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Army Manuals Contained Brutal Advice

Military: Latin American officers in 1980s were trained to use beatings, intimidation, even murder to gain informants, Pentagon now admits.

September 21, 1996|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — U.S. Army manuals used in training Latin American military officers during the late 1980s contained passages advising them to employ beatings, false imprisonment, truth serum and even executions to recruit and train domestic informants, the Pentagon said Friday.

Excerpts from the manuals, which were revised in 1992 to remove the offending passages, were made public by the Pentagon. A classified report on the material sent to then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said it was "incredible" that the language existed.


The passages have been out of use for five years, but their discovery is likely to bolster contentions by critics that the "U.S. School of the Americas," as the training institution is known, has been functioning as a "school for Latin American dictators."

The debate surfaced anew last year after it was discovered that a Guatemalan army officer, Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, who has been linked to the killing of a U.S. citizen who was an innkeeper there in 1992, was a graduate of the academy. The facility is based at Ft. Benning, Ga.

Pentagon officials contend that the school serves to forge closer ties between U.S. military personnel and their Latin American counterparts and helps imbue Central and South American officers with democratic concepts, such as civilian control of the military.

Pentagon officials said an investigation that Cheney ordered in 1991 had found about two dozen offensive passages, spread over six separate training manuals that together totaled 1,169 pages. The overall curriculum involved seven manuals, all in Spanish.

Investigators said the manuals apparently were never submitted for clearance through the Army's regular approval process, although they found no evidence of any "deliberate attempt to violate Army or Defense Department policies." No English translations were prepared.


The material that eventually was purged from the training manuals included these examples:

* A section on how to provide cover for paid informants suggested that "the [informant's] value could be increased by means of arrests, executions or pacification, taking care not to expose the employee as the information source."

* Others suggested injecting an informant intravenously with truth serum, using hypnotism or getting him drunk, presumably to learn things about him that later could be used to intimidate him.

* Still another advises agents who are having trouble getting rid of an informant to use anonymous letters to convince him that his family was being threatened. It said "many other techniques could be used which are only limited by the agent's imagination."

* Another advised that a counterintelligence agent "could cause the arrest of the [informant's] parents, imprison [him] or give him a beating as part of the [plan for placing him] in [a] guerrilla organization."

* Other sections refer to "extortion" as a method of interrogation and to "neutralization" of insurgent organizations. Another points out that insurgents "can be considered criminal" and "are afraid to be brutalized after capture."

The Pentagon said that shortly after the training manuals were reviewed, the U.S. Southern Command, then based in Panama, advised Latin American governments that the offending passages ran counter to U.S. policy and sought to retrieve all the manuals.

It said the Defense Department then destroyed all the manuals it had collected, except for one copy that has been kept on file for the record in the Defense Department general counsel's office.

The Pentagon did not indicate why it chose to make the passages public Friday. The passages were made available to journalists in late afternoon without any advance notice for use in today's newspapers, a technique often used for minimizing adverse publicity.

However, insiders said the Defense Department acted after learning that Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.) had obtained copies of the passages and was planning to make them public on his own. Kennedy has called for shutting the school down.

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