The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women were m

The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women were m

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:08 am

The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
by Raymond Bonner
February 11, 2016

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On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.

Two days later, White and a crowd of reporters gathered as the bodies of the four Americans were pulled by ropes from a shallow grave near the airport. The black-and-white photos snapped that day document a grisly crime. The women were dressed in ordinary clothes—slacks and blouses. Investigators would conclude that all had been sexually assaulted before they were dispatched with execution-style gunshots to the head. White, grim-faced and tieless in the heat, knew immediately who was behind the crime. This time, he vowed, the Salvadoran government would not get away with murder, even if it cost him his career.

In the years since, much has come to light about this pivotal event in the history of U.S. interventions in Central America. But the full story of how one of the most junior officers in the U.S. embassy in San Salvador tracked down the killers has never been told. It is the tale of an improbable bond between a Salvadoran soldier with a guilty conscience and a young American diplomat with a moral conscience. Different as they were, both men shared a willingness to risk their lives in the name of justice.

* * *

In November of 1980, just weeks before the churchwomen were abducted, H. Carl Gettinger was sitting at his desk in the U.S. embassy when the phone rang. On the line was Colonel Eldon Cummings, the commander of the U.S. military group in El Salvador, who said there was a lieutenant from the Salvadoran National Guard in his office who could tell Gettinger about the harsh tactics of the guerrillas. The soldier was well-placed; El Salvador’s National Guard was an essential part of the country’s internal security apparatus. It operated as “a kind of landlords’ militia in the countryside,’’ as White wrote in a prescient, 1980 cable that analyzed the forces that would fuel the country’s civil war.

Gettinger, then 26 years old, was considered something of a liberal, in part because, like White, he supported the pro-human rights approach of President Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan’s predecessor. Adding to his reputation as a “proto-communist,” as Gettinger mockingly described himself, was that he had a beard and was often incorrectly assumed to be Jewish (he was called “Getzinger” when he first arrived). “I looked like a lefty rabbi,” Gettinger told me.

Gettinger informed Cummings that he did not need to hear more about the cruelty of the guerrilla forces. “I already know that,” he said. But Gettinger viewed his job as talking to everyone, and he had a knack for putting people at ease. His mother, who was Mexican, had taught him, Hablando se entiende la gente (“By talking, people understand each other”). He was born in Calexico, California, and spent many youthful days with his cousins, aunts, and uncles across the border in Mexicali, where his mother was born. Growing up in San Diego, Carl lost himself in National Geographic magazines and would dream about going to exotic lands. One day, when he was about 14, Carl asked his father what he should do with his life. “Try the Foreign Service,” his father said, without looking up from his newspaper.

Gettinger’s first posting had been in Chile, where he was assigned to the consular section. He quickly grew bored handling visa requests, and used his fluency in Spanish to moonlight for the embassy’s political section. When the State Department asked for volunteers to work in El Salvador, he didn’t hesitate. It was the place for a young diplomat to make his mark. In neighboring Nicaragua, the Marxist Sandinistas had come to power, and Washington was worried that El Salvador would be the next domino to fall. Gettinger arrived in the first months of a decade-long civil war that would be marked by peasant massacres and the loss of some 75,000 civilian lives, most killed by government forces.

Cummings walked the Salvadoran lieutenant, who was dressed in civilian clothes, over to Gettinger’s office, introduced him, and left. The lieutenant, whom Gettinger described as “mean and low-brow with the flattened face of a boxer,” began by saying that the guerrillas had killed both his father and a brother, and that he was playing a role in the dirty war. On one occasion, he said, soldiers under his command had picked up three “kids” who were suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers. After briefly interrogating them, the lieutenant thought they should be released, but a sergeant told him they were “unreformed.” The lieutenant ordered them executed. He had also killed several men who he thought might pose a threat to his own life. “He seemed to have a lot that he wanted to get off his chest,” Gettinger recalled.

But the diplomat was not prepared for what was to come. “It was the single most ironic twist in my 31 and something-year career,” Gettinger told me. (He retired from the Foreign Service in 2009 after several years in Japan and tours in Pakistan and Iraq—a decision he described as “wrenching” since the service “had been my whole life.”)

After expressing his distaste for the left, the lieutenant lashed out with equal contempt for El Salvador’s right. The lieutenant, who was born into a lower-class family, said the country’s oligarchs were using the military to do their dirty work. Soldiers should fight to defeat communism, not to enrich powerful landlords, he said.

“He was the most valuable of contacts, a bad man with a conscience and the means to get information.”


Gettinger banged out a cable recounting his hour-long conversation with the lieutenant, who was unofficially dubbed “Killer’’ around the embassy. The message was stamped NODIS [no distribution], a higher classification level than SECRET, and only a limited number of copies were made. Gettinger described the lieutenant as “badly educated’’ and “a savage individual who feels victimized both by the left and by the GN [National Guard] hierarchy.’’ In cables to Washington about the information it was learning, the embassy tended to refer to Gettinger as “the officer” and the lieutenant as “the source.’’ (In 1993 and 1994, shortly after the end of El Salvador’s civil war, the Clinton administration released thousands of previously classified documents pertaining to human-rights abuses during the conflict.)

In subsequent cables, the embassy told Washington that the “source” had been “deep inside extreme right wing fringe group activities” and “closely associated with rightists such as Major Roberto D’Aubuisson,’’ the notorious and charismatic right-wing leader. The lieutenant said that he had bombed a Catholic radio station and the Jesuit-run Central American University on orders from D’Aubuisson’s aides. (In the 1970s and 80s, as many priests and nuns in Latin America embraced the doctrine of “liberation theology,” which focused on the poor and oppressed, the rich and powerful came to view the Church as an enemy.) But he said that he had grown disenchanted as D’Aubuisson and his followers morphed into gunrunners and smugglers, motivated as much by money as political ideology.

The lieutenant told Gettinger that D’Aubuisson had been an architect of the assassination of the revered Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered inside a church while saying Mass in March 1980. A couple days before the shooting, the lieutenant said, he had attended a meeting chaired by D’Aubuisson at which soldiers drew lots for the chance to kill the archbishop. There had long been rumors of D’Aubuisson’s involvement in the assassination, but this was the first concrete evidence the Americans had. (No one has ever been prosecuted for the murder. In 2015, Pope Francis declared that Romero had died a martyr and would be beatified, the final step before sainthood. D’Aubuisson died in 1992, at the age of 48, of throat cancer.)

Two weeks after Gettinger first met the lieutenant, on December 2, 1980, the Maryknoll nuns Maura Clarke, 49, and Ita Ford, 40, were returning from a Maryknoll conference in Nicaragua, where left-wing guerrillas had recently toppled President Anastasio Somoza and his American-backed dictatorship. They were met at the airport shortly after 6 o’clock in the evening by the two women who had joined White over dinner the previous evening: Dorothy Kazel, 41, and Jean Donovan, 27, a lay missionary who was engaged to be married.

The next day, the burned-out shell of their white Toyota minivan was found about five miles from the airport. On December 4, the vicar of San Vicente called the U.S. embassy to report that the bodies of the four women had been discovered near the airport. When White heard this, he rushed to the scene.

“I watched as the bodies were being pulled out of the grave,” he recalled many years later. He asked the town clerk what had happened. “He was surprisingly candid,” White said. The clerk told the American ambassador that death squads used the area as a dumping ground, that the villagers had heard screams the night before, and that “it was the military who had done it.”

