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A Survivor Tells Her Story
Day after day, for 78 days, Ines Consuelo Murillo was tortured by a secret Honduran military intelligence unit called Battalion 316.
Her captors tied the 24-year-old woman's hands and feet, hung her naked from the ceiling and beat her with their fists. They fondled her. They nearly drowned her. They clipped wires to her breasts and sent electricity surging through her body.
"It was so frightening the way my body would shake when they shocked me. They put rags in my throat so I would not scream," she said. "But I screamed so loud, sometimes it sounded like an animal. I would even scare myself."
Murillo is one of hundreds abducted and tortured during the 1980s by Battalion 316, a unit trained and equipped by the CIA to gather intelligence about subversives, at a time when Honduras was crucial to the Reagan administration's war against communism in Central America.
Many of those kidnapped were later murdered, their bodies discovered in fields and along riverbanks. At least 184 people are missing and presumed dead.
From interviews with Murillo, her parents, battalion member Florencio Caballero and others involved in the case, The Sun has pieced together the story of her days and nights in captivity.
Information about Murillo's ordeal also was obtained from secret testimony by a high-level CIA official before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In that June 1988 testimony, Richard Stolz, then the CIA deputy director for operations, confirmed that a CIA officer visited the jail where Battalion 316 held Murillo.
She and her captors recalled the visits by the American, a man they knew as "Mr. Mike."
The CIA's visits to the jail are significant because U.S. officials in Honduras repeatedly claimed at the time that they had no evidence that the Honduran military was engaging in systematic human rights abuses.
In his testimony, Stolz said: "I have no facts to contradict Ms. Murillo's statement that she suffered physical abuse at the hands of the Honduran military interrogators."
Stolz also confirmed that two battalion members, Florencio Caballero and Marco Tulio Regalado, were trained by the CIA. Murillo accuses those battalion members of being among her torturers. The two men graduated from a CIA interrogation course on March 13, 1983. It was the same day that Murillo was seized by Battalion 316.
Ines Murillo was abducted that evening as she walked with a friend along the dusty road from Choloma, a small town near the northern coast of Honduras.
She and her companion, shoemaker Jose Flores, were taken away by men who drove up in two trucks. The men beat them, she says, and threw them in the back of a truck.
Murillo said she felt Flores trembling. "Although they will tell you you are guilty of something, and they will tell you that I said you are guilty of something, do not fall into this madness," she says she whispered. "You are completely innocent."
By all accounts, Murillo was not innocent. She refuses to comment on any alleged subversion. But she has been identified as a member of the Lorenzo Zelaya Front, an armed leftist group that robbed banks and businesses and stole weapons from police. Her participation in the group was confirmed by one of its former leaders, Efrain Duarte.
Murillo acknowledges having used false names, carrying fake identification and sleeping in different places to avoid capture.
After their abductors drove for about an hour, Murillo and Flores were hauled from the truck, through a house and into a damp, chilly basement.
She says the men stripped her, then tied her hands and feet.
When they asked who she was, she told them she was Maria Odelia Duvon Medrano, an acquaintance whose name she had used to get the false identification she carried.
The men lifted Murillo and dunked her head in a barrel of water, holding her there until her flailing body went limp.
At first, she fabricated a story.
"I told them that I had gone to Nicaragua, fallen in love and fought with the Sandinistas. ... It was all lies, but it was what they wanted to hear."
'I know your father'
For days, Murillo says, she and Flores were held in the basement with two or three torturers at a time and given nothing to eat or drink. Her captors fondled her and threatened to rape her if she fell asleep.
As torturers attached wires to her body, she saw through her blindfold that they wore graduation rings from the Honduran military academy.
"The rings have a blue stone," she said.
After 10 days, Murillo says, she felt so weak from lack of food and sleep that she was sure the next shock session would kill her.
It was then that a soft-spoken, heavily cologned officer offered relief. He removed Murillo's blindfold and asked her to look into his eyes to see that he meant no harm.
The heavyset man breathed as if his weight was too heavy to carry, she recalls. She says the man was Marco Tulio Regalado, one of the men of Battalion 316 trained in interrogation methods by the CIA.
