Series on Honduras Should Prompt Action
The excellent series (June 11, 13, 15, 18) about "disappearances" in Honduras perpetrated during the 1980s by a military unit that was trained and equipped by the CIA undoubtedly will further weaken public confidence in the U.S. government's commitment to human rights and to the truth.
Instead of moving aggressively to get to the bottom of this story, the State Department's initial reaction to the series was a disappointing assertion that no further probe is needed because (1) the crimes described by The Sun happened long ago during a previous administration and (2) the obligation to investigate these crimes rests with the government of Honduras, not with the U.S. Neither of these assertions justifies inaction by the Clinton administration.
Only by opening its files and telling the whole truth about what it knew -- and when -- can the U.S. government and the public determine what must be done to make sure that we will never again provide aid to military and police units that commit human rights crimes.
Silence, inaction and apathy by our government regarding human violations have not served U.S. taxpayers well. It would be a shame for the Clinton administration to continue this long and ignoble tradition.
As The Sun has documented so effectively, the claim that U.S. personnel had no knowledge of torture and murder by Battalion 316 is indefensible.
The annual reports the State Department is required by law to publish were -- at least in the case of Honduras -- deliberate deceptions . . .
Some who served in the State Department in the early 1980s would have us believe that they worked "behind the scenes" to encourage the Honduran government to improve its human rights performance. If, indeed, there was any such effort, everything we now know underscores just how ineffectual that policy was.
After all, when the torturers were visited in their clandestine torture centers by CIA agents like "Mr. Mike," who never asked questions about the treatment of prisoners and never objected to the evidence of torture that they must have seen, why should the torturers not have assumed their activities had the blessing of the U.S. government?
At the same time, it is difficult to see how the failure to report the Honduran situation accurately in the State Department's annual country reports on human rights practices contributed in any way to improving respect for human rights in Honduras.
Unfortunately, indifference on the part of the U.S government may be more than a relic of the past. The Clinton administration has so far failed to seize the opportunity to restore some of its citizens' lost confidence in government by demonstrating a clear commitment to break with the past.
For example, 18 months ago, Honduran Human Rights Commissioner Leo Valladares submitted a list of specific questions to the U.S. government regarding its relationship to Battalion 316 and its knowledge of abuses by the battalion. The Clinton administration has not yet responded . . .
If we really do want to give the current government of Honduras the promised "all the support that we can" in investigating past crimes, a sincere effort to expose the whole truth about the U.S. relationship with the perpetrators would itself be a crucial expression of support for the Honduran investigatory process . . .
Finally, the Clinton administration should make a special effort to ensure that all U.S. government employees serving abroad -- from ambassadors to junior embassy staff -- understand that they have a responsibility to report evidence of human rights abuses promptly to their superiors and to speak out against abuses.
This is particularly important with respect to human rights crimes by military and police personnel with whom the U.S. government has a financial relationship. Concealing such information should carry a serious penalty.
This issue is not about the past. It is about promoting respect for the rule of law today and tomorrow. It is about our shared responsibility to avoid encouraging egregious human rights crimes by directly aiding the perpetrators or simply through silence.
The Clinton administration can significantly advance these objectives by exposing the full truth about the U.S. relationship with Battalion 316 and by making clear what it expects of all U.S. personnel regarding the reporting and investigation of human rights abuses.
The writer is country coordinator, Honduras and El Salvador, for Amnesty International U.S.A.
Setback for Blacks
The recent 5-4 decisions of the Supreme Court in the minority set-asides, desegregation remedies and legislative redistricting in Georgia cases have eviscerated the drive for equality of opportunity in employment, schools and voting representation for 32 million black Americans.
The Supreme Court has placed its judicial imprimatur in a resuscitation of separate but unequal treatment for black citizens.
The three decisions parallel the Dred Scott decisions of 1857 and the Plessy decision of 1896. In the former case, the Supreme Court affirmed Chief Judge Roger Brooke Taney that Dred Scott's residence in free territory not only did not confer freedom on him, but, in Taney's invidious obiter dicta: "A black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect."
In the Plessy case the Supreme Court set forth the doctrine of "separate but equal" which was extended to schools, public accommodations, cemeteries and other socio-economic facets of our nation. This doctrine remained solidly in place until the momentous and unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision of May 17, 1954.
A majority of the present Supreme Court has set a stark and unsettling direction away from the time-honored concept of equality of opportunity for black, Hispanic and poor citizens and "equal justice under law."
No amount of legal pettifoggery and pious and unctuous judicial shibboleths can obscure or diminish this lugubrious, clear and present reality.