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A judicial employee leafs through documents related to the 1980 murders of Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador. (Luis Romero / AP)

The Reagan administration did not want to hear that the Salvadoran army had killed the churchwomen. Soon after the incident, one of Reagan’s top foreign-policy advisors, Jeane Kirkpatrick, told a reporter for The Tampa Tribune, “The nuns were not just nuns. The nuns were also political activists.” She didn’t stop there: “They were political activists on behalf of the Frente”—the leftist political coalition formed by five guerrilla groups. Asked if she thought the government had been involved, Kirkpatrick said, “The answer is unequivocal. No, I don’t think the government was responsible.” Kirkpatrick, who became Reagan’s United Nations ambassador, was a principal architect of the administration’s policy in El Salvador and Central America. She argued that the United States should support “authoritarian” regimes as long as they were pro-American. (Kirkpatrick died in 2006.)

Gettinger did not share Kirkpatrick’s foreign-policy views and was sickened by the murders. He had met two of the women, Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, at the ambassador’s residence a week or two before they were killed. “Even to this day, the touch of their hands is something that I remember, value, memorialize,” he told me recently. Or, as he put it years after the episode in an unpublished article, which he provided me: “Roman torturers of the early Church martyrs could hardly have come up with a crueler or more humiliating end for these four disciples of Christ.”

When Gettinger returned from his Christmas leave, he realized that there was no serious investigation into the killings—and that there was never likely to be one. He would do his own. He turned to “Killer,” the National Guard lieutenant. “He was the most valuable of contacts, a bad man with a conscience and the means to get information,” Gettinger said.

Within the embassy, Gettinger’s relationship with the lieutenant was carefully guarded. But those colleagues who did know about it, even if vaguely, were astonished at what Gettinger was able to get from him and would ask jokingly if Gettinger had pictures of the officer in compromising situations. The CIA typically uses bribes and blackmail to recruit sources. Gettinger did neither, and he was never quite certain why the lieutenant came to confess so much. “I think we hit it off because I treated him with dignity and respect,” Gettinger told me.

Carol Doerflein, the public-affairs officer in the embassy at the time, had a broader and deeper explanation. “It was his demeanor and his looks,” she said of Gettinger. He wasn’t some six-foot-tall, swaggering blond American. He was short—5’4”—and half-Mexican. “He’s quiet, unassuming, non-threatening, and spoke perfect Spanish,” she added.

“You’re helping us beat back these guerrillas who killed my father and brother. And what do we do? We kill your women.”


Gettinger assiduously courted the lieutenant, on one occasion taking him for drinks at La Bonanza, a popular steak house in an upscale neighborhood of the capital. “Don’t ever take me there again,” the lieutenant said angrily as they were leaving. It was a hangout for the wealthy, and the lieutenant identified with the poor. It also wasn’t a good idea for him to be seen in public with an American diplomat. After that, Gettinger invited the lieutenant to his home, which was on the edge of San Salvador’s volcano. The lieutenant liked his scotch—“drank it by the glassfuls,” Gettinger said—and Gettinger always kept pouring.

One evening, Gettinger asked the lieutenant if he would find the names of the soldiers who had killed the churchwomen. The lieutenant told Gettinger to go to hell. It was one thing to inform on D’Aubuisson, but he was now being asked to betray his fellow soldiers. “I don’t rat on my own people,” he said. Eventually, Gettinger persuaded him. The lieutenant said, in effect: “You’re helping us beat back these guerrillas who killed my father and brother. And what do we do? We kill your women.”

* * *

When Ambassador White went to Washington for Reagan’s inaugural, he was summoned to the State Department by the new secretary of state, Alexander Haig, a retired four-star general. Haig told White that he wanted him to send a cable when he got back to El Salvador saying that the Salvadoran government was making progress in its investigation of the murders. “Well, Mr. Secretary,’’ White replied, “that would not be possible because the Salvadoran military killed those women, and the idea that they’re going to investigate in a serious way their own crimes is simply an illusion.”

White recalled that confrontation when I interviewed him in April of 2014 for Retro Report. He still looked every inch the distinguished diplomat, dressed in a sport coat and tie, and his gravelly baritone voice still had a trace of his New England roots; his mind was as sharp as three decades earlier. He had not yet been diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him in January of 2015.

“Later, I got a call from one of Haig’s aides, saying that the secretary is anxiously awaiting my telegram that would affirm that the Salvadorans were conducting a serious investigation into who was responsible for the death of the nuns,” White told me. He said he couldn’t and wouldn’t. The aide replied, “All you’re doing, Bob, is creating problems for all of us.”

A State Department cable released years later confirms White’s story. “I will have no part of any cover-up,” White wrote to Washington in January of 1981. “All the evidence we have, and it has been reported fully, is that the Salvadoran government has made no serious effort to investigate the killings of the murdered American churchwomen.” Haig was furious. He removed White as ambassador and forced him out of the Foreign Service—a rare action against a career diplomat.

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Salvadoran troopers rest on the porch of a deserted farm house between Suchitoto and San José Guayabal, El Salvador, in March 1981. (Pat Hamilton / AP)

Several weeks later, in mid-March, Haig sought to absolve the Salvadoran military. “Perhaps the vehicle that the nuns were riding in may have tried to run a roadblock ... and there’d been an exchange of fire,” he said during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (Haig died in 2010.)

White’s dismissal did not slow down Gettinger’s personal quest to identify the killers. On April 10, the lieutenant called him to say he had the information Gettinger wanted. The lieutenant said he couldn’t tell him over the phone—that Gettinger would have to come to him. He was stationed at the time in San Vicente, which is only some 25 miles from San Salvador. But travel on the roads was dangerous for anyone, more so for American diplomats; the hills were crawling with guerrillas, the roads owned by the government’s death squads. J. Mark Dion, the number two in the embassy and another diplomat willing to think and act outside the traditionally cautious diplomatic box, signed off on the trip. If it had gone badly, Dion and Gettinger might both have paid with their careers, and Gettinger with his life.

Dion gave Gettinger his bulletproof car, along with a driver and security guard. On Palm Sunday, Gettinger set off. The lieutenant sent his own security team to meet them partway and guide them to the base. Gettinger was uneasy when “Killer’s” security turned up—men in civilian clothes with bandanas and bandoliers, riding in a pickup truck. A classic death squad.

At the base, the lieutenant took Gettinger to his cubbyhole and whispered for fear of being overheard by soldiers in the barracks. He scrawled a name on a piece of newspaper—“Colindres Aléman”—and handed it to Gettinger. “That’s the guy you want.” Sub-Sergeant Luis Antonio Colindres Aléman, he said, was the leader of the operation involving the churchwomen. It was an extraordinary piece of intelligence, and there would be more.

Gettinger rushed back to San Salvador. The next morning, he and Dion went to see the charge d’affaires, Frederic Chapin, at his residence. Chapin had been sent to fill in as ambassador after White’s dismissal. As Chapin dug into his bacon and eggs, Gettinger, who hadn’t eaten much in the last 24 hours, wished his boss would offer him something to eat; he didn’t. Though tired and excited, Gettinger dispassionately related what he had learned. The embassy sent a highly classified cable to Washington that named Colindres Aléman.

“Take this down,” he said, and then whispered two names. “I am now scared.”


