Backside of the Dollar: The CIA and Guatemala’s Death Squads

From: John Richard <jric…@Essential.ORG>
Date: 1995/04/05
Message-ID: <3luvot$>

C.I.A. Death Squad
The Nation, April 17, 1995
(c) 1995 The Nation Co., L.P.

The U.S. government has systematic links to Guatemalan Army
death squad operations that go far beyond the disclosures that
have recently shaken official Washington. The news that the
C.I.A. employed a Guatemalan colonel who reportedly ordered two
murders has been greeted with professions of shock and outrage.
But in fact the story goes much deeper, as U.S. officials well

North American C.I.A. operatives work inside a Guatemalan
Army unit that maintains a network of torture centers and has
killed thousands of Guatemalan civilians. The G-2, headquartered
on thefourth floor of the Guatemalan National Palace, has, since
at least the1960s, been advised, trained, armed and equipped by
U.S. undercoveragents. Working out of the U.S. Embassy and living
in safehouses andhotels, these agents work through an elite group
of Guatemalan officerswho are secretly paid by the C.I.A. and who
have been implicatedpersonally in numerous political crimes and

This secret G-2/C.I.A. collaboration has been described
byGuatemalan and U.S. operatives and confirmed, in various
aspects, bythree former Guatemalan heads of state. These accounts
also mesh withthat given in a March 28 interview by Col. Julio
Roberto Alpirez, theC.I.A.-paid Guatemalan G-2 officer who has
been implicated in themurders of Guatemalan guerrilla leader
Efrain Bamaca Velasquez and aU.S. citizen, Michael DeVine.

One of the American agents who works with the G-2, a
thinblond man in his 40s who goes by the name of Randy Capister,
hasbeen involved in similar operations with the army of
neighboring ElSalvador. Another, a weapons expert known as Joe
Jacarino, hasoperated throughout the Caribbean, and has
accompanied G-2 units onmissions into rural zones.

Jacarino’s presence in the embassy was confirmed by
DavidWright, a former embassy intelligence employee who called
Jacarino a”military liaison.” Col. George Hooker, the U.S.
Defense IntelligenceAgency chief in Guatemala from 1985 to 1989,
says he also knewJacarino, though he says Jacarino was not with
the D.I.A. When askedwhether Jacarino was with the C.I.A. he
replied, “I’m not at liberty tosay.”

Celerino Castillo, a former agent for the Drug
EnforcementAdministration who dealt with the G-2 and the C.I.A.
in Guatemala,says he worked with Capister as well as with
Jacarino. He showedphotographs of himself and Capister at embassy
events and in the field.Guatemalan sources say Capister meets
regularly with Guatemalan Armychiefs. He has been seen in
meetings in Guatemala City as recently asthe spring of 1994.

When I reached Colonel Alpirez at the La Aurora base in
Guate-mala, he denied all involvement in the deaths of Bamaca and
DeVineand said he was never paid by the C.I.A. But he discussed
at lengthhow the agency advises and helps run the G-2. He
praised the C.I.A.for “professionalism” and close rapport with
Guatemalan officers. Hesaid that agency operatives often come to
Guatemala on temporary duty,during which they train G-2 men and
provide “advice and technicalassistance.” He described attending
C.I.A. sessions at G-2 bases on”contra-subversion” tactics and
“how to manage the factors of power” to”fortify democracy.” He
said the C.I.A. men were on call to respond toG-2 questions, and
that the G-2 often consulted the agency on how todeal with
“political problems.” Alpirez said he was not authorized togive
specifics on the technical assistance, nor would he name the
NorthAmericans the G-2 worked with, though he said they were
“very goodfriends.”

Other officials, though, say that at least during the
mid-1980s G-2 officers were paid by Jack McCavitt, then C.I.A.
station chief, andthat the “technical assistance” includes
communications gear, computersand special firearms, as well as
collaborative use of C.I.A.-ownedhelicopters that are flown out
of the Piper hangar at the La Auroracivilian airport and from a
separate U.S. air facility.