Perhaps the most painful aspect of the recent decisions was the feckless and pusillanimous decision of Justice Clarence Thomas side with the majority.
This is particularly unsettling when one considers that Justice Thomas' meteoric rise from the Yale Law School to our nation's highest tribunal was made possible by affirmative action opportunities based upon his competence and ability.
As the Supreme Court moves away from equality of opportunity for black citizens, it is abundantly evident that black leaders at all levels must intensify voter registration and literacy drives and, where possible, engage in coalition-building to preserve and maintain vital constitutional rights.
As black citizens, in concert with others of decency and fairness, we must always keep in mind Frederick Douglass' sage and urgent admonition: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. never has and it never will."
Samuel L. Banks
Every now and then I read a letter about which I become outraged. Such was the case of Georgia Corso's letter, July 5, "Try New York."
Ms. Corso attacked Stephanie Darr (letter, June 24), for complaining about having her car broken into while attending a baseball game in Baltimore.
She placed total culpability on the victim, an abhorrent phenomenon which is so pervasive in our society. Probably crime was not foremost on Ms. Darr's mind as she left her home town in Virginia to attend a pleasant evening at the ballgame in a neighboring city.
Perhaps, as Ms. Corso suggested, Ms. Darr was unable to leave Virginia early enough to get on the stadium parking lot. Many Baltimoreans also get turned away. The lot cannot accommodate the cars of everyone who attends the game.
Visitors, while seeing thousands of people walking toward the stadium, may not assume that side streets could be unsafe and perhaps are unaware of other parking facilities.
This does not put them at fault, nor does it deem it an "amazing" situation that they would be angered at having their personal property damaged and stolen.
"If you think this is bad try New York," was an obtuse and callous reply on the part of Ms. Corso. "She's lucky they didn't steal her car" falls into the category of one of the most inane remarks of the year.
Attitudes such as Ms. Corso's are the ones which perpetuate our concession to crime and protract expediency to a solution.
It's time to wake up and realize that the solution does not lie with the victim. The solution lies with the eradication of opportunistic thieves who interfere with making our otherwise terrific city and
state a wonderful and friendly place to visit.
Timothy Wheeler's July 6 article observes the current political trend in which "many state officials contend that decisions about environmental protection should be made in state capitals and county seats, not in Washington."
He quotes Becky Norton Dunlop, Virginia's natural resources secretary, as saying recently, "We don't want EPA officials coming in and making pronouncements about how Virginians aren't taking care of their rivers."
On the surface, this pronouncement by Ms. Dunlop sounds very reasonable; however, complex environmental problems require more than surface-level thinking. Let's not forget that state elected officials of years past concluded that because many environmental problems cross political boundaries regional solutions are necessary.
The classic example associated with the Chesapeake Bay is that the Susquehanna River, influenced greatly by Pennsylvania, is the dominant source of fresh water entering the bay, even though that is mainly in Maryland and Virginia.
If Maryland were to try to restore the bay alone, it would conclude that its effort was wasted because it could not overcome the impacts of Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The same problems exist for the entire northeastern United States with regard to photo-chemical air pollution (smog).
Because states do not have authority over each other, it is the proper role -- in fact the responsibility -- of the federal government to oversee the solution of regional environmental problems.
This federal oversight is particularly appropriate with regard to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement in view of Virginia's recent rumblings about not upholding its end of the commitment. The federal government must meet its obligation as the last line of defense of our natural resources.
There is a need for balance and inter-governmental cooperation in the development of management strategies and their implementation. Yet, if the federal government goes too far in accommodating politically nervous state elected officials, it risks the forfeiture of its credibility, not on the evening news, but in the historical time frame.
James W. George
Fort Meade Prison?
Instead of spending big money for building new prisons, why not use Fort Meade?
Our service men lived in tents and had to walk a block or so to get the bathroom. If it is good enough for our service men why not good enough for criminals?
They could be policed military-style. This could make a big difference in a short time.
J. J. Sacks
They Asked for It
Ocean City has been inviting illegal drugs, drunkenness, violence and lewd behavior for many years. Exactly what kind of people do the merchants of Ocean City think buy the disgusting T-shirts that are unavoidable on the boardwalk -- Mom and Dad or maybe elderly Aunt Sue and Gramps?
I'll believe that the Chamber of Commerce cares about keeping Ocean City a "nice family resort" when I can walk down the boardwalk without seeing a hundred T-shirts that glorify the illegal drugs, drunkenness, violence and lewd behavior that they say they deplore.
+ What a bunch of hypocrites.