The lieutenant’s disclosure rocketed to the senior levels of the Reagan administration, at a time when human-rights groups and their allies in Congress were demanding that El Salvador prosecute the murderers as a condition for further U.S. military aid. The American embassy notified El Salvador’s president, José Napoleón Duarte, “that it might be necessary to request a meeting with him on short notice later in Holy Week.”

Gettinger had hoped to get additional names of those involved before that meeting, but he heard nothing more from the lieutenant. And so on April 21, Chapin sat down with Duarte and handed him a slip of paper with Colindres Aléman’s name on it. He told the president that this soldier had been the sergeant in charge of the National Guard detail at the airport on the night the women were murdered. Then, diplomatically but pointedly, Chapin noted that Colindres Aléman’s fingerprints had not been turned over to the FBI forensic team that had been sent from Washington to investigate the case. He said the source of his information was highly credible—without identifying him—but was unlikely to contact the embassy again.

Chapin had underestimated Gettinger. Three days later, on a Friday evening, Gettinger got another call from the lieutenant. “Take this down,” he said, and then whispered two names. He announced that he would come to San Salvador on Monday, and asked Gettinger not to take any action until then. “I am now scared,” he said, and hung up. The embassy fired off a cable to Washington: “We expect to have on Monday a complete list of the six Guardsmen at the airport checkpoint on the night of December 2. We may have, in addition, specifics about the events of the night.”

Acting on his own initiative, without telling the ambassador or anyone in the embassy, Gettinger had given the lieutenant a microcassette tape recorder and asked him to surreptitiously record a conversation with Colindres Aléman. When he showed up at Gettinger’s house on Monday evening, the lieutenant proudly handed Gettinger the tape. He had spent an hour riding around in a military vehicle with Colindres Aléman.

Gettinger wanted to start transcribing the tape immediately; the lieutenant wanted to drink whiskey to celebrate that he had had the smarts and machismo to get the recording. The lieutenant eventually left, and Gettinger spent the night working on the tape, going over and over some sections. The men’s words were sometimes hard to hear over the grinding of gears. But enough was clear, and it was incriminating.

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The five accused former National Guardsmen sit beside nuns of the Maryknoll order at court in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, in 1984. (Luis Romero / AP)

Extreme measures were taken to keep the tape from ever becoming public. It was put in a safe in the embassy “where it sat and from where it was roused infrequently,” Gettinger noted in a memorandum to the State Department’s legal officer in 1983. It was never mentioned in cables between the embassy and Washington. (The transcription, and Gettinger’s accompanying memorandum, were declassified and released in 1998.)

The lieutenant and Colindres Aléman had known each other for many years, and he told Colindres Aléman that he came as a friend.

“I am not going to allow them to fuck you. … You can be in deep shit because the Command can take you down if they’re put in a bind,” he said, adding that he would help Colindres Aléman leave the country “if I see any shit go your way. I will even give you my car, gas. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

“Yes,” Colindres Aléman said.

“I have known you since you were a kid,” the lieutenant said at one point. “I remember you were disciplined, and today you were the first one ready for the operation. One sees all that shit. And I know you have done it for a special cause. It’s everyone’s cause and one day they’ll still want to fuck you. I know so. I am telling you Colindres. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, yes, thank you lieutenant,” Colindres Aléman replied.

Colindres Aléman told the lieutenant that five other soldiers were involved in the operation, and gave him their names. (It was discovered later that the men, wearing civilian attire, had maneuvered traffic at a checkpoint and then captured the women there.) He admitted to murdering the women in a remote area, but did not mention raping them. The women had $48 on them, Colindres Aléman told the lieutenant. He had kept $12.

Colindres Aléman went into considerable detail about how Major Lizandro Zepeda Velasco, the National Guard’s investigating officer, had sought to cover up the crime. Colindres Aléman said he had admitted his responsibility to Zepeda, who took statements from some of the men indicating that they knew nothing about the murders and gave them new rifles. The rifles used in the crime were then kept in a secret location.

No one could recall a Salvadoran soldier being prosecuted for a human-rights abuse.


Armed with this evidence, Chapin went back to President Duarte; this time, he took the legal attaché for Central America, FBI Special Agent Stanley Pimentel, with him. They handed Duarte a three-by-five card with the names of the soldiers on it. Five months after the crime, the president of El Salvador still did not know who had committed the murders, and Duarte asked Chapin how the Americans had obtained the names. “We just indicated that a reliable source had provided the names to us,” Pimentel recounted in an interview for the Oral Histories Project of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI.

Pimentel had grown up on a small dairy farm in Northern California and had once thought he’d become a priest. He was appalled by this “heinous crime,” and became as determined as Gettinger to see the perpetrators held to account, even if doing so ran counter to the prevailing views in Washington. “The Ambassador and I informed Duarte that we would expect some action be taken by the National Guard of El Salvador to detain these six individuals,” Pimentel said.

The game was over. The day after Chapin gave the names to Duarte, Defense Minister José Guillermo García telephoned the embassy chief. The six individuals identified by the lieutenant had been arrested. Their fingerprints would be sent to the FBI. The U.S. embassy demanded access to their weapons, and Pimentel and an embassy security officer confronted Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, the head of the National Guard. They told him that the embassy had learned through an unnamed source that he had ordered the weapons be switched. Vides Casanova was “absolutely chagrined that we had caught him in this lie, in this action, and he became of course very irate,” Pimentel recalled. (García and Vides Casanova managed to emigrate to the United States in the late 1980s. The Obama administration brought deportation proceedings against them, and immigration judges found in separate hearings that each man had “assisted or otherwise participated in” attempts to cover up the killing of the churchwomen. Both men have since been deported to El Salvador.)

In May of 1984, Colindres Aléman and four other Guardsmen went on trial (charges had been dropped against the sixth man after further investigation). It was an extraordinary event. No one could recall a Salvadoran soldier being prosecuted for a human-rights abuse. The trial, held in a ramshackle courtroom in Zacatecoluca, not far from where the women had been murdered, lasted some 19 hours, over one day. Villagers peered through open windows to watch the proceedings. In his closing argument, after being on his feet for hours, the prosecutor grew emotional. The women had come to help Salvadorans, he said, only to be savagely murdered; too many people had been killed with impunity in the country, and by finding these soldiers guilty, maybe the jurors would save other lives. Then, as he approached the end of his argument, his voice rising even more, he reached over to a table and picked up four pictures that had been lying face down. They were photographs of the four women, smiling beatifically. The prosecutor flourished two photos in each hand and showed them directly to the accused. Four of the defendants held their heads in their hands, refusing to look. Colindres Aléman “sat staring straight ahead, motionless and stony,” Gettinger recalled.

The National Guard lieutenant, the source of the information that had led to the men being on trial, “was nowhere near the place,” Gettinger said. Nor was the tape of the source’s interview introduced into evidence. Gettinger understood that without the tape, the outcome of the trial was in doubt. But he had argued strongly against its being used. “You said you would never say it was me,” the source had reminded him before the trial. And Gettinger knew that introducing the tape would mean death for the lieutenant.

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A memorial service to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the murders of the four American churchwomen in the town of Santiago Nonualco, El Salvador, in December 2015 (Jose Zabezas / Reuters)

The jury—two women and three men—was sent out to deliberate before midnight. Hours passed. Rain beat down on the courtroom roof. It was 4 a.m. when the jury returned. Guilty on all counts. “It was all I could do to not jump up on my chair, pump the air with my fist, and say ‘YES,’” Gettinger recalled. He was by then working on the El Salvador desk at the State Department in Washington, and had returned for the trial. Tears poured down his face. (The men were sentenced to 30 years in prison but released in the late 1990s, when the Salvadoran government needed prison space for young men incarcerated as gang warfare beset the country.) The day after the trial, Congress increased military aid to El Salvador.

