Clinton Apologizes for U.S. Role in Guatemala's 'Dirty War'

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President Clinton's apology for U.S. policy in Guatemala may be more than simply another case of Millennial apology fever. Besides promoting goodwill in Central America, the President's comments are an unmistakable word of caution to the U.S. security establishment about covert operations. "For the United States," President Clinton told a town hall meeting in Guatemala Wednesday, "it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake."

The Washington Post reported Thursday that newly declassified U.S. documents show that U.S. officials were aware that Guatemalan security units trained and equipped by Washington engaged in kidnapping, torture and summary execution, claiming thousands of civilian victims during their war against leftist insurgents. The documents unveiled by the National Security Archive also show that the CIA retained close ties to the Guatemalan military during the 1980s while knowing that the military was indiscriminately attacking Ixil Indians on suspicion that they supported guerrillas. By acknowledging and apologizing for Washington's compliance with those activities, Clinton appears to be telling the spooks that the "dirty war" era ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.