Through what Amnesty International has called “a
governmentprogram of political murder,” the Guatemalan Army has,
since 1978,killed more than 110,000 civilians. The G-2 and a
smaller, affiliatedunit called the Archivo have long been openly
known in Guatemala asthe brain of the terror state. With a
contingent of more than 2,000agents and with sub-units in the
local army bases, the G-2–under ordersof the army high
command–coordinates the torture, assassination anddisappearance
of dissidents.

“If the G-2 wants to kill you, they kill you,” former army
Chiefof Staff Gen. Benedicto Lucas Garcia once said. “They send
one of theirtrucks with a hit squad and that’s it.” Current and
former G-2 agentsdescribe a program of surveillance backed by a
web of torture centersand clandestine body dumps. In 1986,
then-army Chief of Staff Gen.Hctor Gramajo Morales, a U.S.
protege, said that the G-2 maintainsfiles on and watches “anyone
who is an opponent of the Guatemalanstate in any realm.” A former
G-2 agent says that the base he worked atin Huehuetenango
maintained its own crematorium and “processed”abductees by
chopping off limbs, singeing flesh and administeringelectric

At least three of the recent G-2 chiefs have been paid by
theC.I.A., according to U.S. and Guatemalan intelligence
sources.One ofthem, Gen. Edgar Godoy Gaitan, a former army Chief
of Staff, has beenaccused in court by the victim’s family of
being one of the prime”intellectual authors” of the 1990 murder
of the noted Guatemalananthropologist Myrna Mack Chang [see
Victor Perera, “Where Is Justicein Guatemala?” May 24, 1993].
Another, Col. Otto Perez Molina, whonow runs the Presidential
General Staff and oversees the Archivo, wasin charge in 1994,
when, according to the Archbishop’s human rightsoffice, there was
evidence of General Staff involvement in the assassina-tion of
Judge Edgar Ramiro El!as Ogaldez. The third, Gen. FranciscoOrtega
Menaldo, who now works in Washington as general staff direc-tor
at the Pentagon-backed Inter-American Defense Board, was G-2chief
in the late 1980s during a series of assassinations of
students,peasants and human rights activists. Reached at his home
in Florida,Jack McCavitt said he does not talk to journalists.
When asked whetherOrtega Menaldo was on the C.I.A. payroll, he
shouted “Enough!” andslammed down the phone.

These crimes are merely examples of a vast, systematic
pattern;likewise, these men are only cogs in a large U.S.
government apparatus.Colonel Hooker, the former D.I.A. chief for
Guatemala, says, “It wouldbe an embarrassing situation if you
ever had a roll call of everybody inthe Guatemalan Army who ever
collected a C.I.A. paycheck.” Hookersays the agency payroll is so
large that it encompasses most of thearmy’s top decision-makers.
When I told him that his friend, Gen.Mario Enriquez Morales, the
current Defense Minister, had reacted tothe Alpirez scandal by
saying publicly that it was “disloyal” and “sha-meful” for
officers to take C.I.A. money, Hooker burst out laughing
andexclaimed: “Good! Good answer, Mario! I’d hate to think how
manyguys were on that payroll. It’s a perfectly normal thing.”

Other top commanders paid by the C.I.A. include Gen.
RobertoMatta Galvez, former army Chief of Staff, head of the
PresidentialGeneral Staff and commander of massacres in the El
Quiche depart-ment; and General Gramajo, Defense Minister during
the armed forces’abduction, rape and torture of Dianna Ortiz, an
American nun. (SisterOrtiz has testified that a man she believes
to be North American seemedto be the supervisor of the agents who
abducted her. Gramajo said shehad sustained her 111 burn wounds
during a “lesbian love tryst.”)Gramajo also managed the early
1980s highland massacres. ColonelHooker says he once brought
Gramajo on a ten-day tour of the UnitedStates to speak at U.S.
military bases and confer with the U.S. ArmyChief of Staff.

