Harbury v. Deutch – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1997

CCR is representing Jennifer Harbury in a lawsuit charging U.S. Government officials with responsibility  for the death of her Guatemalan husband Efrain Bamaca Velasquez. In the suit, Harbury, a U.S. lawyer, also alleges that the U.S. officials violated her rights by withholding information about her husband’s secret detention and torture, forcing her to undertake life-threatening hunger strikes in an unsuccessful effort to find him.

In an earlier  suit by CCR, the National Security Archives and Harbury sought to obtain information under the Freedom of Information Act pertinent to Bamaca’s disappearance. At that time, Harbury’s husband known by his nomme de guere “Commodante Everado” had been missing for more than three years and reported killed in battle.

The second lawsuit, for $28 million in damages, was filed in march 1996. In the interim, Harbury had learned that U.S. officials had collaborated and participated in the secret detention, brutal torture and extrajudicial execution of her husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez and intentionally deceived her as to her husband’s true circumstances.

Harbury’s confrontation with the military and political establishments of both U.S. and Guatemala began in 1992, when Everado was wounded in battle and then “disappeared.” She has continued this struggle for more than four years.

Harbury’s uncovered reports that a supposed CIA “asset,” Guatemalan Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, was involved in her husband’s interrogation and torture. She learned that the Guatemalan military had lied when it claimed that Everado had died in combat. She learned that U.S. officials covered up the connection between the CIA and Col. Alpirez, and that they had falsely denied knowing anything about what had happened to her husband.

Guatemalan authorities insisted that Everado had been killed in battle but refused to disclose where he had been buried. However, information in early 1993 from an escaped guerilla–who had been captured and tortured by the Guatemalan military–disclosed that Everado had been captured alive and that Col. Alpirez had overseen his torture.

In response, the Guatemalan military produced a body that they claimed was his. Harbury appeared at an exhumation and proved that the corpse shown her could not possibly be that of her husband.

Harbury found that in fact U.S. officials learned six days after her husband’s capture that he was being held by the Guatemalan Army. They later determined that he had been tortured and finally executed, but had been tortured and finally executed, but they kept this information from her. Furthermore, she learned that Col. Alpirez had received $44,000 in 1992, the same year he was observed torturing Everado.

From 1992 to 1995, Harbury engaged in three hunger strikes to obtain information. two of them–for seven days and 32 days–in the highly dangerous atmosphere of Guatemala City, and another in Washington, D.C., across from the White House itself.

Only in March 1995 did a connection become clear between the U.S. intelligence community and the Guatemalan’s military when Rep. Robert Torricelli, Democrat of new Jersey, lambasted the Clinton Administration’s failure to tell Harbury what it knew.

Harbury asserts in her damage suit that the actions of these officials “obstructed” her efforts to take actions on her behalf, “either to save his life or recover his remains.,” and endangered her as well. In addition to keeping her in ignorance, U.S. officials also did not inform the International Committee of the Red Cross or any other appropriate organization once they learned that Everado  had been captured.

Finally, CCR asserts that the “Defendants’ fraudulent statements and omissions were intentional…pursuant to a policy and practice intentionally concealing information tending to show CIA collaboration in the criminal activities of the Guatemalan armed forces.”

In response to the POIA suit, the CIA initially released 200 documents. over the past year, a handful of additional releases support Harbury’s  claim that the government knew about her husband’s capture, torture and death, but refused to tell her despite her life-threatening fasts. Litigations continues over the CIA’s withholding of documents it has classified a secret.

The documents already released showed significant information about the extent of U. S. knowledge about this particular case.as well as about human rights abuses by members of the Guatemalan security forces at the time that the U.S. government was supporting the Guatemalan government.

At press time, the government defendants’ motion to dismiss in Harbury v. Deutch had been fully briefed but was not yet scheduled for argument.

Harbury still does not know where her husband is buried.

On Harbury v. Deutch: Beth Stephens, Jennifer M. Green, Michael Ratner, Margaret Ratner with Jody Kelly of Jenner& Block; Anna Marie Gallagher; and Paul Hoffman

On Harbury v. CIA: Beth Stephens, Margaret Ratner, Michael Ratner and Jennifer M. Green, with James X. Dempsey of the National Security Archive & Robert Loeffler