The army "completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops," the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter "genocide." [Washington Post, Feb. 26, 1999]
Besides carrying out murder and "disappearances," the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. "The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice" by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.
The report added that the "government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations." The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed "acts of genocide" against the Mayans.
"Believing that the ends justified everything, the military and the state security forces blindly pursued the anticommunist struggle, without respect for any legal principles or the most elemental ethical and religious values, and in this way, completely lost any semblance of human morals," said the commission chairman, Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist.
"Within the framework of the counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, in certain regions of the country agents of the Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against groups of the Mayan people," Tomuschat added. [NYT, Feb. 26, 1999]
The report did not single out culpable individuals either in Guatemala or the United States. But the American official most directly responsible for renewing U.S. military aid to Guatemala and encouraging its government during the 1980s was Ronald Reagan.
The major U.S. newspapers covered the truth commission's report though only fleetingly. The New York Times made it the lead story the next day. The Washington Post played it inside on page A19. Both cited the troubling role of the CIA and other U.S. government agencies in the Guatemalan tragedy. But, again, no U.S. official was held accountable by name.
On March 1, 1999, the Washington Post's neoconservative editorial board addressed the findings but did not confront them, except to blame President Carter for having cut off military aid to Guatemala in the 1970s, thus supposedly preventing the United States from curbing Guatemala's horrific human rights conduct.
The editorial argued that the arms embargo removed "what minimal restraint even a feeble American presence supplied." The editorial made no reference to the substantial evidence that Reagan's resumption of military aid in the 1980s made the Guatemalan army more efficient in its slaughter of its enemies, armed and unarmed. With no apparent sense of irony, the Post editorial ended by stating: "We need our own truth commission" -- though there was no follow-up of that idea.
During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala dating back to 1954. "For the United States, 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," Clinton said. [Washington Post, March 11, 1999]
However, back in Washington, there was no interest, let alone determination, to hold anyone accountable for aiding and abetting the butchery. The story of the Guatemalan genocide and the Reagan administration's complicity quickly disappeared into the great American memory hole.
For human rights crimes in the Balkans and in Africa, the United States has demanded international tribunals to arrest and to try violators and their political patrons for war crimes. In Iraq, President George W. Bush celebrated the trial and execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for politically motivated killings.
Even Rios Montt, now 86, after years of evading justice under various amnesties, was finally indicted in Guatemala in 2012 for genocide and crimes against humanity. He is awaiting trial.
Yet, even as Latin America's struggling democracies have made tentative moves toward holding some of their worst human rights abusers accountable, no substantive discussion has occurred in the United States about facing up to the horrendous record of the 1980s and Reagan's guilt.
Rather than a debate about Reagan as a war criminal who assisted genocide, the former president is honored as a conservative icon with his name attached to Washington National Airport and scores of other public sites. MSNBC's Chris Matthews gushes over Reagan as "one of the all-time greats," and Democrats regularly praise Reagan in comparison to modern right-wing Republicans.