Three recent Guatemalan heads of state confirm that the closely with the G-2. Last year, when I asked Gen.
Oscar Hum-berto Mejia Victores (military dictator from 1983 to
1986) how thecountry’s death squads had originated, he said they
had been started “inthe 1960s by the C.I.A.” Gen. Efrain Rios
Montt (dictator from 1982 to1983 and the current Congress
President), who ordered the main high-land massacres (662
villages destroyed, by the army’s own count), saidthe C.I.A. did
have agents inside the G-2. When I asked Rios Montt–afirm
believer in the death penalty–if he thought he should be
executedfor his role in the slaughter, he leapt to his feet and
shouted “Yes! Tryme! Put me against the wall!” but he said he
should be tried only ifAmericans were tried too. Specifically, he
cited President Reagan, who,in the midst of the massacres,
embraced R!os Montt and said he wasgetting “a bum rap” on human
rights. Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo, civilianPresident from 1986 to
1991 (under whom the rate of killing actuallyincreased), said
“the C.I.A. often contracts with our military and G-2people,” and
that from what he knew they “very probably” had peopleinside “who
have participated with our G-2 in technical assistance

These C.I.A. operations are, of course, part of the larger
U.S.policy. The Bush and Clinton State Departments, for example,
in themidst of a much-touted “cutoff” of military aid to
Guatemala after 1990,authorized–according to classified State
Department records–more than114 separate sales of U.S. pistols
and rifles.

The killing of defenseless people has been state policy in
Guate-mala for thirty years. The question is not whether the U.S.
governmenthas known–it is obviously aware of its own actions. It
is why, withovert and covert aid, it has helped commit the army’s
murders. Allan Nairn has written extensively on Guatemala and its
military since1980. Last fall in The Nation he broke the story of
U.S. intelligence collaboration with Haiti’s FRAPH.

Excerpts from “Charlie Rose,” March 31, 1995
Subject: Guatemala
Guests: Rep. Robert Torricelli, Elliot Abrams, Allan Nairn

… Rose: Tell me what you have found out, Allan. You’ve got a
story in the Nation magazine thats called “CIA Death Squad:
Americans Have Been Directly Involved in Guatemalan Army
Killings.” What can you add to this story before I go to Elliot
in Washington?

… Nairn: Alpirez is one Colonel on the CIA payroll who
committed two murders. From talking to both Guatemalan and US
operatives involved in this, its clear that there are many,
perhaps dozens of Guatemalan military officers on the CIA payroll
who’ve been involved in thousands of killings. The G-2, the
military intelligence service which coordinates tha assinations
and disappearances — their top officials have for years been
paid by the CIA. I was able to learn the names of three of them
who’ve been on the payroll, as well as General Hector Gramajo,
General Roberto Matta, two of the top officers, closest US
proteges, who’ve been directly involved in commanding massacres
in the Northwest Highlands. Furthermore, there are actual US CIA
agents who work directly inside the G-2. I was able to learn the
names of two of them, Joe Jacarino and Randy Capister. They
provide what’s called technical assistance and advice. I was able
to reach colonel Alpirez on the phone in Guatemala. He denied
being involved in the Devine and Bamaca killings, said the CIA
wasn’t paying him, but he talked rather extensively about how the
CIA essentially helps to run the G-2 with ongoing advice and
American advisers right there inside this systematic killing

Rose: You recorded this conversation?

Nairn: No, I took extensive notes on it. And its not just the
CIA. Its the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House
as well. For example, here are some internal State Department
records which indicate that during both the Bush and Clinton
administrations after there was a supposed cutoff of military aid
to Guatemala, the State Department authorized at least 114
separate sales of pistols and rifles to Guatemala. The US
military has been planning joint maneuvers with the Guatemalan
military this spring. This is an across the board policy and you
have to hold the President accountable for that.

Rose: Elliot, you were Assistant Secretary of State for Latin
American affairs during the Reagan administration. Tell me what
you make of this story, what you know about what went on during
the Reagan administration and perhaps what you have learned about
this story since it broke.