A handful of insiders knew that the trial would never have occurred were it not for Carl Gettinger. “It was through his persistent efforts” that the names of the perpetrators were obtained, wrote Pimentel, the FBI agent, when he recommended that Gettinger be honored by the FBI. “He did this knowing full well that inquiries of this nature could very well bring about physical harm to his person.” FBI Director William Webster agreed. “It is doubtful this matter would have been resolved so quickly without your aggressive pursuit and your personal interest in seeing justice served,” Webster wrote Gettinger in June of 1981. Gettinger couldn’t talk about the honor. Pimentel’s recommendation and Webster’s letter were classified secret. They have since been declassified and released, but the identity of Gettinger’s source—the National Guard lieutenant—remains a secret to this day.

Gettinger believes the lieutenant was killed in the early 1990s, by which point he had left the military and was operating a bus service. In 1998, an American diplomat relayed the story to Gettinger: One day, a bus the former officer was driving was stopped on the highway, whether by soldiers or guerrillas is unclear. “Killer” wasn’t one to go down without a fight, and he came out guns blazing. He lost.

The exceptional secrecy surrounding Gettinger’s work was evident when he received one of the State Department’s highest honors, the W. Averell Harriman Award for “creative dissent,” in the fall of 1982 during a public ceremony in the department’s auditorium. In presenting the certificate, Harriman, one of the “wise men” of American foreign policy, commended Gettinger for having “argued his conclusions whatever the potential risk to his own career.” Harriman offered no details about how Gettinger had earned the honor, only that it involved American citizens. The handful of officials who knew the story smiled; nearly everyone else in the audience was left wondering what highly classified issue could have prompted “creative dissent’’ by such a junior officer.

This article appears courtesy of ProPublica and has been adapted from Raymond Bonner’s Weakness and Deceit: America and El Salvador’s Dirty War, which is being republished with a new prologue and epilogue.
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Re: The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women we

Postby admin » Tue May 30, 2017 2:41 am

Salvador Full Circle
by Raymond Bonner
Special to the New York Times
May 28, 1982

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


SAN SALVADOR, May 27— With the annulment or suspension of most of the land redistribution effort and with the country controlled by the political right and the army, El Salvador's politics have come almost full circle, to where they were before a coup two and a half years ago. And United States policy appears to be boxed in.

Before the coup, the United States was giving El Salvador no military support and only minimal economic assistance. Now the Reagan Administration is asking for $166.3 million in military assistance and about $250 million in economic aid. Only Israel, India and Egypt get more American assistance.

The aid program ran into trouble in the Senate on Wednesday. The Foreign Relations Committee, strongly criticizing the Salvadoran moves to curtail the land redistribution program, cut the Administration's military aid package to $66 million, a reduction of $100 million. Such a cut is subject to full Congressional approval.

For nearly half a century, El Salvador was ruled by an alliance of the rich and the powerful. In October 1979, the United States actively backed a coup by moderate military officers that was intended to wrest control of the economy from the wealthy and the political power from the soldiers. Right Emerges Victorious

Before three months had elapsed, however, the liberal members of the junta had resigned. As the Government moved steadily to the right, the United States pinned its hopes on the moderate Christian Democrats and their leader, Jose Napoleon Duarte. The linchpin of United States policy was elections for a Constituent Assembly. But in the electoral race, four political parties to the right of the Christian Democrats emerged victorious, winning 36 of the 60 assembly seats in the March 28 elections. And these parties appear to be on the way toward reversing the policies that the United States had promoted.

Two of these rightist parties - the Nationalist Republican Alliance, led by Roberto d'Aubuisson, a conservative who reportedly received much of his financial support from wealthy Salvadorans in exile in Florida and Guatemala, and the National Conciliation Party - control the Assembly with 33 seats.

The success of the National Conciliation Party brings back to power the same interests who ruled the country as the official Government party from 1961 to 1979. It was Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero of the National Conciliation Party who was deposed as President in the 1979 coup. One of the first officers ousted by the coup leaders was Major d'Aubuisson.

The Assembly, in its first substantive legislative act, annulled the Government's power to make peasant cooperatives out of some 1,700 large farms. And last week it suspended the right of peasants to buy the small plots they work as renters or sharecroppers. Peasants Are Evicted

Bolstered by the rightist victory, landowners, sometimes with the help of local military commanders, have evicted some 5,000 peasants from their small plots since the elections, according to Jose Antonio Morales Ehrlich, a member of the former junta who was in charge of the land redistribution program until the new Government took over.

Nationalist Republicans now head the country's land redistribution agency and the Ministry of Agriculture. ''We are where we were in 1979,'' a businessman belonging to one of the country's wealthier families observed this week.

One of the questions most frequently asked, especially by Americans, is why so many Salvadorans voted for the right. Does their vote mean that Salvadorans are basically conservative? Was it only United States support that kept the Christian Democrats and Mr. Duarte in power?

There were many reasons why many Salvadorans voted for rightist candidates rather than those of the Christian Democrats. The economy is in chaos, unemployment is rampant, prices are rising and the war makes everyone's life more miserable. United Front by Rightists

The disadvantages of incumbency also bothered the Christian Democrats, who enjoyed few of its benefits. For weeks, when Mr. Duarte stumped the country, he did so as President exhorting people to vote, not asking that they vote for his party.

And the five rightist parties joined forces to reinforce the impression that the Christian Democrats were to blame for the country's problems.

''Why do people vote?'' asked a business leader. ''For a change or to continue with the same government.'' For Salvadorans who wanted a change and who had been bombarded with attacks on the Christian Democrats, the alternative was the right. Leftist parties did not participate. Personalities Counted Most

Some American diplomats here have observed that the leftists, had they been on the ballot, might have received as much as 25 or 30 percent of the vote. This would have placed them in second place, close to the Christian Democrats, who received 35 percent of the ballots cast.

Other aspects of the campaign also suggested that the voters were not necessarily endorsing conservative policies. ''The people voted for personalities more than anything else, not for political ideologies, not for principles,'' said the business leader.

In that respect Mr. d'Aubuisson, a ''caudillo'' who fulfills the Latin admiration for machismo, had the advantage. Moreover, his campaign was the best financed and organized. U.S. Fails in Aims

All things considered, it is perhaps suprising that the Christian Democrats fared as well as they did, finishing nearly 10 percentage points ahead of the second place Nationalist Republican Alliance.

The political stability and economic restructuring that the United States hoped would follow the 1979 coup has not come to pass and there is evidence that the situation has deteriorated. The killings, primarily of peasants and workers, has increased dramatically since the coup and an incipient uprising has erupted into a full-scale civil war. A military victory by the Government seems unlikely and the army has long been opposed to a negotiated setlement. The land redistribution effort, which was designed to benefit the country's impoverished peasants, has been substantially annulled. The country does not have a pluralistic government and the army remains the country's most powerful political institution. The country's President, Alvaro Alfredo Magana, was reportedly the soldiers' favorite.

Even though politically, economically and socially El Salvador looks much like it did before the coup, its leaders are confident that they will continue to receive large amounts of United States assistance. They have heard the Reagan Administration declare that ''the decisive battle for Central America'' is being fought here.

