CIA Seeks to Discredit Contra Atrocity Charges
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A newly declassified CIA report, trying to discredit charges of Nicaraguan rebel atrocities, denies that the Contras often slit the throats of captives by contending that the rebels ″are normally not equipped with either bayonets or combat knives.″
The 12-page report, obtained last week by The Associated Press, was drafted as a response to a detailed report accusing the Contra rebels of human rights abuses in 28 cases. The CIA document was based on seven hours of interviews with field officers of the CIA-organized Nicaraguan Democratic Force, FDN.
The claim that FDN troops were not equipped with knives was challenged by two former rebel leaders who said in interviews that combat knives and bayonets were common among the troops and were frequently used to execute prisoners.
″It was one of the things that upset me most about the FDN,″ said Edgar Chamorro, who was an FDN director until he was fired a year ago for publicly criticizing the movement.
Salvador Icaza, a former FDN officer now living in the United States, said ″having a knife in the jungle is a matter of survival″ and a majority of FDN troops carried one. Icaza also said slitting throats was a favorite method of killing prisoners.
One State Department official, who insisted on anonymity, called the CIA report ″the best thing″ done by the U.S. government on alleged Contra atrocities and said it supported the administration’s view that many of the charges are disinformation planted by Nicaragua’s leftist government.
But Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., a House Foreign Affairs Committee member who has pressed for an investigation of the human rights charges, called the report ″incredibly sloppy at best and intentionally deceptive at worst.″
Noting that the investigation was based on seven hours of interviews with Contra troops, Gejdenson added: ″That is like bringing an accused murderer to trial and deliberately ignoring the evidence, forgetting to cross-examine the defendant and then losing the witness list.″
While acknowledging some Contra abuses, the CIA document challenges many charges contained in a report by New York lawyer Reed Brody, who compiled 145 affidavits from Nicaraguans and Americans who said they witnessed or were victims of Contra human rights abuses in 28 separate incidents. Although the CIA document is not dated, administration officials said it was prepared last spring.
″Throughout the (Brody) report, defended localities are portrayed as innocent villages and FDN attacks are depicted as attacks on innocent civilians,″ the CIA document said in arguing that many of the so-called ″civilians″ were actually combatants.
″The frequent claims of kidnapping that run throughout the report constitute the best example of misuse of words,″ it asserted. ″There is nobody in the FDN who is there against his-her will - it is an entirely voluntary organization.″
But Chamorro, former FDN commander Jose Efren Martinez Mondragon and other ex-rebels have said the FDN does practice forced recruitment and kill or abuse captives. Even a White House report last November said, ″instances of forced recruitment and summary execution of military prionsers ... may well have occurred.″
Although the Brody report contained repeated allegations by Nicaraguans that Contras used knives or bayonets to slit throats or mutilate bodies, the CIA document states:
″Entirely aside from the fact that this runs against the policies of the FDN as an organization, FDN troops are normally not equipped with either bayonets or combat knives.″
However, photographs of FDN forces in Nicaragua taken by U.S. reporters show at least some Contras carrying large knives or bayonets.
The CIA document adds that the Contras were also unfairly accused of carrying out indiscriminate attacks with mortars and other heavy weapons after July 1984 when ″the FDN was essentially out of ammunition for these weapons.″
Other denials contained in the report assert:
-FDN troops could not have killed French physician Pierre Grosjean with mortar fire in March 1983 because those forces were without mortars.
-FDN troops did not kill 17 civilians at a state-owned farm, La Sorpresa, in November 1984 but rather killed 28 Sandinista soldiers.
-The FDN did not inflict civilian casualties at Ocotal in June 1984, but that those deaths were caused by Sandinista air and artillery attacks.
The document did not dispute all of Brody’s allegations, noting that some atrocities may have been carried out by non-FDN rebel units or by one FDN commander, known as Suicida, who, according to FDN leaders, was later court- martialed and executed.
In one case involving Suicida’s forces in December 1982, the CIA document outlines the capture of Felipe and Maria Barreda, described in Brody’s report as a middle-aged ″deeply religious″ couple from Esteli who volunteered to pick coffee over the Christmas holidays.
The CIA document, however, says the Barredas were senior Sandinista state security officers ″and after finally confessing to this fact, were executed on Suicida’s orders after the Nicaraguan embassy in Honduras refused to consider an offer to exchange them. They were not tortured.″
But according to statements given to Brody and human rights investigators by a Nicaraguan captured with the Barredas, the prisoners were beaten, stripped naked and repeatedly threatened with death. Six months later, an FDN officer, known as El Muerto, was captured and said on Nicaraguan television that he had tortured the Barredas and, on Suicida’s orders, shot them in the head.
At a Dec. 5 congressional hearing, assistant secretary of state Elliott Abrams mentioned the CIA report on Brody’s allegations and cited it as proof that those charges - which Abrams dismissed as ″lies″ - had been investigated.
″We took up every single allegation with the leaders of the FDN,″ Abrams testified, although he declined to release the report at that time saying it was classified.
Abrams also cited an assertion by Sandinista defector Alvaro Jose Baldizon Aviles that the Nicaraguan government tries to deceive human rights groups by having its agents pose as local residents and then invent Contra atrocities.
Brody and his report have frequently been the target of administration attack, including once by President Reagan in a speech last April.
″This so-called independent investigation was the work of one of dictator (Daniel) Ortega’s supporters, a sympathizer who has openly embraced Sandinismo and who was shepherded through Nicaragua by Sandinista operatives,″ Reagan said.
In his report, Brody, a former assistant attorney general in New York, acknowledged that the Sandinista government provided him living quarters and that the law office that represents Managua suggested the project and helped type the report.
But some of Brody’s affidavits were cross-checked by private human rights groups and U.S. news organizations, and were found to accurately reflect the testimony of those interviewed.
Other independent human rights groups, such as Americas Watch, have accused both the Contras and the Sandinista government of abuses - and criticized the Reagan administration for acting as an apologist for the Contras.