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Security Forces Abused Them, 2 Americans Say : El Salvador: The U.S. Embassy casts doubt on their stories but says it will investigate.

November 20, 1989|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN SALVADOR — An American working for a leftist rights organization here says she was beaten, kicked and "sexually harassed" during 53 hours of detention last week by Salvadoran military police.

U.S. Embassy officials said Sunday that they were stunned by the charges, made to reporters by Brenda Hubbard of Los Angeles, because they contradicted what she told them after her release Friday. But they said they would investigate.

Hubbard, 41, was one of seven Americans arrested here last week during a government crackdown on leftists, foreigners and religious workers thought to be sympathetic with guerrillas waging a major military offensive in the capital. U.S. Embassy officials said Friday that all have been released and that none were physically mistreated.

But Hubbard and Eugene Terril, an American who was arrested with her, told a press conference Saturday that they had been kicked and beaten with rifle butts at the headquarters of the Treasury Police, a branch of the Salvadoran armed forces.

Hubbard, who gave the more detailed account, said police officers also lifted her shirt and thrust their hands into the pajama bottoms that she wore at the time of her arrest and throughout her detention.

Both Hubbard and Terril were seized Wednesday morning at the headquarters of Comadres, a group that compiles information on leftists and suspected guerrillas arrested or killed by the security forces. Seven Salvadoran activists were arrested with them.

Leaders of the group have employed American volunteers on the assumption that this would afford them greater protection. Hubbard had worked for the organization since moving here in August. Terril, 42, of Eatonville, Wash., arrived Nov. 8 to work in a Salvadoran orphanage. Both lived at Comadres headquarters.

They said that police ransacked the Comadres office and forced their nine captives to pose for a photograph with a flag of the FMLN, the guerrilla alliance. Each was blindfolded, handcuffed and taken to police headquarters, where Hubbard said she was repeatedly interrogated on the whereabouts of a Salvadoran labor activist.

Hubbard said the beatings started as the group was forced to stand all day Wednesday and intensified that night amid the sounds of heavy combat near the headquarters.

"That's when they started beating on us a lot," she said. "That night they didn't let me sleep. They kept coming into my cell and kicking me."

Terril said he got the same abuse but that "they treated us like fine china as compared with what they did to the Salvadorans. That was probably the hardest part. When they hit you, it was easier to take than hearing the Salvadorans scream."

The two said the seven Salvadorans arrested with them are apparently still in jail.

U.S. Ambassador William Walker on Friday compared the arrests of Americans, including four Lutheran church relief workers, during the guerrilla offensive to the internment of Japanese-Americans in the United States during World War II.

"You have a situation here in which the government and armed forces have reason to believe foreigners are helping the FMLN wreak its violence on the country," he said. "I'm not condoning it. I have not seen hard evidence . . . that foreigners are in the trenches with the FMLN."

But embassy officials cast doubt on the two Americans' torture stories.

"They were interviewed by male and female consular officers, then brought to the embassy to meet with the consul general," said Robert Dance, an embassy spokesman. "At no time did any of them allege physical torture.

"We're stunned," he added. "If they had made this accusation to us, we could have jumped on it at the time and made a stronger case (with the Salvadorans.) But nothing was said."

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