''Logic'' and ''politics'' dictate that the United States continue to support El Salvador, Hugo Barrera, a leader of the Nationalist Republicans, said recently.
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The Agony of El Salvador
by Raymond Bonner; Raymond Bonner is a New York Times reporter who recently returned from a two-month assignment in El Salvador.
February 22, 1981

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A cherubic, 14-year-old boy in pressed shirt, clean pants and shined shoes led the way up a narrow, twisting mountain path. Behind him came a chunky woman in her early 20's, a rainbow sewn on the front of her maroon sweatshirt, carrying a new grenade launcher made in the United States and covered with protective grease. Another woman followed, the front pockets of her new olive green military jacket bulging with Soviet-made hand grenades; she led a horse burdened with burlap bags of corn in which the shapes of automatic rifles could just barely be seen.

At intervals that would minimize casualties in case of an ambush came an accountant, bank clerk, printer and college student, each taking a turn at shouldering heavy crates of grenades and ammunition. They hiked for two hours through tunnels of trees and beside fields of prickly hemp bushes, past clusters of mud huts where peasants offered them oranges and wished them ''Godspeed,'' until they reached their camp, hidden in a tropical forest on the side of a volcano. Only a few days before, an army search-and-destroy mission had passed within a few hundred yards of the site, but now, on this warm January evening, expectations were high among the guerrillas. They were making the final preparations for an attack on a nearby city, their mission in a long-awaited, nationwide offensive to overthrow El Salvador's junta.

Today, six weeks later, the Government remains in power. The guerrillas' call for a general strike and popular insurrection went largely unheeded, and they failed to gain control of an area where they could safely establish a provisional government. Yet the guerrillas have demonstrated that, after decades of political and economic repression, a revolutionary movement in El Salvador has achieved enough power and popular support to take on the army and survive. Until a couple of years ago, few North Americans knew whether San Salvador was the name of the capital or the country. The five million people of this Massachusetts-sized nation are jammed into a narrow, mountainous corridor hard to find on a map, shoved against the Pacific Ocean by neighboring Guatemala and Honduras and just across the bay from Nicaragua. It has no oil, virtually no minerals, an insignificant industrial base; the per-capita income is less than $700, one of the lowest in the Western hemisphere.

But tiny El Salvador has suddenly burst upon the world stage. In the fall of 1979, a coup by moderate army officers led to the establishment of a junta with both civilian and military representatives. Economic reforms, including a major redistribution of land, were undertaken, but they were accompanied by repression. According to El Salvador's Human Rights Commission, a private organization, 13,194 people have been killed in political violence in the last year, most of them by Government security forces and rightist paramilitary groups. (The death toll of a civil war of the same proportions in the United States would be almost 500,000 people - the population of a New Orleans.) The Marxist-led guerrillas, growing ever stronger and bolder, have kidnapped businessmen and bombed banks. Thousands of Salvadoran families have been forced by the escalating warfare to flee from their villages, settling in makeshift refugee centers in the cities and in camps across the border in Honduras.

The turmoil has forced a new international perception of El Salvador's geopolitical significance. The cold war could become hot here. Many in Washington worry about an updated version of the old domino theory, with the blocks falling much closer to home. Just 19 months ago, a socialist, pro-Cuban government took power in next-door Nicaragua. If El Salvador follows suit, can the right-wing regime in Guatemala, already under attack from its own impoverished peasants, be far beyond? Would that threaten the stability of the entire region, and the precious oil reserves of Mexico and Venezuela as well?

A raging controversy has developed over what policy the United States should pursue in El Salvador. The Carter Administration propped up what it considered to be a ''centrist,'' non-Marxist regime, supporting - in fact, pushing - the economic changes, in part as a means of diminishing the appeal of the leftists. That support continued despite the increasing violence of Government security forces against the political opposition. A few days before Mr. Reagan's inauguration, a United States ban on shipments of lethal weapons to El Salvador ended with the arrival there of helicopters, automatic rifles, grenade launchers and ammunition.

Some of President Reagan's advisers are urging him to increase political and military support. Alexander M. Haig Jr., the new Secretary of State, has charged the Soviet Union with ''unprecedented'' risk-taking in Latin America, and Administration aides charge that the guerrilla forces in El Salvador have received major political or military support from the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua. Just this month, documents allegedly captured from the insurgents were made public that described a guerrilla leader's shopping tour for weapons to the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Eastern European capitals. When Mr. Reagan removed Ambassador Robert E. White, a career Foreign Service officer who had opposed United States military involvement, from his post in San Salvador, and this month made Frederic L. Chapin, a diplomat with extensive Defense Department experience, acting head of mission there, it was seen by many as a certification of a change in United States policy.

For all the concern about El Salvador's becoming ''another Cuba,'' there are other fears that it will become ''another Vietnam,'' that it will lead to the in-volvement of the United States on one side of another nation's revolution. Last month, for example, in Berkeley, Calif., several thousand people demonstrated against United States involvement in El Salvador. Teach-ins are being organized in Boston, New York and other cities. The United States Catholic Conference has urged that Washington not provide military aid to the junta. Thousands protested in Frankfurt, Germany. And in Mexico City, where high-ranking Government officials have been critical of this steppedup United States military activity, 25,000 people marched in a demonstration sponsored by unions and leftist groups; it was one of the largest anti-Yankee protests there in recent years.

The protestors scorn talk of an international Communist conspiracy in El Salvador. There is no evidence, they say, of any direct Soviet involvement: Some of the guerrilla field commanders have been trained in Cuba, and some of their arms were made in the Soviet Union and China and transhipped through Cuba, but the only foreign military advisers known to be in El Salvador are from the United States. And arms-shopping tours, they say, are not restricted to the guerrillas; an association of Salvadoran businessmen has hired a Washington lobbyist to help the junta get more military aid from the United States.

Moreover, as one insurgent leader said in an interview, the major guerrilla organizations ''are more anti-Soviet than your Mr. Haig.'' Whether or not that is true, it is likely that, as an American diplomat noted: ''Even if it were not for Cuba and the Soviet Union, we'd have a revolution here.'' Why? Here is the explanation of Jose Napoleon Duarte, the 55-yearold leader of El Salvador's staunchly anti-Communist Christian Democratic Party and President of the ruling junta:

''This is a history of people starving to death, living in misery. For 50 years, the same people had all the power, all the money, all the opportunities. Those who did not have anything tried to take it away from those who had everything. But there were no democratic systems available to them, so they have radicalized themselves, have resorted to violence. And of course this second group, the rich, do not want to give up anything, so they are fighting.''

A company president educated in the United States offered the same explanation in fewer words: ''It is a class war.'' Until recently, the top 5 percent of the population received 38 percent of the income. Fewer than 2 percent owned more than half of the viable farmland, which they planted with coffee, sugar cane and cotton for export. Malnutrition is endemic in El Salvador, and the infant mortality rate is twice that of Cuba, four times that of the United States. Functional illiteracy among the peasants approaches 95 percent.

And some 60 percent of El Salvador's population is rural, living in isolated valleys or mountain hamlets. Wooden-yoked oxen draw carts that ride on solid wooden wheels. Hundreds of thousands of peasants live in hovels made of packed mud; naked children with swollen bellies and open sores wander among the grunting pigs, garbage and flies. Their mothers and sisters trudge for an hour or more to the nearest well for water, carried in gourd-shaped plastic containers balanced on their heads.