I hope that The Sun takes the hint offered by Neal Peirce's essay (Opinion * Commentary, July 3) in which he describes the Charlotte Observer's year-long series on efforts made by that city's residents to improve troubled inner city neighborhoods. Not only does the paper report about the efforts of these citizens, thus offering inspiration and encouragement to would-be activists, but it publicizes problems that need fixing and programs that need volunteers. The Observer is even sponsoring leadership training for neighborhood activists.
Mr. Peirce suggests that the paper's involvement has encouraged Charlotte's efforts to reform the way it provides city services from a call-and-complain-and-wait-and-see system to a more customer-driven approach. Baltimore should take note, and maybe it would with some help from The Sun.
Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods full of regular people fighting to keep their neighborhoods viable, and The Sun is missing a tremendous reporting opportunity by not regularly covering their struggles and achievements.
Take for example the parents in Charles Village who started a recreational soccer and baseball league for area children. Now kids from all over the city play ball at a city recreation center, whose fields are often littered with broken glass and discarded needles (that the parents often clean up).
When the league wanted to have an awards dinner, the city wanted to charge $300 for use of a room, so the event was held at a local church free of charge. Or how about the t implementation of the Charles Village Benefits District -- another grass roots effort by citizens who wanted to improve their neighborhood and were willing to pay to do it.
These are just two examples of stories from my own backyard, but there are many, many more.
As a neighborhood leader I am always asking or looking for
TC people to get involved in our neighborhood. Now I challenge The Sun to do the same.
Dawna M. Cobb
Glendening's Short-sighted Disability Policy
As a licensed psychologist who has spent my career working with emotionally and physically disabled individuals, I find myself horrified by the recent actions of Gov. Parris Glendening.
On the heels of his decision to cut off funding for thousands of disabled individuals unable to care for themselves because some substance abusers are exploiting the Disability Assistance Loan Program (DALP) system, he impulsively wipes out the New Pathways foster care program as a result of a single out-of-context report that a few of the clients have been in trouble with the law.
To call these actions short-sighted and reckless would be the mildest things that could be said.
I cannot imagine what lack of compassion and basic understanding of the human condition it would take to fail to comprehend that difficulties in adapting to society are to be expected among this group of young people.
How could it come as a surprise that individuals who have been exposed to abuse and hardship throughout their lives find it difficult to form normal human bonds and develop the self-esteem and basic socialization skills that it takes to function well in society?
It is like expecting someone with a broken leg to get up and walk, and then denigrating the person and cutting them off from support as a form of rejection and punishment when they cannot.
To abruptly uproot emotionally and behaviorally fragile youths, who have long experience with being treated as "throwaways," without bothering to check into their individual histories or consult with staffers or professionals concerning the potential trauma which might occur constitutes a supreme act of irresponsibility and arrogance as well as abuse of power.
One of my most memorable patients was a young man who had been sexually abused throughout his life and moved from one foster home to another.
His greatest anger was toward the foster care system in another state which, upon his reaching age 18, simply turned him out into society without familial, economic or job support and somehow expected him to figure out how to function. His life was a daily battle simply to survive emotionally and financially.
My impression when I read about Baltimore's New Pathways program was that, in concept, it is a progressive program which anticipates these transition problems and seeks to provide preventive support in order to stave off homelessness, joblessness and the crime that can result.
Of course there will be some failures among these high-risk clients, and we can limit the number of chances we give to specific individuals without penalizing those who are achieving success against all odds.
But a failure rate of 8 percent (four of 51 clients in trouble with the law) is actually quite a success story for those clients who are doing well, when compared with national recidivism rates for our overall juvenile justice system that is also swamped with abused and neglected youth.
It might be informative to check into the rates of substance abuse and brushes with the law that exist among even upper middle-class youth who grew up with all the amenities before judgment is randomly passed on those less fortunate. We could just as abruptly close down some of the private schools where substance abuse is taking place.
My prescription for the governor: Try living for a few weeks with any of the people whose lives may be affected by government cutoffs:
Parents with profoundly retarded adult children who have sacrificed their lives struggling to provide 24-hour supervision for them rather than surrender their care to strangers in an institution.
A father who quit his job to stay home to supervise his young daughter who experienced near-constant seizures.
A young lady shot in the face during a robbery while working at an overnight convenience store and now, years later, unable to go outside her home, much less hold a job due to her disfigurement and constant fear.
Or a young quadriplegic, injured in an auto accident, struggling to maintain his independence and quality of life rather than spending his life in a nursing home.
I have worked with all of those people, who have no choice but to rely on the kindness of strangers. There but for the grace of God go any of us.