Abrams: I may not know as many facts about this as Bob Toricelli
does but from what I can see there’s a lot less here than meets
the eye. The fact that the CIA maintains relationships with
intelligence people and military people in Central America and
throughout the world is not news. The fact that some of them are
pretty unattractive people is not news… That we had an ongoing
CIA program in Guatemala at a time there was a military cutoff,
you can’t do that without a finding, its got to be approved by
the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. So one question to
ask is: if the intelligence committee’s didn’t like this why
didn’t they stop it? Before we start jumping up and down here
and saying this is another case of the CIA out of control, here I
think I might agree with Mr. Nairn that if this was a Bush and
Clinton policy, then lets talk about the policy of the President
in both cases, and lets not start talking about a rogue CIA which
does not yeat appear to me to exist.

Rose: Let me just ask you a hypothetical question. Would you as
an assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, if
you found out that our government was paying a man in the
Guatemalan military after it learned that he had been implicated
in the assassination of an American or someone married to an
American , would you be outraged?…

Abrams: I would certainly be outraged in the Devine case which
looked like the cold blooded murder of an innocent American. The
notion that we would continue to employ such a person would give
him and others in the Guatemalan military the sense that we just
didn’t care about the killing of American citizens. The Bamaca
case is a different case. That guy was a guerrilla and he was not
an American.

Rose: Yeah but he wasn’t killed in battle, he was killed in

Abrams: No, but it is a different case. And the responsibility we
have is to protect above all American citizens, not Guatemalan
guerrillas. So it is a different case, different kind of level
of seriousness for the US government.

Rose: Allan.

Nairn: Charlie, you asked a hypothetical: How would Mr. Abrams
react? In fact we have the historical record. We can see how he
and the other Reagan and Bush and Clinton officials have reacted.

Rose: In the State Department, or in the CIA, or both?

Nairn: Across the board. And in the face of this systematic
policy of slaughter by the Guatemalan military, more than 110,000
civilians killed by that military since 1978, what Amnesty
International has called a “government program of political
murder,” the US has continued to provide covert assistance to the
G-2 and they have continued, especially during the time of Mr.
Abrams, to provide political aid and comfort. For example,

Abrams: Uh, Charlie.

Rose: One second.

Nairn: during the Northwest Highland massacres of the [early]
’80s when the Catholic Church said: “never in our history has it
come to such grave extremes. It has reached the point of
genocide,” President Reagan went down, embraced Rios Montt, the
dictator who was staging these massacres, and said he was getting
“a bum rap on human rights.” In 85 when human rights leader
Rosario Godoy was abducted by the army, raped and mutilated, her
baby had his fingernails torn out, the Guatemalan military said:
“Oh, they died in a traffic accident.” Human rights groups
contacted Mr. Abrams, asked him about it, he wrote back — this
is his letter of reply — he said: yes, “there’s no evidence
other than that they died in a traffic accident.” Now this is a
woman raped and mutilated, a baby with his fingernails torn out.
This is longstanding policy.

Rose: I want to come to Congressman Torricelli in a moment, but
these are specific points raised by Allan having to do with your
public conduct.

Abrams: I’m not, I tell you, whatever Allan Nairn wants to do,
Charlie, I’m not here to refight the Cold War. I’m glad we won,
maybe he’s not. What I’m here to say is we’re talking not about
US policy in the world

Nairn: Won against who, won against those civilians the
Guatemalan army was massacring?

Abrams: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a
minute. We’re not here to refight the Cold War. We’re here to
talk about, I thought, a specific case in which an allegation is
being made that the husband of an American, in another case an
American citizen, were killed and there was a CIA connection
with, allegedly, with the person allegedly involved in it. Now
I’m happy to talk about that kind of thing. If Mr. Nairn thinks
we should have been on the other side in Guatemala, that is we
should have been in favor of a guerrilla victory, I disagree with

Nairn: So you’re then admitting that you were on the side of the
Guatemalan military!

Abrams: I am admitting that it was the policy of the United
States, under Democrats and Republicans, approved by Congress
repeatedly to oppose a Communist guerrilla victory anywhere in
Central America including in Guatemala.