Meanwhile, in San Salvador, at the foot of a forested volcano, brick walls hide $500,000 houses. Many of them are now abandoned, their owners off to what were once their second homes in Miami and Guatemala City.

There is also a middle class in this capital city of 500,000 people, a consumer class that has burgeoned within the last decade.Owners of Toyotas and Datsuns fill up at Esso and Shell stations before heading for a McDonald's or for the shopping center where they can buy Sears clothes at prices slightly higher than those in the United States or browse in reverberating record shops. But behind the middle-class neighborhoods of new, two-story houses on tree-lined, paved cul-de-sacs are the rutted dirt roads of the urban poor. Scruffy children play among the chickens and cows in front of tin shanties while their mothers warm tortillas over fires laid in stones.

There is comparable poverty in Mexico and India, comparable contrast between rich and poor, without violent class warfare. Why in El Salvador? Part of the answer can be found in the nation's failure to evolve even a flawed democratic process. That path to change has always been blocked - by the army.

In 1932, the military put down a rebellion of peasants and workers who were seeking a minimum wage and unemployment benefits; more than 30,000 people were slain. And ever since, El Salvador has been the fiefdom of an oligarchy consisting of wealthy landowners and the army, with a military leader in the presidency. By all objective accounts, the only honest election during this period was in 1972, when Mr. Duarte was chosen President, backed by a coalition that included Social Democrats and a Communist front as well as the Christian Democrats.

A short, stocky man with an engineering degree from the University of Notre Dame, Mr. Duarte was operating a construction firm when, in 1960, he attended a meeting of businessmen and other Salvadorans concerned that Communism seemed to be the only alternative to rule by the military. It was, he said, the start of his political career. He went on to become a founder of the Christian Democratic Party and, eventually, a three-term Mayor of San Salvador before his presidential victory in 1972. But the army voided the election, and Mr. Duarte was exiled before he could be sworn in.

Meanwhile, the guerrilla movement was growing: A Communist leader had resigned from the party to form the Popular Forces of Liberation; the People's Revolutionary Army was attracting disillusioned young Catholics. The roots of the movement were primarily among peasants and workers, with student support. It was a far cry from the leftist guerrilla movements the United States had opposed in the 1960's in Brazil and Uruguay, which had been manned largely by middle-class radicals.

There was internal conflict within the Salvadoran guerrilla groups over the means to accomplish their goals. But in 1977, after another election result favoring a moderate coalition was blocked by the army, the armed leftists began to cooperate in a campaign of ''destabilization'' that included strikes, street protests and kidnappings.

The process by which Mr. Duarte finally became President of the junta began on Oct. 15, 1979, when a group of young Army officers deposed the right-wing Government of Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero. The resulting junta, composed of three liberal civilians and two colonels, fell apart less than three months later; the civilians resigned after failing to oust the conservative Colonel Jose Guillermo Garcia as Minister of Defense. Three other civilians were named in their stead, but one of them quit 10 weeks later to protest the accelerating political repression. Mr. Duarte, who had returned from nearly eight years of exile in Venezuela, took his place on the junta. Violence precipitated another crisis last December when four American missionaries -three nuns and a lay worker -were murdered. The United States reacted by suspending military aid and demanding a restructuring of the Government that would guarantee enough civilian control of the armed forces to reduce the violence.

But negotiations between the colonels and Mr. Duarte's Christian Democrats moved the junta further right. Its most liberal member was forced out. Moreover, though the military agreed to Mr. Duarte's becoming President of the junta, Colonel Garcia again survived efforts to oust him as Minister of Defense, and another colonel became Vice President of the junta and Commander in Chief of the armed forces.

Said a Latin American diplomat at the time of the changes: ''If Garcia is minister of defense and Duarte is not commander in chief, then Mr. Duarte is an adornment.'' Privately, United States officials also had their doubts about whether Mr. Duarte and the reorganized junta had the power and resolve to control the Government's security forces by punishing officers and soldiers responsible for killing civilians. Last March, a few days after Mr. Duarte joined the junta, the Government announced one of the most sweeping land-redistribution programs ever attempted in Latin America. More than 250 estates larger than 1,235 acres became peasant cooperatives, the former owners to be compensated with long-term bonds. Other programs have been promised that will effectively transfer ownership of thousands of additional acres to the peasants.

Fifty-five-year-old Leonar Quirola stood in front of the small, packed-mud hut on the San Isidro plantation, 30 miles west of San Salvador. Barefoot, gesticulating with hands grown strong from days spent grinding corn for tortillas for her family of 14, she was complaining that her husband and sons work harder and earn less money harvesting coffee than they did while laboring in San Isidro's closed sugar refinery. But then she paused and added: ''Life is better now.'' She has a say in her future. According to the president of the cooperative that now owns the lush, 3,700-acre plantation, the members have voted to build a second water well and to construct new housing, rather than distribute any profits this year.

El Salvador's Institute for Agrarian Transformation has reported that 14.9 percent of the country's total farmland is now owned by cooperatives. Given the average family size of 6.6 persons, more than 386,000 Salvadorans have benefitted from the conversion of the largest estates. Another 200,000 families would be included in the cooperatives formed by the breakup of farms larger than 247 acres - the second, yet-to-be-implemented stage of the agrarian reforms. The final stage, known as the ''land-to-the-tiller'' program, would give an estimated 150,000 peasant families title to the thousands of separate plots, most of them no larger than two acres, which they now work as sharecroppers.

The chief motivation of most United States and Salvadoran officials in supporting these programs has been clearly political. ''The purpose of land reform was not to help the poorest because they were poor,'' said a Salvadoran who worked with the United States Agency for International Development, which has supplied economic and technical assistance to the El Salvador Government, ''but to keep them from joining the left.''

Roy L. Prosterman, a United States law professor who was an adviser on land reform in El Salvador as he had been in Vietnam in the 1960's, last spring told a hostile group of businessmen in San Salvador why they should support the program: ''The left fears land reform. It deprives them of their most valuable weapon in implementing revolution because they can no longer appeal to the landless.''

But a Marxist university professor in El Salvador offered a different reason for the left's opposition to the partially implemented tiller program. The goal of land reform, he argued, should not be the creation of more landowners, but a fairer distribution of the wealth - which is to say, food - and an increase in food production. He favors the integration of the tiny, inefficient plots into cooperatives.

The start of El Salvador's land distribution program last March was accompanied by the nationalization of the businesses exporting coffee, cotton and sugar cane; the three crops account for 75 percent of the country's foreign-exchange earnings. The Government also took control of 51 percent of the stock of all banks; 20 percent of what remained was made available to the employees and the rest to the public, with individual ownership limited to 2 percent.

Even while the initial agricultural and economic reforms were going forward, the junta's political repression continued, and the leftist groups moved toward unity. The various armed guerrilla groups joined forces in the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (F.M.L.N.), which takes its name from the leader of the 1932 peasant uprising. And the Democratic Revolutionary Front (F.D.R.) was organized to coordinate the efforts of more than 40 organizations, ranging from moderate priests and professional people to Social Democrats and dissident Christian Democrats and including the guerrillas.

The first president of the F.D.R. was Enrique Alvarez Cordova, a wealthy landowner who had resigned as Minister of Agriculture in the first junta in 1979 because of the military's domination of the Government. In November 1980, uniformed soldiers surrounded a Jesuit high school where leaders of the F.D.R. were meeting. A group of heavily armed men dressed in civilian clothes entered the building and brought out the front members; Mr. Alvarez and five others were later assassinated.