Murillo says that Regalado covered her with a rough cotton shirt. Then he held up a plate of cold beans and stiff tortillas. To her, it looked like a feast.
"He fed it to me at first," she said. "Then he untied my hands so that I could eat."
He politely asked her to cooperate. He said that they had checked and learned that her name was not Maria. The tortures would stop, he promised, if she would just tell them her real name.
She suddenly could not remember her false identity.
"I became hysterical and began to laugh," Murillo recalled. "I wrote my real name and my parents' names."
The man she identified as Regalado looked at the names and realized that her father was a former military officer. She says he screamed at her: "Bitch, I know your father."
Attempts by The Sun to locate Regalado have been unsuccessful. But in testimony before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, Regalado denied any involvement in Murillo's captivity. He said he had no knowledge of the case except for what he had read in the newspapers.
Once her captors realized that she came from a prominent family and was a soldier's daughter, Murillo says, they became less harsh.
For a few weeks she was hardly tortured -- only a few shoves and punches. Her captors agreed to untie her hands while she slept. They told her they had made anonymous calls to her parents to tell them she was alive. Finally, she says, they promised that when the time came, they would make her death quick.
"I told them, 'When you shoot me, shoot me good so that I die quick,'" Murillo recalled.
One night, after more than a month in the basement, Murillo and Flores were awakened roughly. Her captors seemed angry, she recalls. They shoved her and yelled at her to put on her clothes. They blindfolded her and pushed the two of them upstairs and into the night.
"I thought they were going to kill us," she said. "I began to cry."
But Murillo and Flores were not executed. They rode south for 2 1/2 hours to another clandestine jail near a military complex known as INDUMIL, an acronym for Industrias Militares.
Situated among the low hills south of Tegucigalpa, the jail at INDUMIL was a flat, circular building used as a training center for an artillery battalion.
Murillo heard the booms of large guns.
Her captors pushed her into what she took to be a photo lab because of the odor, then cleared the room, saying they didn't want her to commit suicide by drinking chemicals.
Flores was taken away, Murillo says. She did not see him for the remainder of her captivity.
A radio blared all day, but the music couldn't mute the screams of prisoners. Murillo says she particularly remembers the cries of a woman being tortured in the next cell.
"I heard one of the men say he was going to stick a rod inside the woman," Murillo said. "The woman screamed, 'No, no!' And then she just screamed.
"Sometimes it felt as if they were torturing other people to torture me."
Murillo said the torture at INDUMIL "was much more sophisticated."
"They tortured my mind and my body."
Again she was stripped and not allowed to sleep. Her captors came into her cell every 10 minutes to pour water over her head and shoulders.
"It was only this much water," she said, picking up her coffee cup. "But it had ice in it. It was so cold."
Once, her tormentors brought a German shepherd named Mauser into her cell. She was blindfolded, she recalls, but she could tell that the dog was huge when her captors forced her to touch his broad head.
"He growled all the time and barked," Murillo said. "I thought they were going to let him attack me."
Murillo was told to stand straight and still; if she moved, Mauser would attack, her captors warned. Murillo says she felt Mauser brush her legs as he circled.
She stood still for more than an hour. Her torturers refused to let her go to the bathroom. When she urinated on the floor, they taunted her.
"They would say to me, 'You Communists have no mothers. You have no morals. You have no country.'"
At INDUMIL, Murillo encountered Florencio Caballero, another member of Battalion 316 who had graduated from the same CIA training course as Regalado.
Caballero spent hours interrogating Murillo in the clandestine jail -- asking about everything from leftist guerrilla activities in Central America to whether she had a boyfriend.
In interviews in Toronto, where Caballero has lived with his wife and children since he fled Honduras in 1986, he recalled how Murillo was brutalized. When she arrived, he said, her body was shrunken from weeks without food. He confirmed that she and Flores were shocked with electricity.
"They attached cables with clips to their genitals, on their sides and on their backs," he said.
Caballero says he never raised a hand against Murillo, but only questioned her.
Murillo, arching her thin eyebrows, says she remembers Caballero as a torturer.
"I remember perfectly well what he did to me," she said, although she refused to describe precisely what it was. "His story that there were some who tortured and others who just interrogated was a lie. Everyone in the jail tortured."
