WASHINGTON -- Under pressure from President Ronald Reagan to train allies in Latin America, the Pentagon approved instructions in the early 1980s in the use of murder, torture and extortion to battle leftist forces, according to a report issued yesterday by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II.
The Kennedy report criticized an internal Pentagon finding, issued last month, for failing to assess blame in the use of the training material. In the military bureaucracy of the 1980s, the Kennedy report charged, "the message was delivered repeatedly from the upper echelons of power that the rules don't matter."
At a news conference, the Massachusetts Democrat accused the Pentagon's inspector general of a "whitewash" and said that last month's Pentagon report "glosses over the true implications of U.S. involvement in teaching torture in Latin America." The Kennedy report was based on an investigation by the congressman's staff.
Kennedy also renewed his call for the Army to shut down the School of the Americas, the training facility for Latin American military officers where the training materials were used until 1991.
The school, now in Georgia but formerly in Panama, has been identified by human rights organizations and many other critics as the training ground for some of Latin America's most brutal dictators and military human rights abusers.
All sides in the controversy over the training manuals acknowledge that they have not been used in years.
Capt. Michael Doubleday, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday: "Certainly, nobody in the department now endorses
any way the materials that were being used, back in 1991 and before, in an incorrect manner."
Citing the testimony of instructors at the school, the 20-page Kennedy report offers the most complete public account to date of how the U.S. military put together and distributed seven intelligence training materials that violated U.S. laws and Defense Department policies against the use of torture and the execution of suspected subversives.
The revival of aggressive and often abusive intelligence-gathering methods coincided with the coming to power in 1980 of the Reagan administration, which was determined to forcefully resist the threat of communism in Central America. According to the Kennedy report, the Carter administration had halted intelligence training operations because of Latin human rights abuses.
Two officers, Lt. Col. Victor Tise and Capt. John Zindar, told a Kennedy staffer that in 1982, they understood "that it was a top priority for President Reagan to reinstate intelligence training in Latin America immediately."
The men updated previously used intelligence-training materials for the classes at the School of the Americas. The material was approved at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and sent through the deputy chief of staff for operations for clearance in Washington, according to the Kennedy report. The deputy chief of staff is not named in the report.
"Both Tise and Zindar noted there was a great deal of urgency putting together the materials for intelligence training," the report says. "It was made clear to them that President Reagan wanted it done immediately."
The material was ultimately approved by the assistant chief of staff for intelligence at the Pentagon, according to the report, which fails to name the official.
At his news conference, Kennedy said that after Zindar pointed out the objectionable material to a superior, "he was told that it had been approved in Washington."
Margarito Cruz, an instructor at the School of the Americas, "reportedly recommended revamping some of the materials" to remove objectionable parts, the report says. But it is unclear how much was actually taken out.
The school's material was similar to that used by the Central Intelligence Agency in training military units in Honduras and rTC elsewhere in Central America during the same period.
One CIA manual, obtained by The Sun in January under the Freedom of Information Act, taught interrogation methods that were strikingly similar to those used in the early 1980s by Battalion 316, a CIA-trained Honduran military unit that kidnapped, tortured and murdered suspected leftists in the 1980s.
Another manual, used in training right-wing contra rebels in Nicaragua, was disclosed in 1984. It is unclear if all these manuals sprang from the same source.
The School of the Americas instructions in murder and torture originated with a foreign intelligence assistance program called Project X. That program was developed at the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird in Baltimore in 1965 and 1966 and was first used to teach South Vietnamese and other allies at the U.S. Intelligence School in Okinawa, Japan.
In 1991, it was discovered that manuals that included the same material were still being used. The Pentagon halted the practice at the time, and then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney ordered an investigation. But the Kennedy report says the U.S. military is still avoiding responsibility:
"To this day, it appears that the United States is unwilling to establish accountability for the development of these manuals, or the fact that the manuals were in use at the U.S. Army School of the Americas."
Responding to Kennedy's criticism of the Pentagon inspector general, Defense Department spokeswoman Susan Hansen said: "The IG feels it did a comprehensive chronology, but it was only the first part of a three-part effort."
The internal investigators "will still have much to say about the training of foreign military officers," she said.
The Kennedy report contains excerpts from various manuals.
An army manual on "handling of sources" offers various kinds of advice to counterintelligence agents on how to extract information, including imprisonment, beatings and arrests of a subject's parents.
"The employee's value can be increased by means of arrests, executions or pacification," the manual says, according to excerpts in the Kennedy report.
Pub Date: 3/07/97