Nairn: “A Communist guerrilla victory!” Ninety-five percent
of these victims are civilians — peasant organizers, human
rights leaders, priests — assassinated by the US – backed
Guatemalan army.

Rose: I’m happy to invite both of you, I’m happy to invite both
of you back to review Reagan and Bush administration policy.
Right now I want to stick to this point [re Alpirez scandal]…

… Nairn: Lets look at reality here. In reality we’re not
talking about two murders, one Colonel. We’re talking about more
than a hundred thousand murders, an entire army, many of its top
officers employees of the US government. We’re talking about
crimes and we’re also talking about criminals; not just people
like the Guatemalan Colonels but also the US agents who’ve been
working with them, and the higher level US officials. I mean, I
think you have to apply uniform standards. President Bush once
talked about putting Saddam Hussein on trial for crimes against
humanity — Nuremberg style tribunal. I think that’s a good
idea. But if you’re serious, you have to be even-handed. If you
look at a case like this, I think we have to start talking about
putting Guatemalan and US officials on trial. I think someone
like Mr. Abrams would be a fit subject for such a Nuremberg-style

Abrams: (laughs)

Nairn: but I agree with Mr. Abrams that Democrats would have to
be in the dock with him.

Rose: Well, well I,

Nairn: The Congress has been in on this. The Congress approved
the sale of 16,000 M-16s to Guatemala. In ’87 and ’88

Rose: All right, but hold on one second,

Nairn: they voted more military aid than the Republicans asked

Rose: And again, I invite you and Elliot Abrams back to discuss
what he did, but right now,

Abrams: No, thanks Charlie, but,

Rose: Hold on one second, Elliot, go ahead Elliot, to repeat the
question, do you want to be in the dock?

Abrams: It is ludicrous, it is ludicrous to respond to that kind
of stupidity. This guy thinks we were on the wrong side in the
cold war. Maybe he personally was on the wrong side. I am one
of the many millions of Americans who

Nairn: Mr. Abrams, you were on the wrong side in supporting the
massacre of peasants and organizers and anyone who dared to
speak. Absolutely. And thats a crime. Thats a crime, Mr.
Abrams, for which people should be tried. Its against the law.

Abrams: All right, we’ll put all the American officials who won
the Cold War in the dock.

Rose (to Torricelli): All right. You have read this article.

Torricelli: I have read the article.

Rose: Did you find anything that your information contradicts, in
this article by Allan Nairn in the Nation magazine? You have
said its the talk of Washington, this article.

Toricelli: Every day this story has surpassed expectations of the
day before, even in Washington where people tend to be cynical on
these things. What this article suggests to us is rather than a
few Guatemalan military officers who’ve abused rights, that
indeed the entire military leadership in Guatemala may be rife
with US informants.

Rose: And also that there are disturbing connections between
American agents in Guatemala and the activities of what can be
called nothing more than killer squads. [to Nairn:] Yes?

Nairn: Yes, correct.

Torricelli: There is death squad activity in which the
intelligence communities of the United States have been deeply
involved. I don’t want to get into this debate about the
Guatemalan civil war. I only want to say this. That the United
States had no role in being this deeply involved in the
Guatemalan military, being this involved in these death squad
activities, there was no effort to separate ourselves. I think
when all is said and done we are going to find that there have
been rouge operations in the United States intelligence community
outside even the control of the Director of Central Intelligence.

Guatemala has been handled as a backwater of the intelligence
community of the United States, its own private preserve.

Rose: For what objective?

Torricelli: I think we’re headed for some very startling weeks

Rose: To learn what? I mean, tell me what it is that was at
stake here and what is going to be so startling that might be
discovered. Give me a preview of what you think is around the

Torricelli: I think that there were operations of the
intelligence community, of individuals in that community, that
were engaged in activities beyond the policies and the scope of
the United States government for a variety of purposes, thats as
much as I’m going to say, but I think we’re in for some startling

Rose: What kinds of activities? Without naming names, what kinds
of activities?

Torricelli: I think there were a variety of illegal activities
taking place.

