Celerino Castillo III, a former special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, says he was at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala talking with several members of the drug agency, the CIA and the State Department a week or so after the November 1989 torture and gang rape of Ursuline Sr. Dianna Ortiz by members of the Guatemalan military.
The representatives of U.S. government agencies, Castillo says, seemed amused by what had happened to Ortiz. Castillo said the men jokingly asked him "if Dianna Ortiz had been good at sex," and thought he might actually be the American whom Ortiz says participated in her rape and torture.
Castillo, who was stationed in Central America and worked frequently in Guatemala from 1985 to 1990, says he is not "Alejandro," the person named by Ortiz as her attacker. Ortiz, shown a photograph of Castillo, agrees that he's not. But Castillo, in his statement and recent interviews with the National Catholic Reporter, says he and other DEA agents have important information about the role the drug agency and the CIA played in crimes in Guatemala.
His statements about the joking embassy officials are included in a five-page July 22, 1996 response to the recent "Guatemala Review" released by the Presidential Intelligence Oversight Board, an investigative committee appointed by President Clinton to make an inquiry into the involvement of U.S. agencies in killings in Guatemala.
Furthermore, the revelations come on the heels of others concerning CIA involvement in Guatemala and the use of training manuals by the U.S. Army's School of the Americas. The manuals appear to condone false imprisonment, torture and summary executions. Graduates from the school have been implicated in human rights atrocities all over Latin America (NCR, April 26 and July 26).
Most of the probes into U.S. involvement in human rights abuses in Guatemala have concentrated on the role of the CIA and U.S. military trainers. Castillo's testimony suggests there is also a need to examine the role played by the DEA, the agency that commands the U.S. war on drugs worldwide.
File numbers, case names
"The level of CIA and DEA involvement in operations that included torture and murder in Guatemala is much higher than the [official] report indicates," Castillo wrote. "With U.S. antinarcotics funding still being funneled to the Guatemalan military, this situation continues." Castillo, who now works as a substitute school teacher in Texas, provided detailed descriptions with case file numbers and case names he says support his allegations.
Castillo was the central figure in an ABC-TV special on the 1990 murder in Guatemala of U.S. innkeeper Michael Devine and the killing of Efrain Bamaca, a guerrilla commander married to Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard educated U.S. lawyer. Contrary to claims from DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine that the agency "has never engaged in any joint narcotics programs with the Guatemalan military," Castillo says he personally "participated in several missions in which the Guatemalan military intelligence (D-2) killed civilians with the knowledge of DEA and CIA agents." Human rights monitors have linked the D-2, the Guatemalan military's intelligence unit formerly called the G-2, to severe human rights abuses.
In his statement, Castillo says he saw "no evidence that the (Intelligence Oversight Board) panel interviewed CIA or DEA agents that worked in Guatemala." If such interviews had occurred, he says he is "sure the panel would have come to very different conclusions." He urged the oversight board to subpoena agents of the DEA and the CIA for testimony. "We have been ordered not to tell the truth, but many of us would do so if required to give sworn testimony."
DEA public information officer Van Quarles confirmed on July 25 that the agency "did have an individual Celerino Castillo who was at one time employed by DEA." Quarles said Castillo's "allegations have been analyzed, but we haven't found anything to validate the charges that he has made."
Citing DEA general file number GFTG-88-9077, titled "Corrupt Official," dated June 9, 1988, Castillo broadens the intelligence profile on CIA contract employee and Guatemalan army Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez. A House Intelligence Committee report says Alpirez ordered the killings of Devine and Bamaca. Alpirez, Castillo said, had been reported to the DEA for dealing drugs while he was on the CIA's payroll. "Colonel Alpirez is also documented as a narcotics trafficker in DEA case file number TG-88-0009 ... submitted by me," Castillo wrote.
NCR provided the case file numbers cited by Castillo to an assistant of Quarles. In an Aug. 22 phone interview, Quarles refused to confirm or deny that the numbers are valid, saying the DEA "would not say anything having to do with any case or any case numbers."
ABC News "Prime Time Live" featured Castillo's version of Devine's death in a Dec. 27, 1995, broadcast produced by Emmy Award winner John Siceloff. In the segment, Bob Stia, a retired supervisor of Castillo, describes the agent as "very prone to exaggeration and he had a vivid imagination." The program contrasts those comments with the "excellent" and "outstanding' ratings Stia gave Castillo while both were still employed by the DEA.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, "Prime Time" obtained internal DEA documents that show that Stia "fought vehemently to shut down any investigation into the killings," according to the program transcript. "The documents show other senior DEA officials uncovered evidence corroborating several of Castillo's charges of torture and murder," the transcript states. According to the ABC program the files quote Stia as saying "the DEA mission in Guatemala had reached an understanding with the military." ABC reported that Stia wrote in the files, "I cannot force them to accept our morals and law as being better than theirs.... If I did, they would not work with me."
Human rights "relative"
The ABC transcript says Stia described human rights as "a relative thing" and drug-trafficking by the Guatemalan military as "confined to a few rogue officers."
The DEA continues to insist that Castillo's allegations are unfounded. But segment producer Siceloff, who reviewed all the files obtained by ABC, told NCR: "What Cele (Castillo) witnessed, reported, denounced or complained about, there is nothing in the historical records we found under FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] that contradicts his story. I am not talking about what he decides to theorize about, which may or not be true, but what he says he witnessed."
One of the incidents Castillo says he witnessed was a cocaine seizure "in which the D-2, the CIA and the DEA worked together" in the Guatemalan towel of Puerto Barrios. Castillo said that during that operation, "the D-2 murdered and raped two Mexican females, tortured and murdered their father and several Colombians." Castillo said he and a CIA agent witnessed the capture of the Mexican females. Castillo told NCR a D-2 agent nicknamed "El Raton," or the Rat, later told him the women were raped and killed.
Castillo said a DEA investigation, detailed in case file number TG-86-0005, concluded "the murders were committed by the D-2 with the knowledge of the CIA and the DEA."
In a telephone interview with NCR from McAllen, Texas, Castillo said DEA officials "can conduct character assassination against me, but they need to look in those files." He said he decided to release case file numbers after he saw the Intelligence Oversight Board report on abuses in Guatemala. "I was very upset. I decided to go ahead and respond."
Castillo, author of an expose on drugs and the contra war called Powderburns, said "the U.S. Embassy was never out of the loop of what was occurring in Guatemala." He said the attitude of higher-ups was, "This is the way things happen in Third World countries. Don't worry about it." Anna Gallagher, a lawyer who is representing Ortiz, said she believes Castillo is "a good source," although she said he does not appear to have extensive information about the Ortiz case.
Anne Manuel, deputy director for the Washington-based Human Rights Watch/Americas, said the Clinton administration should investigate Castillo's claims. "Any allegations from a former U.S. government agent about that kind of abuse, with detail, should certainly be investigated ... in a transparent way and the results should be made public," she said. "It would be very convenient to do it now that the administration has so many studies under way."
Coletta Youngers, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America, agreed. "In Bolivia, there have been allegations of direct DEA involvement in torture that the DEA has refused to acknowledge by investigating. We are now hearing the same sorts of allegations in Guatemala. That could point to a disturbing trend that merits oversight," Youngers said.
Youngers said the Reform and Oversight Committees of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate should hold hearings to initiate an investigation. Additionally, Youngers, who has followed U.S. narcotics and human rights policy in Latin America for 12 years, said the Clinton administration should "initiate an internal review of these widespread and credible allegations of the DEA's actions."
Sept. 6, 1996
National Catholic Reporter