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Report Claims Guatemalan Army Did Not Kill American

By Art Pine
Los Angeles Times

The Clinton administration said yesterday that it believes senior Guatemalan army officers ordered the detention and interrogation of American innkeeper Michael DeVine in Guatemala in 1990 but were not involved in his killing, despite allegations to the contrary.

Secret State Department documents declassified yesterday also suggest that Guatemalan Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, who has been widely cited as possible instigator of the slaying, was not in on the decision to kill DeVine but was instrumental in covering it up later.

The administration's conclusions were the latest twist in a 14-month investigation of the death. The killing spawned a scandal that damaged U.S. relations with Guatemala, embarrassed the CIA and prompted President Clinton to order an investigation.

The documents relating to the slayings of DeVine and 17 other U.S. citizens in Guatemala since 1984 were made public by the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act and after pressure from the families of DeVine and other victims.

The disclosures came as an American nun who has said that she was tortured and gang-raped in a clandestine prison in Guatemala, on yesterday released composite sketches of four men she charges were involved and filed suit against the U.S. government for full disclosure in the case.

The nun, Dianna Ortiz, said she was dissatisfied with the scope of documents given to her voluntarily by the State Department. She said they did not disclose the identity of her alleged assailants.

Ortiz, who had been teaching Mayan children to read, said she was abducted at gunpoint in November 1989 and taken to a prison in Guatemala City. There she alleges she was repeatedly raped, burned with cigarettes and lowered into a pit containing human remains and rats.

Michele Arington, one of Ortiz's lawyers, said she was filing suit against the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the departments of State and Defense to obtain more documents about the case.

Ortiz has charged that an American citizen who may have been involved with the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala was present when she was raped.

State Department documents made public yesterday said U.S. Embassy officials in Guatemala considered her account to be a hoax but investigated it anyway for fear that ignoring it would lead to adverse publicity.

However, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns told reporters yesterday that, while the department has no evidence "that would corroborate" her allegation, "we have no reason not to believe her." He said that her charges are being investigated.

The president's Intelligence Oversight Board, which is conducting the inquiry ordered by the White House, still has not made its final report. It is expected to determine whether American officials mishandled the U.S. effort to investigate DeVine's killing.

Devine, a U.S. citizen, was abducted near the entrance to his farm in a remote village in Guatemala in June 1990 by a group of Guatemalan soldiers dressed in civilian clothes. After he was questioned and beaten, his head was severed with a machete.

The incident took on new importance after it was disclosed that the soldiers who allegedly killed DeVine had been members of an elite unit that once had received training and equipment from the CIA for the Guatemalan government's war against guerrillas.

The document on the DeVine killing, dated March 1995, said U.S. officials believe that "senior officials of the Guatemalan army ordered the detention and interrogation of DeVine" in connection with a stealing incident.

It said that despite months of investigation, both by the U.S. government and by investigators working for DeVine's family, the United States has "no evidence" that the army officers either ordered him killed or knew in advance that he would be killed.

But it added that it still is not clear whether the execution order, apparently issued by an army captain, "was an impromptu decision" or "directed from above." And it said that it was "virtually certain" that Alpirez and two other colonels were involved in the cover-up.