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Dianna Ortiz abandons hunt for persecutors

NCR Staff

Almost seven years to the day since she was abducted, tortured and raped in Guatemala, Ursuline Sr. Dianna Ortiz has decided she will no longer participate "in the criminal investigation or possible prosecution of my perpetrators, if there were to be one."

By her own account, when she was being tortured by her Guatemalan abductors in 1989, they told her no one would ever believe her story. Now she fears that at an official level, it is so.

Feeling "shattered" and complaining of being made to feel the suspect again after an interview with the Department of Justice, Ortiz has faxed friends and supporters a statement saying that she needs to reclaim her life and find avenues to follow that will leave her less "ragged."

She told NCR Nov. 1 that she is not sure what she will do next. "This may be selfish on my part, but I just feel I need some time to care for myself, to rebuild," she said. "I haven't made any decisions."

The details of Ortiz's abduction, of her delivery in a Guatemalan National Police car to the old Polytechnical Academy in Guatemala City, which was used as a clandestine jail, of her 30 hours of being brutalized, of being forced by her torturers to cut another woman with a knife, emerged slowly in successive bouts of testimony since the early 1990s (NCR Mar. 29).

Ortiz has always contended that a man, "Alejandro," who is likely to be a U.S. citizen, supervised her torture by three Guatemalans. Traumatized by the ordeal, Ortiz this year staged a fast and vigil outside the White House to draw attention to her demands for a full accounting and the revelation of "Alejandro's" identity.

A Presidential Intelligence Oversight Board investigation in June released some intelligence documents concerning the Ortiz charges of U.S. funding of "the dirty war" in Guatemala. The report acknowledged that Ortiz had "suffered horrific abuse" but deferred its conclusion until the U.S. Department of Justice concluded its investigation.

Said Ortiz in her Oct. 31 fax, "Friends I had consulted before the DOJ interview had told me it would not be anything like what I experienced (in interviews) in Guatemala." But, said Ortiz, she was terrified to recount to U.S. government officials -- in the excruciating detail they required -- the hell of Nov. 2, 1989.

What it boiled down to, she said, was that she did not have a choice. "If I refused to be interviewed by the DOJ, it would be inferred that a thorough investigation could not be done because of my unwillingness to cooperate. Once again I was put in the position where I had to defend myself."

Ortiz said the interview team, one man and two women, "made the effort to speak the language of a torture survivor and tried approaches to make the interview less reminiscent of my past experiences.

"But before my very eyes," she stated, "history repeated itself. Accusations were made, questions asked that were not sensitive or necessary. I would like to believe that the interview process I went through with the DOJ was not intended to revictimize me but to obtain information on my case. (But) I became suspect. I became a criminal. My life was being investigated, aspects of my life after the torture. This, to me, was an invasion of my privacy, which because of my experience, I hold more dear than others might."

Now, she said, she does not believe the U.S. justice system will ever unveil the identity of her torturers. She said she believes that the revelation of Alejandro's identity "would incriminate or implicate U.S. officials."

She told NCR, "I am still here at the (Guatemalan Human Rights) commission. I don't know if I will leave Washington," she said. "I have some responsibilities with Coalition Missing (an organization of North Americans with relatives and missing in Guatemala) and before I go anywhere I must take care of those responsibilities."

Others, she said, survive just by living one day at a time. For her, she said, it is one minute at a time.

National Catholic Reporter, November 15, 1996