In March 1996, CCR filed suit on behalf of human rights activist Jennifer Harbury, charging U.S. government officials with the responsibility for the death of her Guatemalan husband Efrain Ramaca-Velasquez. the suit also alleges the the U.S. officials violated Harbury’s rights by withholding information about her husband’s secret detention and torture, leading her to undertake life-threatening hunger strikes in an unsuccessful effort to find him. The suit seeks $28 million in damages.
Harbury’s confrontation with the U.S. and Guatemalan military and political establishments began in 1992, when Bamaca, a leader of the Guatemalan guerilla forces known by his nom de guerre, “Commandant Everado” was wounded in battle and then “disappeared.” Guatemalan authorities insisted that Everardo had been killed in battle but refused to disclose where he had been buried. However, information in early 1993 from an escaped guerilla–wyho had been captured and tortured by the Guatemalan military–disclosed that Everardo had been captured alive and that Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, a suspected CIA “asset” had overseen his torture.
Finally, the Guatemalan military produced a body that they claimed was that of Everado. At the exhumation, however, Harbury proved that the corpse could not be possible be that of her husband.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials insisted that they had no information about the whereabouts of harbury’s husband. In fact, she discovered, 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 kept this information from Harbury. Furthermore, she learned that his alleged killer, Col. Alpirez, had received $44,000 from the CIA in 1992, the same year he was observed torturing Everardo.
Harbury asserts in her damage suit that the actions of U.S. officials obstructed her efforts to take actions on his behalf, either to save his life or recover his remains, and endangered her as well.(From 1992-1995, 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.) in addition to withholding information from her, U.S. officials also failed to inform any other international organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, once they learned that Everardo had been captured.
Finally, CCR assets that the defendant’s fraudulent statements and omissions were intentional, “pursuant to a policy and practice of intentionally concealing information tending to show CIA collaboration in the criminal activities of Guatemalan armed forces.”
In an earlier suit, filed on july31, 1995 by CCR, the National Security Archives and the private firm of Morrison and Forrester, Harbury sought to obtain information under the Freedom of information Act pertinent to Bamaca’s disappearance. In response to the suit, the CIA released a handful of documents, some of which supported Harbury’s claim that the government withheld information of her husband’s capture, torture and death, along with the human rights abuses of Guatemalan security forces at the time it was receiving U.S. support. Litigation continues over the CIA’s withholding documents it has classified as secret.
A motion to dismiss by the government is still pending. On July 20, 1998, the district court asked plaintiffs to reformulate their claim in the light of Supreme Court decision that clarified standards for cease against public officials for violations of the Constitution. At press time, a new briefing was scheduled to be completed by the end of August.
Jennifer 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 Maria Gallagher; and Paul Hoffman