climate of fear.
The report is significantly more critical of the Haitian regime than a more comprehensive report on Haiti issued as part of the State Department's annual country-by-country human rights report in February.