Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)
On April 13, in the Religion section, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article from Newhouse News Service writer Julia Lieblich about a US nun who is engaged in a protest/ fast across the street from the White House. Actually, the article spends more time talking about the “concern” that National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and his associates are having in this case.
The headline reads “Administration officials make late-night visits to see protesting nun.” The title alone is enough to lead you to believe that they are on some humanitarian mission. According to the article, Lake has paid three visits to Sister Diana Ortiz who has been camped out since April 2. In fact, the article gives more print space to the supposed empathy of government officials than that of the reasons for Ortiz’s actions.
The Press article simply states that Sister Ortiz “was raped and tortured in Guatemala.” No other specifics are mentioned. We are given no date or any testimony from Sister Diana herself about what happened. It is almost as if rape and torture were incidental in this case. The article mentions former US Ambassador to Guatemala Thomas Strook’s challenge of Ortiz’s story, but no one who supports her case is cited. For as much as the article reflects the agony of the government officials on this case you might expect the writer to give equal time to the agony of Sister Ortiz. Not so. The specifics of her abduction, rape, and torture are quite available, however. You can find full testimony in publications such as Report on Guatemala, the Bulletin of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA, as well as a taped interview on Alternative Radio. Any competent journalist could easily find these sources.
Some of the specifics of her case are as follows. She was abducted on November 2, 1989. Her abductors took her to a warehouse-like building, where Sister Diana recounts that she heard “the despairing screams of people being tortured and I watched helplessly as an innocent person was tortured.” She was then questioned and every time she responded men burned her with cigarettes. In all she has 111 burns on her back from the interrogation. She then says, “I was raped numerous times. After pouring wine over my body they used and abused my body in horrible ways that are too humiliating to describe in detail. Then they lowered me into an open pit packed with human bodies – bodies of children, women, and some men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive – and all swarming with rats.” Had any aspect of this testimony from Sister Ortiz been included in the Grand Rapids Press article would it have changed your impression of this case? I think it probably would have.
None of these serious omissions by the corporate media should surprise us though. If we look at the date of the crimes committed against Sister Diana, Nov. 2, 1989, we can make other conclusions about the self-censorship that the corporate media engages in regularly.
According to Noam Chomsky in Terrorizing the Neighborhood, when this story appeared on the AP wire service on Nov. 6, 1989, none of the major media picked the story up, nor were there Congressional calls for an investigation. Just over a month later and right before the illegal US invasion of Panama, George Bush waxed indignantly about what happened to a US woman in Panama. “If they threaten and brutalize the wife of an American citizen, sexually threatening the lieutenant’s wife while kicking him in the groin over and over again – then….please understand, this president is going to do something about it.” (see Stephen Shalom’s Imperial Alibis, pg. 178-79) So, if a US woman is terrorized in a country that the US military is about to invade it is an outrage, but if a woman is terrorized in a country that systematically murder’s its own people (with US government support) it is not worthy of mention? You decide.
Finally the Press article does make mention that Sister Diana is pushing the Clinton Administration to release all classified documents related to her case. They also cite a catholic priest who believes that Anthony Lake’s interest is more posturing than genuine concern. However, the article does not seriously look at the present efforts by the Guatemalan solidarity community in this country to push the Clinton Administration to release all declassified documents related to Guatemala since the CIA-led coup of 1954. In the most recent issue of Report on Guatemala, Jennifer Harbury states that after receiving some declassified documents it is clear that Anthony Lake and other US government officials were either withholding information from her or deliberately deceiving her in regards to the status of her husband Efrain Bamanca Velasquez, who is now believed to have been killed at the hands of CIA paid military officers in Guatemala. No wonder the corporate media is “missing” the real story, it would not only indict the role of numerous US administrations in grave human rights abuses in Guatemala, it would also be self-indicting since the bulk of the information on cases like Sister Ortiz has been available for decades and has not been reported on.