Rose: This is more than giving money to people who are going out
killing Americans or spouses of Americans. You’re talking about
Americans who you believe might have been in some cases involved
in commiting the acts themselves?

Torricelli: I don’t believe that the likes of a Webster or a
Gates or a Woolsey, all directors of the Central Intelligence
Agency, would be condoning or even knowledgeable of the kinds of
activities that we’re now hearing about occurred in Guatemala.

Rose: I assume you would agree with that Elliot?

Abrams: Well I, we’ll find out, lets see if they were not aware.

Rose: That all this could take place without being reported up
the line to the Director.

Abrams: If all of this happened and none of them were aware, one
has to say: what kind of managers were they? I would urge Bob
Torricelli to stick to the facts and to avoid the kind of
crackpot theories that we’re getting from Mr. Nairn. If you
stick to the facts there may be quite enough to get people’s

Torricelli: Well, I’m trying to stick to

Rose: I, I also have to say that Allan Nairn is a distinguished
reporter who won the George Polk Award last year. So, I mean, you
know, I don’t want him characterized on this broadcast as a
crackpot. I mean, you can have a personal argument about what he
says about you specifically, but,

Abrams: Well, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, when a guy tells me,

Rose: Go ahead.

Abrams: When a guy tells me that he thinks that the entire
American leadership during the Cold War needs to have a Nuremberg
trial, he’s a crackpot.

Rose: OK, I mean, I, I would’nt, point well taken.

Nairn: Well, its Mr. Abrams’, its Mr. Abrams’ right to say
whatever he wants, but the facts speak for themselves. And in
the case of Guatemala you have this ongoing pattern of murder
which has been public record — the Catholic Church in Guatemala
has documented it, all the human rights groups have documented
it. And on the public level, not even talking about the covert
level, year after year the US has continued to provide all
different kinds of aid to the Guatemalan miitary. Right now its
the Clinton administration thats talking about a joint maneuver
with the Guatemalan army, its the State Department that was
licensing these 114 pistol and rifle sales. The idea of a rogue
operation is really preposterous when you have this kind of
systematic, ongoing program that stretches back over years over
both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Rose: I’ve got a couple of one last questions. Robert
Torricelli, I think you know this better than anyone else. One,
what’s happened to Colonel Alpirez?

Torricelli: Colonel Alpirez remains in the Guatemalan
military. He is claiming that he never received payments from the
United States.

Rose: He said that to Allan in the phone conversation.

Torricelli: He’s threatening libel suits. I suggest that he come
to the United States, under oath, under the threat of perjury or
write to the State Department and ask that his file be released.
In fact the question of whether he received payments is not
seriously debated in Washington. But Charlie, what I think
people should know, though, of real concern about this is, this
debate that we’re having here may never be settled. As you know,
we have had informants now from the National Security Agency that
have written to me, communicated with other news media in

Rose: On NSA stationery.

Torricelli: On NSA stationery, that files and computer records
regarding army and CIA activities in Guatemala this week were
being systematically destroyed. So whether or not there was
knowledge, whether or not the activities I’m suggesting might
have occurred, the fact is we may never know and therefore never
learn any lessons about civilian control of the CIA.

Rose: Any fear you’re out too far on a limb on this?

Torricelli: From the day this began I was afraid I was out too
far on a limb and every day I wake up to find the limb has moved
way out beyond me. This is moving very quickly. But I am aware
of the fact that given the sources we may have that the evidence
may be destroyed and we may never know.

Rose: Robert Torricelli, Congressman, United States, from New
Jersey, a Democrat, Allan Nairn from Nation magazine, Elliot
Abrams, former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American
affairs in the Reagan administration, thank you very much,
pleasure. Last word to you Elliot? Anything you want to add to
this, since you’re in Washington?

Abrams: I would just urge Bob Torricelli again, the facts may be
dynamic enough so lets just all stick to the facts and go no
further than they take us.

Nairn: This is mass murder. This country should not be
supporting it. If Americans knew about it, they wouldn’t stand
for it.

Rose: All right, thank you all.

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