Mr. Alvarez's successor is 49-year-old Guillermo Manuel Ungo, whose reserved manner and measured speech reflect his career as a lawyer and professor at El Salvador's Jesuit-run Catholic University. Mr. Ungo has been threatened with death if he stays in El Salvador, and he travels around the world seeking international support for the leftist movement. As the president of the F.D.R., he is the leader of El Salvador's left, opposite number to Mr. Duarte, though once they were political partners.

A founder of El Salvador's Social Democratic Party, Mr. Ungo was Mr. Duarte's Vice Presidential running mate in 1972 and was appointed to the junta after the October 1979 coup. But he resigned and eventually allied his Social Democrats with the Marxist left because he felt the army high command was blocking promised change and because the violence was escalating. He now says of his one-time partner: ''Duarte's personal obsession for power and his primitive anti-Communism have all come out. He was willing to ally himself with the army and oligarchy.'' Mr. Duarte, in turn, charges that Mr. Ungo is being ''used by the Communists.''

In an interview last month, Mr. Ungo said, ''You can be a leftist and a socialist without necessarily being a Communist.'' He added: ''People generally believe that peaceful methods are synonymous with democracy, while an armed insurrection is undemocratic. But this is pure fiction in a country like ours that has lived in antidemocracy where 'peaceful methods' were instruments of domination, repression and control.''

He is believed to have had a moderating influence on the guerrillas, who now claim that they accept the need in any future regime for political pluralism, a private sector and international nonalignment. On one point, however, the guerrillas remain adamant: They want a thorough overhaul of the military and full civilian control.

A wide cross-section of Salvadorans agree. Even a Government minister recently commented privately, ''It would probably be a good idea.'' The military is routinely accused of being responsible for much of the violence. The bodies of the four American Roman Catholic missionaries, for example, were found in a crude grave along a dirt road near the El Salvador international airport. Peasants who live in the area say that the road was regularly patrolled by the National Guard, and United States diplomats have charged that Government security forces were involved in the slayings. A few weeks ago, an army truck dumped the bodies of 22 young men and women in a pile on the asphalt parking lot behind the modern multistory judicial center in the capital. The Government said they were ''subversives.'' According to a Government official, more than 200 leaders of the new farm cooperatives have been killed, and 80 cooperatives are now paying ''protection money'' to local military commanders.

Much of the killing is also done by quasi-independent right-wing organizations. The Government itself, for example, organized and armed the dreaded ORDEN (the acronym for the Democratic Nationalist Organization) in the 1970's to control the countryside. And separate death squads operate with impunity if not official immunity. One such, the Maximilio Hernandez Martinez Anti-Communist Brigade, is named after the general who suppressed the peasant rebellion in 1932.

The right-wing death squads are financed in part by wealthy families who have fled to Miami or Guatemala City. ''I know one man who has given more than $2 million,'' Mr. Duarte said. Government soldiers, he added, often moonlight for the paramilitary groups; they are paid $40 a month and given life insurance policies.

Leftist guerrillas, meanwhile, have kidnapped and killed businessmen, raided plantations, burned buses and bombed banks and department stores.

''The difference in the violence,'' said a conservative priest, ''is that the left kills selectively - members of ORDEN and Government security forces. Killing by the right and the army is more indiscriminate. When they sweep through a village looking for leaders and leftist sympathizers, they kill a lot of innocent peasants.''

Tens of thousands of Salvadorans have left their mountain villages to get out of the way of violence. Most have settled in towns, subsisting as best they can. Several hundred camped out in a school; more than a thousand live in a field behind the headquarters of the archbishop in San Salvador. Thousands more have fled the country to refugee camps in Honduras.

Though the Roman Catholic Church, like the rest of the nation, is divided in its political allegiances, the clergy have been hard hit. An archbishop, nine priests, a seminary student about to be ordained and the four missionaries from the United States have been murdered. According to Bishop Arturo Rivera Damas, the Apostolic Administrator who is the acting head of the church in El Salvador, ''Most of the persecution against the church is done by members of the Government security forces and right-wing paramilitary organizations.''

The first priest to die in the political violence was a Jesuit, the Rev. Rutilio Grande. As he once explained in a letter to his superiors, he had been preaching to the impoverished peasants that ''their hunger, their diseases, their infant mortality, their unemployment, their unpaid wages were not the will of God, but the result of the greed of a few Salvadorans and of their own passivism.'' On March 12, 1977, he was on his way to celebrate mass in the dusty rural village where he was born, when gunmen hiding in bushes on both sides of the road opened fire on his white Volkswagen. Most of the priests who have been killed or threatened were encouraging peasants to demand improvements in their lives or, like the American nuns, distributing food and clothing.

Priests say that Father Grande's assassination brought about the ''conversion'' of the Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who became one of the country's most vocal human-rights advocates - until he was assassinated last March while celebrating mass.

''The situation demands a strong moral voice, a clear statement by the church,'' said a priest last month. ''But (acting Archbishop) Rivera Damas can't make it. He has no job security.'' Another priest suggested that Bishop Rivera Damas is influenced by El Salvador's four other bishops, who are ''still serving the oligarchy.'' The Vatican, he added, ''doesn't want another bishop speaking out like Romero did.'' ''The United States policy of supporting important political, social and economic changes has made a profound difference here - has given the people of this country an alternative to the MarxistLeninist program. This was one time we supported, with active diplomacy and an ample supply of economic assistance, a progressive reform Government in Latin America.''

Those were the comments, last December, of United States Ambassador Robert E. White. Two months later, following the Inauguration of President Reagan, he was relieved of his post.

Mr. White had represented a President who had taken a somewhat new approach to Latin America. In the past, when its economic and/or political interests were thought to be threatened, the United States often interfered forcefully on behalf of military dictatorships and right-wing governments - with the C.I.A. in Guatemala in 1954, for example, or with the Marines in the Dominican Republic in 1965. But Mr. Carter actually supported the ouster of Gen. Anastasio Somoza Debayle in Nicaragua in 1979. And when the civilian-military junta took over in neighboring El Salvador later that year, Mr. Carter came forward with economic aid. He hoped that the country would develop into a democratic, non-Communist alternative - a model for the rest of Latin America.

But as the Carter Administration came to a close, there was increasing concern over the growth of the guerrilla movement and over alleged shipments of weapons to the guerrillas from Nicaragua, Cuba and other leftist nations. Mr. Carter responded by sending in lethal weapons and military advisers. Mr. Reagan is expected to provide at least as much support; he may, in fact, go much further.

One option, of course, would be to send in United States troops to help subdue the guerrillas - the ''Vietnam'' scenario. El Salvador does have a mountainous terrain, but it is a much smaller nation than Vietnam. The United States military might be more successful there - assuming that the Salvadoran guerrillas were not reinforced by Cubans and other foreign troops. Intervention, however, would inevitably damage the image of the United States in the rest of the world while the Salvadoran left would gain new international support from democratic countries. Moreover, unless the causes of the current civil war are addressed, another guerrilla movement would most likely be fighting in El Salvador within a few years. Poverty and political repression, as Mao Zedong suggested, are the waters in which guerrillas swim.

