TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS — TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Military officers summoned to court to answer questions about human rights abuses committed during the 1980s won a reprieve yesterday as their summonses were recalled until next week.
The 10 officers are suspected of being former members and leaders of a CIA-trained military unit known as Battalion 316 that conducted a violent campaign against suspected leftists during the Reagan administration's war on communism in Latin America.
Hundreds of people suspected of subversion were stalked, kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the battalion. Some 184 of the victims are still missing.
The case against the 10 officers is the first to be brought against military officials implicated in the battalion's activities.
Judge Roy Medina said he decided to recall the summonses because of a protest by prosecutors from the Honduran Attorney General's Office. The prosecutors, who brought the charges against the military officers in July, were opposed to his decision to call the suspects as witnesses in the case.
"They are not witnesses; they are the suspects, and they should be questioned as suspects," said Sonia Marlina Dubon de Flores, the lead prosecutor of the case. "The judge should have taken enough testimony from the victims and witnesses, and he should have already ordered the arrest of the military officials."
Mrs. Flores filed charges against the officers in July of kidnapping and torturing six university students in 1982. She said Judge Medina has already heard convincing testimony from the six students, as well as from neighbors who watched police kidnap the students from their home.
Judge Medina, however, said he would like to collect more evidence before making a decision to arrest the officers and hold them for trial. To do that, he said, he would like to speak with the accused.
Yesterday, after listening to arguments by prosecutors, he said he would reissue summonses for the accused Monday.
"Right now the trial is in the process of investigation. The goal in this stage is to determine the truth about the crimes," Judge Medina explained in an interview in his office. "In my opinion, the accused officers, if they choose to cooperate, have information that can help us investigate the depth of this crime."
However, the attorney for the officers said earlier this week that the officers would not come in for questioning, and he stood by that position yesterday. The attorney, Carlos Lopez Osorio, has said a 1991 amnesty decreed by the Honduran Congress, pardoning those who committed political crimes, covers his clients.
Yesterday, he also argued that his clients would not testify against themselves.
"They are the accused. How can they be asked to make statements against themselves?" he said. "This is a crime! What kind of justice is this?"