After several weeks at INDUMIL, Murillo says, she heard Caballero ask: "Is she still alive? Why haven't they killed her?"
'Mr. Mike' visits
About two months into her captivity, an American who seemed to be a regular visitor to the area came to her cell, Murillo says. Whenever he came, she would hear her captors shouting, "Here comes Mr. Mike."
"It was like an uncle coming to visit," she recalled. "I could tell he did not live there, but he was always welcome."
On this occasion, Murillo says, the Hondurans dressed her in a rough cotton shirt and pants, and secured her blindfold.
After being blindfolded for so long, Murillo says, her other senses had become more acute. She heard the footsteps of three or four people enter her cell. Then she heard the sounds of a pencil scribbling on a pad and the passing of the pad from one person to another.
One of her interrogators began to speak. It sounded as if he were reading, Murillo recalls. And although he spoke in Spanish, with a Honduran accent, his questions were not grammatical.
Murillo remembers thinking: "These are not the questions of Battalion 316. They are the questions of Mr. Mike." He was writing them and passing them to the Honduran interrogator, instead of speaking himself, she believes. And unlike the usual interrogations, there was no torture.
The man she believed to be an American remained silent through the 10-minute interrogation.
The American's visit to the jail where Murillo was held was confirmed in secret testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June 1988 by the CIA's deputy director for operations, Richard Stolz.
He testified that the agency learned from Honduran military sources on April 5, 1983, that Murillo had been arrested.
A transcript of his testimony was declassified at The Sun's request.
"Mindful of the human rights issue, headquarters inquired about her current condition and asked if formal charges had been brought against her," Stolz testified. He said that a CIA officer went to visit "the area where Ms. Murillo was held."
Much of Stolz's account of CIA involvement in the Murillo case was censored by the CIA before the transcript was released to The Sun.
Stolz declined to comment.
Caballero told The Sun that he remembered the visit by "Mr. Mike." Battalion members put clothes on Murillo that day, he says, but they did not cover all of her bruises and gashes.
"He saw how she was," Caballero said.
Caballero's account is consistent with information that he provided to investigators from the Senate intelligence committee. He told investigators that a CIA official visited INDUMIL "quite frequently" and "even more so when [Murillo] was in custody," according to a previously classified, 22-page transcript obtained by The Sun.
"I believe it may be three to four times a week," Caballero told the investigators. When we had [Murillo] he visited us very frequently." He said the CIA official "even did some of the questioning."
"We never knew when [deletion] was to visit," Caballero added. "He came and went as he pleased. He had full access."
Two days after "Mr. Mike" visited her, Murillo says, one of her captors offered her a chance to live: She was to give a press conference, admitting that she was a guerrilla and warning the country that Communist groups were plotting to overthrow the government.
"The torturers spent two hours telling me the benefits of giving the press conference," she said. "I would be able to see my family. I would be free."
As an inducement, she says, they made life more comfortable. They allowed her to bathe for the first time in two months. They gave her a meal of beans and rice, and they gave her a thin mattress to sleep on.
"I knew then that the press conference was the idea of the American," she said. "I knew that this American had the power to decide whether I lived or died."
She said she also thought about the possibility of returning home. But her hopes were shattered the next day when she told her captors that she would give the press conference only if it were live, with real reporters, and only if her parents were there.
"They told me, 'Do you think we are idiots?" Murillo recalled. She said the beatings resumed.
A family's pleas
Murillo's family had not given up hope. Murillo's mother, Ines, a German national employed by the United Nations, sought help from German officials in Honduras and from her boss.
Anton Kruderink, a U.N. official in Honduras, spoke to ambassadors in Tegucigalpa and to numerous military officials about Murillo's abduction.
Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, head of the Honduran armed forces, became indignant about Kruderink's inquiries.
"He told me, 'What business of yours is this matter?'" Kruderink recalled in an interview.
But Kruderink was undaunted. He raised Murillo's plight with every Honduran official he encountered.
"I felt that the more I spoke publicly, the more embarrassing it would be to the people who were holding her," he said.
The ambassadors he met, including U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte, expressed interest in the Murillo case and said they would ask about her when they talked with Honduran officials.
