JUSTICE DEFERRED : The Salvadoran Military & U.S. Policy

By White, Robert E. | Commonweal, December 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

JUSTICE DEFERRED : The Salvadoran Military & U.S. Policy


White, Robert E., Commonweal


On Friday, November 3, in Palm Beach, Florida, two retired Salvadoran military officers, both former defense ministers, General Jose Guillermo Garcia and General Eugenio Vides Casanova, were cleared of any liability in the murder of four American women on December 2, 1980, by Salvadoran national guardsmen. The women were Maryknoll sisters, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke; Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline; and Jean Donovan, a lay missionary.

November 3, 2000, almost twenty years after the four women were murdered, was a day of profound disappointment for the families of the American churchwomen. "I thought the evidence was overwhelming," said William Ford, brother of Ita Ford. The families were represented pro bono by two prominent Florida attorneys, Robert Montgomery and Robert Kerrigan. The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, through its research and persistence, was instrumental in bringing the civil case to trial in federal district court under a 1991 federal law, the Torture Victims Protection Act.

As U.S. ambassador to El Salvador from 1979 to 1981, I was called to testify at the trial. Copies of the telegrams I sent as ambassador during this period were projected onto a large screen to allow the judge and jury to read them. These diplomatic communications, declassified for the trial, described my efforts to persuade Garcia and Vides Casanova to put an end to the military death squads. I told the court that the generals' refusal to root out the worst offenders in the security forces had led directly to the escalation of violence, the deaths of as many as sixty-five thousand civilians, including the American churchwomen, and the intensification of El Salvador's civil war.

In these telegrams, I further described my efforts to impress on Garcia, Vides Casanova, and other high-ranking Salvadoran military that their failure to curb official violence not only brought shame on the Salvadoran military and its partner, the United States, but constituted a serious threat to the stability of the government then led by civilian reformer Jose Napoleon Duarte.

In one telegram, I describe the Alice-in-Wonderland quality of a meeting with Garcia in which I tried to persuade him to cleanse the security forces of their worst offenders. This plea was met with his claim that the military was innocent of any abuses. When I pressed him, Garcia finally admitted that perhaps 1 percent of his troops might be involved in death squads. I then pointed out that with 16,000 men under arms that meant that, at a minimum, 160 uniformed criminals were murdering civilians with total impunity. Despite his admission, Garcia refused to make any commitment to take action against the soldiers.

In a later cable, I wrote, "Garcia admitted that the excesses were grave and said that he had a good idea who was responsible." The telegram goes on to say that Garcia "was sure that there were individual cases of security force participation in death squads." Robert Montgomery, lead counsel for the families of the murdered churchwomen, bore down on these telegrams because they spoke to the issue of command responsibility (the legal doctrine under which the generals had been charged), that is, that the generals knew about the abuses and did nothing to stop them. At the trial, I affirmed that the Salvadoran military had a hierarchical structure and that if the defendants "gave the explicit order to stop the killing, then it would stop." Of course neither Garcia nor Vides Casanova ever gave such an order.

Garcia and Vides Casanova pleaded innocent to the charges, stressing that the Reagan and Bush administrations would not have supported the Salvadoran army had they not been carrying out U.S. policy successfully. Attorney Kurt Klaus, representing Garcia and Vides Casanova, rested the generals' defense on the theory "that these men were doing basically what the U.S. government wanted them to do." It was a telling point.

Immediately following the 1980 U. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

JUSTICE DEFERRED : The Salvadoran Military & U.S. Policy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.