Intelligence Nominee Comes Under Renewed Scrutiny on Human Rights

By SCOTT SHANE

New York Times

February 19, 2005

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 - Human rights advocates repeated longstanding criticisms on Friday of John D. Negroponte, President Bush's nominee as director of national intelligence. They said accusations that he covered up abuses as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980's had a new importance after recent cases of American abuse of detainees.

In Honduras, Mr. Negroponte "looked the other way" when evidence of rights violations came to light, said Reed Brody, counsel to Human Rights Watch.

"Unfortunately," Mr. Brody said, "today the United States is involved in serious human rights crimes committed in the process of collecting intelligence. Is he just going to look the other way again?"

Sandra Coliver, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability, a human rights law center in San Francisco that has aided Honduran torture victims, said the nomination would hurt the United States' image in Central America.

"In Central America," Ms. Coliver said, "Negroponte is indelibly remembered for his role in increasing the amount of U.S. aid to the Honduran military at the very time that the military's role in supporting brutal death squads was becoming abundantly clear. What kind of a message will this appointment send to the people of Central America? That the U.S. is willing to overlook massive human rights atrocities in the name of collecting intelligence in pursuit of U.S. national interests."

Mr. Negroponte, 65, now ambassador to Iraq, is a career diplomat who has worked all over the world in his 40-year career. He has faced repeated scrutiny for his work as envoy to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, when Honduran military units, some trained by the Central Intelligence Agency, carried out kidnappings, torture and killings.

As the first director of national intelligence, Mr. Negroponte would oversee the C.I.A. and the other 14 agencies that are part of the nation's estimated $40 billion spying enterprise. The post is the centerpiece of intelligence reorganization undertaken chiefly because of the failure to warn of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The C.I.A. and military are also under intense scrutiny because of evidence that detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have been tortured in questioning and in a few cases have died in custody. Questions have also been raised about whether the intelligence agency has handed over prisoners to third countries, where they might be tortured.

At confirmation hearings for previous posts, Mr. Negroponte has adamantly denied that he tolerated or covered up any abuses.

He said at a hearing in 2001 that his top priority as envoy to Honduras was "encouraging Honduras's return to civilian democratic rule, including protection of human rights."

Efforts to contact Mr. Negroponte through the State Department were not successful.

He has won easy confirmations in the past, and the Honduras record is not likely to be a major obstacle to his confirmation in the new position.

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was not particularly troubled by Mr. Negroponte's record there.

"People grow and change over 20 years," Mr. Rockefeller said, adding that the panel would conduct a "thorough" review of the nominee.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who pursued the Honduran questions in 2001, when Mr. Negroponte was confirmed as delegate to the United Nations, issued a statement on Thursday praising him and not mentioning Honduras.

Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Intelligence Committee, described Mr. Negroponte in a telephone interview as "a person who has a great deal of credibility." Jack R. Binns, who preceded Mr. Negroponte as ambassador to Honduras, said he opposed the confirmation because he believed that Mr. Negroponte had misled Congress in past testimony and because he might slant intelligence to suit administration policies.

"Based on his performance in Honduras, there's that possibility," said Mr. Binns, who was ambassador from 1980 to 1991 and is now retired and living in Arizona.

Oscar Reyes, whom the Honduran military seized in 1982 and tortured along with his wife, Gloria, said he was dismayed to learn of Mr. Negroponte's nomination.

"He'll say, 'I didn't know,' " said Mr. Reyes, 69, who now publishes a Spanish-language newspaper in Washington. "But the U.S. embassy knew everything that was going on."

Douglas Jehl contributed reporting for this article.