The following is the information as a testimony given at a Congressional Briefing on June 24th at 2:00PM. Dianna discloses information about a choice she was forced to make as a result of her torture. She wants to make certain that you read her direct testimony as she presented it.
Sister Dianna Ortiz
June 25, 1998
Thank you all for coming. As a survivor of torture, I want to urge you to support declassification of United States government documents that shed light on human rights abuses. Simply by declassifying documents, our government can save lives. Survivors of human rights violations need to know as much as possible about who committed the atrocities against them. With this information, justice is possible, and only justice can lay the foundation for reconciliation, stability, and peace. Guatemala and Honduras are two countries that would benefit immeasurably from full declassification. The sticking point in these instances seems to be that the US has supported the abusers.
Take my case, for example. In 1989, while I was working as a missionary in Guatemala, I was abducted and brutally tortured by Guatemalan security agents. My back was burned over 100 times with cigarettes. I was gang-raped repeatedly. I was beaten, and I was tortured psychologically, as well--I was lowered into a pit where injured women, children, and men writhed and moaned, and the dead decayed, under swarms of rats. Finally, I was forced to stab another human being.
Throughout the ordeal, my Guatemalan torturers said that if I did not cooperate, they would have to communicate with Alejandro. My last few minutes in detention, I met Alejandro, whom the torturers referred to as their boss. He was tall and fair skinned and spoke halting Spanish, with a thick American accent. His English was American, flawless, unaccented. When I asked him if he was an American, his answer was evasive: "Why do you want to know?"
He told me to get into his jeep and said he would take me to a friend of his at the United States embassy, who would help me leave the country. During the ride, he enjoined me to forgive my torturers and said if I didn't, there would be consequences for me. He reminded me that my torturers had made videotapes and taken photos of the parts of the torture I was most ashamed of.. He said if I didn't forgive my torturers, he would have no choice but to release those photos and tapes to the press. At that point, I jumped out of the jeep and ran.
For the last nine years, I have tried to stop running. I have tried to face the torturers head on and demand answers, demand justice. Instead of "forgiving" my torturers, I filed suit against the Guatemalan government and called for an investigation. Like so many investigations in Guatemala, it led nowhere. Guatemalan and US officials alike said in public and in private that I was a lesbian who had never been tortured but had sneaked out for a tryst. The 111 cigarette burns on my back were the result of kinky sex.
Two years ago, I held a five-week vigil before the White House, asking for the declassification of all US government documents related to human rights abuses in Guatemala since 1954, including documents on my own case. I asked to know the identity of Alejandro. The Justice Department had begun an investigation in August 1995, and the Intelligence Oversight Board had been investigating my case for more than a year, but I still had no answers. Finally, after weeks of fasting and camping day and night before the White House, a number of State Department documents were released to me. The following year, various FBI documents were declassified, but none of these documents contained anything about the identities of my torturers or of their boss, Alejandro.
Efforts to obtain information through US government investigations also led nowhere. The Department of Justice interviewed me for more than forty hours, during which time DOJ attorneys accused me of lying. They interrogated my friends and family members and generally made it clear that I was the culprit, I was the one being investigated, not the US government officials who might have acted wrongly in my case. Ultimately, the investigators seemed unable to comprehend the effects on a torture survivor of testifying in intricate detail for hours on end. Extremely dangerous and painful flashbacks were the consequence in my case. A torture survivor should never be asked to re-enter the torture chamber, to relive the brutal abuse. After I had given the great majority of my testimony, I felt compelled to withdrew from direct participation in the DOJ investigation. The investigators had the sketches I had made with the help of a professional forensic artist, delineating the characteristics of each torturer, including Alejandro, and the investigators had my testimony, in detail. The responsibility for finding answers lay with them.
