Excerpts from "Charlie Rose," March 31, 1995
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
... 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Torricelli: I think there were a variety of illegal activities
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
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
Rose: All right, thank you all.