A Trap for US Advisers Military Advisers in Places like El Salvador and Peru Are Supposed to Instill Respect for Human Rights - a Task at Odds with Reality

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HOWEVER ominous the events of August in the Soviet Union, they do not, at the moment at least, threaten individual Americans. Individual Americans are threatened, morally and physically, in El Salvador, and now the Bush administration plans to put more American soldiers into an even worse predicament in Peru.

The current personification of a flawed United States policy in El Salvador is US Army Maj. Eric Young, caught in the middle of what is plainly a never-to-be-completed investigation of mass murder in El Salvador because he was ordered by his commander in chief to do two contradictory jobs.

One job was to provide professional advice to the El Salvador Army. You succeed in that job only by gaining the confidence of the people you are seeking to advise. Major Young's other job was to advance the American notion of human rights among the El Salvador military. To do that in a military establishment soaked from top to bottom in the blood of tens of thousands of innocent victims is out of the question.

In the process of trying to do those mutually exclusive jobs, Young apparently learned who planned the murders of six Jesuit priests, their cook, and her daughter, and why. He was bound in conscience to report that, knowing full well that to do so would destroy any value he might have in his job as adviser, the performance of which would determine his future military career.

Now caught up in the crossfire among all sorts of pressure groups seeking to advance or abort what passes for judicial process in El Salvador, Young will be fortunate to survive as a whole human being, let alone continue with a meaningful military career.

Outrage over this sort of thing has been building for years among US Army officers who have been put through the emotional meat grinder in El Salvador, but their one channel to top US leadership was closed off when President Bush fired US Southern commander-in-chief Fred Woerner because General Woerner would not countenance the deaths of hundreds of innocent Panamanians in order to arrest Manuel Noriega.

Most articulate of the spokesmen for the advisers is Col. Lyman C. Duryea, retired two years ago as chief of Latin American studies at the Army War College and former defense attache in El Salvador. Equally concerned were four US Army fellows at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who published a paper on the subject in 1988 and former advisers interviewed as part of the Army's oral history program at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. What is especially striking about this group is that most are West Point graduates, not a group accustomed to criticizing higher authority in any form. …