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Washing off the Honduran Stain


The State Department can't wash its hands of the stain left by the Honduran death squad scandal. It's no surprise that the CIA is stonewalling in response to questions about the role of some of its officers in the kidnapping, torture and murder of Hondurans during the early '80s. That's still standard practice at the intelligence agency, even under new leadership. But for the State Department to shield -- and express continued confidence in -- an ambassador still on active service who connived at these atrocities is unacceptable.

As will be described in detail in Sunday's concluding article in a series on the U.S.-supported Honduran death squads, Ambassador John D. Negroponte was responsible for false reports to Congress on human rights violations there. The State Department, however, doesn't need the results of The Sun's 14-month investigation. It's all there in its files, some of which were declassified at The Sun's request but many of which are still under seal. Mr. Negroponte is now ambassador to the Philippines, which should make him the immediate target of an internal inquiry.

The State Department must also do more than pretend to assist the Honduran government in its own investigation of the disappearance of some 184 persons more than a decade ago. Honduran requests for documents in U.S. files have been brushed aside by bureaucratic obfuscation. Now a U.S. spokesman promises the Honduran investigators "all the support that we can." Journalists and scholars who tried to pry documents from the State Department know how little the department "can" do in such circumstances unless forced to comply.

Although the atrocities in Honduras occurred more than a decade ago and did not directly involve CIA officers, they raise serious issues for an administration which claims to place a high priority on human rights. Correspondents Ginger Thompson and Gary Cohn describe the anxiety of the survivors to learn for certain the fate of the hundreds of "disappeared" Hondurans. The new leadership of the CIA must make it clear that intelligence officers can't abet, even if they don't actually participate in, brutal interrogations and worse.

The Honduran scandal is not a matter just of historical interest. Condoning the kind of bestial behavior exhibited by the Honduran death squads is a blot on this country's honor. Even ten years and two administrations later, the stain must be cleansed. It is in the power of this administration, particularly the State Department, to accomplish that. Failure to do so would brand the nation's current leadership accessories as well.

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