Cesar Murillo, Ines Murillo's father, was sure that the more the world knew about his daughter's captivity, the better her chances of being released alive.
He spoke regularly to reporters, human rights investigators, government officials and foreign diplomats. He filed habeas corpus petitions with the Honduran Supreme Court.
"The president of the Supreme Court said he was scared of the army and [that] there was nothing he could do," he said bitterly. "[The judges] told me to look for her in Cuba."
President Roberto Suazo Cordoba told Honduran reporters that Murillo and others listed as disappeared were Communists who had left Honduras to live in Cuba, Moscow or Nicaragua.
Cesar Murillo took his campaign to the United States, traveling twice to speak with congressional aides about his daughter.
He wrote to Honduran Foreign Minister Edgardo Paz Barnica, threatening to expose the activities of Battalion 316 if his daughter was not released alive.
In a letter dated May 25, 1983, he said he had proof that the Honduran military was holding his daughter. He named Honduran officers posted at INDUMIL. He identified an official at the U.S. Embassy -- Michael Dubbs -- as someone who knew where his daughter was being held.
If his daughter was released alive, he wrote: "I promise not to divulge the details of her ordeal and to convince my daughter to live outside Honduras."
A ranking diplomat in the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa at the time confirms that there was a CIA officer named Michael Dubbs stationed there.
The Sun visited Dubbs' home in Indiana. A man who answered the door declined to identify himself or to respond to questions about the Murillo case.
On May 27, 1983 -- 74 days into Murillo's captivity -- her parents purchased a full-page ad in El Tiempo, a prominent Honduran newspaper. The ad was a portrait of Murillo headlined with the words: "Courage, my daughter."
Four days later, Battalion 316 released Murillo and Flores. The prisoners were taken to a public jail and then to a court for arraignment.
"They put Don Jose and me together," Murillo recalled. "I took off his blindfold and I told him, 'I think we have survived.' We were the happiest people in the world."
They made their first public appearance in a courthouse in Tegucigalpa. Murillo wore an old pair of pants and a flowered blouse. Flores was barefoot.
They were met by a crush of Honduran journalists. Murillo hugged her mother.
In charges presented against Murillo in a Honduran criminal court, military officials stated that they had confiscated crude drawings of police posts from her purse. The drawings listed police personnel and types of weapons held there.
In addition, the military presented as evidence books of Marxist literature that allegedly belonged to Murillo and "subversive" poems they said she had written.
Allegations of sabotage
In court documents, the Honduran military charged that Murillo was involved in plots to rob banks in San Pedro Sula and attempts to sabotage telephone communication centers. Flores was charged as her accomplice.
"They had no evidence against him," Murillo said. "He was accused because he was a friend of mine."
Murillo and Flores pleaded not guilty. Both testified about the torture they had endured in the secret jails of Battalion 316.
A doctor who examined Murillo reported to the court that she had sustained some injuries, mostly bruises, but that there was no proof that they had been caused by torture.
"It's so ridiculous," said Murillo, poring over court documents in a restaurant where one interview was conducted. "This was Honduran justice. Most of these writings are not mine."
Murillo and Flores were found guilty of treason and attempts to overthrow the government.
She was sentenced to two years in the Women's Jail in Tegucigalpa, and served 13 months. Flores received the same sentence, which he served in full. In 1986, he fled to Mexico, where he died last year.
Today, at 36, Murillo is usually dressed in bright, youthful skirts and sandals. Her face, though, appears older. Her cheeks are sunken, her eyes twitch and her head jerks slightly when she speaks.
She testified about her ordeal before the Inter-American Court for Human Rights in Costa Rica. In her pursuit of justice for the leaders of Battalion 316, Murillo says, she has put aside the rage she feels about her captivity to interview former rank-and-file members of the battalion.
"It made me sick to my stomach," she said, speaking about interviews she conducted with one former battalion member.
She recently began work as a human rights observer for the United Nations mission in Guatemala. Previously, she worked with the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights of Honduras (CODEH), which is pressing for charges to be brought against military officials involved with Battalion 316.
"Sometimes I wish I could go away and work on a boat in the middle of the ocean," she said. "I speak not for myself, but for those who cannot speak."
[Source: By Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson, The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, 15 June 1995]
DDHH en Honduras
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