WASHINGTON — An American doctor who examined the body of Benjamin E. Linder, a U.S. volunteer slain by U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua last month, said Wednesday in a report to Congress that the body showed signs of torture.
Dr. Tim Takaro, an American doctor living in Nicaragua and a friend of Linder, said that Linder's body had "half a dozen to 10" head wounds from a sharp instrument such as an ice pick or an awl, which may have been caused by torture.
However, Linder's father, himself a pathologist, disagreed with that analysis.
The body had a long-range bullet wound in an arm and shrapnel wounds in a leg, which were not fatal, according to Takaro's examination. Linder's death was caused by a bullet fired at close range to the front of his head, he reported.
Takaro lives in Jinotega, a northern Nicaraguan province that is the scene of frequent military clashes between U.S.-supported contras and Sandinista government troops. Linder, 27, was killed April 28 while working on a rural electrification project in the El Cua-Bocay region of Jinotega. He had been in Nicaragua as a volunteer since 1983.
The doctor's report adds new uncertainty to the events surrounding Linder's death, which was the subject of an emotional hearing before a congressional panel Wednesday.
The session of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs became the forum for a bitter partisan debate over American support for the contras. Administration witnesses and committee Republicans fell in line behind the policy and suggested that Linder had courted fate by allying himself with the Sandinistas. One Republican accused Linder's parents of "politicizing" their son's death.
Democratic members defended Linder's parents, who appeared before the panel to explain their son's commitment to Nicaragua and to question American policy in the Central American country.
Dr. David Linder of Portland, Ore., the father, said the contras targeted for death his son and other foreign volunteers aiding the Sandinista government. Benjamin Linder was the first American civilian killed in a contra attack.
"This is murder," Linder said. "This was an ambush, not a chance encounter. . . . This was not an accident, but a result of United States policy."
Linder said he could not confirm Takaro's report that his son appeared to have been tortured.
Linder said he concluded from reading the autopsy report and from his own inspection of his son's body at the funeral that the cuts and punctures probably were caused by the shattering of his son's eyeglasses.
Linder did, however, support the finding that death was caused by a close-range gunshot, rather than by shrapnel wounds, as had originally been reported.
A contra spokesman said earlier that Linder died in a gun battle between a contra patrol and Sandinista troops. They said that Linder was not singled out but was an accidental victim of the raid.
A Republican congressman sparked a bitter exchange when he accused Linder's mother of exploiting her son's death.
"How can you use the grief that I know you feel to politicize this situation or to allow yourself to be used to politicize this situation?" Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) asked. "I don't want to be tough on you, but I feel you asked for it."
Mrs. Linder responded icily: "That's the cruelest thing you could have said."
Don Shannon reported from Washington and Richard Boudreaux from Managua. John Broder in Washington contributed to this story.