WASHINGTON -- As part of its investigation into military officers accused of murdering civilians during the 1980s, Honduras asked the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency yesterday to release records about their involvement in the military's activities, especially those of a secret intelligence unit.
The Honduran attorney general's office submitted the request to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, asking for detailed information about U.S. ties with Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who, as former chief of the Honduran armed forces, directed the secret intelligence group responsible for the kidnapping, torture and murder hundreds of alleged subversives.
Honduras asked in effect for all documents mentioning General Alvarez and the intelligence unit called Battalion 316, which the CIA trained and equipped. The attorney general's office also requested documents about six of Battalion 316's victims.
"We haven't been able to find the information here, even though it's obvious it should be here," Leo Valladares, of the attorney general's commission on human rights, said in Tegucigalpa. "We have to look to other states that we know have information."
A White House official said the Clinton administration intended to cooperate.
"Our government is going to cooperate to the fullest extent possible with the Honduran request," said the official, who declined to be identified. "We have forwarded some 200 pages, and we're confident we can provide additional relevant material over the next several months as our search activities continue."
The request for information came a week after the Honduran government filed criminal charges against 11 current or former military officers, accusing them of kidnapping and torturing student activists during the 1980s. Most of the hundreds of people tortured were believed to be victims of Battalion 316.
The request also comes two months after the activities of Battalion 316 and the firsthand accounts of its members and victims were described in a series of articles in The Sun. The articles reported that in order to maintain public support for the Regan administration's war against communism in Central America, U.S. officials deliberately misled Congress and the public about the Honduran military's activities.
Mr. Valladares made a first request to the United States in 1993, but U.S. officials responded that his demand was too broad and asked for a more specific query. Yesterday's request went to offices in the Department of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, as well as the CIA and State Department.
"Our response consistently for a year and a half has been that, given sufficient means and time, we will make available what we can find," said Paul Kozelka, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tegucigalpa.
State Department officials say they have sought to respond to previous Honduran requests for material on Battalion 316 and on Father James Francis Carney, an American Catholic priest who disappeared after reportedly joining a column of Honduran revolutionaries that entered the country from Nicaragua in December 1993.
A CIA spokesman, asked how the agency would respond to the Honduran request, declined to comment. Mr. Valladares said an U.S. Embassy official assured him "the information will soon be declassified."
The attorney general's office asked for "all documents generated by U.S. government agencies," including "reports, studies, notes, papers, cables, memorandums," about the activities of Battalion 316 between 1979 and the end 1984.