Because I could no longer subject myself to the retraumatization brought on by the investigators' questions and manner, the DOJ closed my case. Exactly what the DOJ's final conclusions were, I do not know. I do know that as a result of the investigation, the DOJ came up with a 200+page report, which is classified. The Department of Justice told me the report was classified to protect sources and methods and to protect my own privacy. Dan Seikely, who was in charge of the Department of Justice investigation, said only three people would be able to see the report: Attorney General Janet Reno, the deputy attorney general, and himself. Only four copies of the report existed, he said, and they would be kept under lock and key.
In recent months, however, it has become clear to me that a number other people have read the report. A government official recently told me that he had seen the report and added that officials in the State Department also had seen it, as had Thomas Stroock, the US ambassador to Guatemala at the time I was abducted. I can't help but wonder how my government intends to protect my privacy by releasing the report to such individuals. It was under Stroock's command that an embassy staff member told a visiting religious delegation--"I'm tired of all these lesbian nuns coming down to Guatemala." It was Stroock who said, a week after I was abducted, before any embassy member had interviewed me, "Her story as told is not accurate." It was Stroock who told the State Department that my motives were questionable, that I had perhaps staged my own abduction to secure a cut-off of US aid to the Guatemalan army. Yet it is Stroock to whom the US government gives the report--a report so private that even I cannot see it.
After he had read the DOJ report, Stroock spoke to a journalist, who in turn called me. Stroock was informing the press of his access to the report. In spite his questionable right to see it, he was making no secret of the privileges he enjoyed. There are things in the report that I have kept secret, that I have been ashamed of--things that I didn't tell DOJ investigators but that my friends revealed as they were being interrogated--and I have lived under this tacit blackmail: If I push for more answers in my case, or if I even file a Freedom of Information Act request to get the DOJ report declassified, the secret information the investigators have will be leaked.
Instead of having that information leaked, let me simply tell you: I got pregnant as a result of the multiple gang rapes by my torturers, and unable to carry within me what they had engendered, what I could view only as a monster, the product of the men who had raped me, I turned to someone for assistance and I destroyed that life. Am I proud of this decision? No. But if I had to make the decision again, I believe I would again decide as I did eight years ago.
I had little choice. My survival was so precarious at that time that to have to grow within me what the torturers had left me would have killed me. I tell you this simply to free myself so that I can proceed to uncover the truth. Today, I am filing a FOIA to demand the DOJ report on my case. After such anguish that the DOJ interviews caused me, I have the right to know what was learned in my case, what conclusions were reached and why. I demand access to the report, the same access that members of the State Department, Thomas Stroock, and members of the Intelligence Oversight Board have had, in spite of Seikely's guarantee of confidentiality.
I want to be able to evaluate the thoroughness of the investigation so that I can make informed decisions about what step to take next. My torturers were never brought to justice. It is possible that, individually, they will never be identified or apprehended. And in some senses, I would like to resign myself to this fact and move on. I have a responsibility, however, to the people of Guatemala and to the people of the world, a responsibility to insist on accountability where accountability is possible. If the US government was involved in my torture in Guatemala, in what other countries of the world are torturers receiving orders from Americans? We have to know what the United States has done and where. For our own peace of mind as US citizens and for the good of the citizens of the world, we need the files released. If the US has done nothing wrong, then we can all rest easy. If the US is culpable, we most know this and expose this and take steps to ensure that our government never again collaborates with or hires torturers, in any place, for any reason.
STATEMENT FROM THE COMMISSION:
Sister Dianna Ortiz joined the staff of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA in 1994. At that time, we were appalled at the brutality she had suffered, amazed at the courage which she demonstrated, disturbed by the treatment she received from her own government and honored that she joined the staff.
After the statement presented in Congress yesterday the Commission remains appalled by Sister Dianna's torture and revictimization, continually amazed by her great courage, profoundly angered at the role played by the United States government and more honored than ever that she is a part of our staff.
We continue to ask our own government:
WHO IS ALEJANDRO?
WHO WERE THE TORTURERS?
Kit Gage President of the Board Staff: Harold Nelson Freddie Schrider Cynthia Smith Maria Whyte Alice Zachmann