Mr. Reagan has another option of a very different kind: to seek a negotiated settlement of the civil war. The political leaders of the left say they are prepared to talk. Their strength within the opposition front has been bolstered by the recent failure of their military counterparts to overthrow the junta. Mr. Ungo has even said, ''We want to talk to Washington,'' and overtures have been made to the Reagan Administration. Moreover, the guerrillas are under pressure from Nicaragua's Sandinist Government to look for a political settlement. In January, Washington suspended economic aid to Nicaragua after accusing the Nicaraguans of allowing their territory to be used for the shipment of Cuban weapons to El Salvador's guerrillas. The Nicaraguans have denied the charge, but the Sandinistas believe that their relations with Washington will be in turmoil unless the political situation in neighboring El Salvador is stabilized.

Meanwhile, Mr. Duarte and others in the junta have said that they are willing to negotiate with the leftists. Even before the United States election, Salvadoran Government and business leaders were openly expressing their preference for Mr. Reagan's views on Latin America over Mr. Carter's emphasis on human rights. Thus, the new President's encouragement of a settlement would carry great weight.

Mr. Duarte has announced plans for the drawing up of a constitution that would, he hopes, lead to elections in 1982. Diplomats and Government officials, including Mr. Duarte, acknowledge that a political party representing views to the left of the current junta would do well - particularly with Mr. Ungo on the ballot. Of course, the Government would have to end the repression that now accompanies its reforms before the leftists would participate in elections.

Most Salvadorans, exhausted after years of civil strife, are now troubled by the involvement of the major powers in their country. ''I fear we are becoming a pawn,'' a businessman said a few days after the increase in United States military aid was announced last month. ''We are capable of solving our own problems if only everyone would just leave us alone.''
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Re: The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women we

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Kirkus Review: Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador, by Raymond Bonner
June 4, 1984

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As a New York Times reporter in El Salvador, Bonnet was singled out by the Reagan administration, in the person of Ambassador Diane Hinton, for his allegedly biased dispatches from behind guerrilla lines. What he saw and reported then--the guerrilla schools and hospitals, the tales of repression and massacre by government forces--is repeated here, together with the caveat that there is no guarantee of what a guerrilla victory would bring: of whether power would pass to the nationalistic and democratic elements among the insurgents, or to the hardline faction. The merit of Bonner's account is his first-hand experience with the former, never mentioned by administration spokesmen. (According to Bonner, a Carter official's observation that "we didn't know shit about the left" is still true.) These are peasants, Catholics, and students organized into a confusing panoply of opposition groups that Bonner says have grown proportionately stronger with increases in American military and economic aid to the San Salvador government. (From 1946 to 1979, American military assistance totaled $16.7 million; in the first full year of the Reagan administration, El Salvador received $82 million.) This has occurred despite the US Ambassador's statement, in 1977, that "the United States really has no vital interest in the country"--a view echoed at the time by the head of the State Department's Latin American desk. What then happened, says Bonner, was the flowering of a Vietnam-style approach to El Salvador's domestic political strife. The Carter administration was caught off guard by the Sandinista victory in nearby Nicaragua in July 1979, and when oppositional forces in the Salvadoran military staged a coup the following October, the US government moved to support the military faction of the new junta in order to prevent the army's dissolution. That move, in Bonner's view, closed off a political transition to democracy and escalated the civil war. Using documents obtained through formal and informal channels (government impediments are cited), Bonner shows that Washington has known 1) that the Salvadoran government is involved in repression; 2) that there is no real difference between the regular army and the National Guard, Treasury Police, and other repressive forces; 3) that no effort has been made to punish the people behind assassinations, disappearances, and massacres. When he went to El Salvador, Bonner says, he generally believed Washington's version of the situation; but no longer. Though this indictment will be written off by hardliners as an apologia for the guerrillas too, that will not alter its standing as the most thorough and up-to-date assessment of America's El Salvador involvement.
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Re: The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women we

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Review of Raymond Bonner’s “Weakness and Deceit: America and El Salvador’s Dirty War”
by Murray Polner, Senior Book Review Editor, History News Network
February 29, 2016

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“This book,” Raymond Bonner begins, “is about turmoil and revolution and the United States response. Though the focus is on the caldron in a country called El Salvador, the issues are broad, with parallels from the past and lessons—it is hoped—for the future”

For most of the nineteen eighties a savage civil war was fought in El Salvador, one of the poorest and most repressive nations in the hemisphere. Its government was supported diplomatically, economically, and militarily by the United States, which believed the rebels were communists. It was also a war that was bitterly contested in the US, where bruising battles between left and right were raged in politically sectarian magazines and by an assortment of pundits.

And so it went for twelve bloodthirsty years, when the Reagan administration, bolstered by neoconservatives in Washington and New York, often dismissed or covered up crimes such as the rape and murder of four Catholic churchwomen, the killing of five Jesuit priests, their maid and her daughter, as well as the massacre of hundreds of peasants in the village of El Mozote by the American-trained and armed Atlacatl Battalion.

At war’s end, about 75,000 Salvadorans were dead, tens of thousands had fled north for safety, and as the Truth for El Salvador Commission reported in 1993, “The government forces were responsible for eighty-five percent of the atrocities and human rights abuses.”

Bonner, a longtime New York Times and New Yorker correspondent, was one of two intrepid reporters (Alma Guillermoprieto, then of the Washington Post and now of the New Yorker was the other) who were the first to tell the story of the El Mozote mass murders, when some 900 residents of the small village of El Mozote, were butchered by the Salvadoran army in December 1981. When their reports appeared the two reporters’ were disparaged as leftwing propagandists by backers of US policy.

Having learned little or nothing from the Vietnam debacle, the US read the earlier coming of the leftwing Sandinistas in Nicaragua as the start of yet another version of the “domino theory” and thus a threat to America’s absolute control of the Western Hemisphere. It involved as well the Catholic Church’s many practitioners of “liberation theology” with its emphasis on the impoverished and tyrannized, which was seen as a threat by the Salvadoran government’s moneyed and controlling elite.

Bonner’s necessary if one-sided book is replete with barely-concealed rage. About Mozote, “the men were blindfolded, taken away in small groups of four and five, and shot. Women were raped. … 280 were children under fourteen years old.” Meanwhile, Washington assured Congress that the Salvadoran government was making progress in improving its human rights practices, a statement flatly denied by Amnesty International, Americas Watch and the admirable US Ambassador Robert E. White, who was fired after Reagan took office.

While Carter was a lame duck, the bodies of the four Catholic churchwomen – one of them a lay missionary engaged to be married—were found on December 4, 1980. The murders drew much greater attention to the “Dirty War” as critics dubbed it, its military death squads, and the role of Roberto D’Aubuisson of the ultra-right Arena Party, whom Ambassador White labeled “a pathological killer.” D’Aubuisson was probably responsible for planning the assassination of Archbishop Romero and the Jesuit priests. He died in 1992 of cancer at age 48 before he could be charged. Last year, Pope Francis said the Archbishop had died for a righteous cause and would be beatified, the last stage before sainthood.

“Top administration officials, even the President [Reagan] himself, gave tacit approval to the ineffective actions by the [Salvadoran] military high command against the fascist commanders, the death squad leaders,” writes Bonner, adding that Reagan, on C-Span, once blamed some of the death squad executions on leftwing rebels.

One of the President’s most important supporters was Jeane Kirkpatrick, whose article “Dictatorships [Dictators] and Double Standards” in Commentary, the leading neoconservative magazine, was widely praised by supporters of the American position. She argued that Carter’s emphasis on human rights rather than national interests had helped oust friendly regimes in Nicaragua and in Iran. Moreover, while “authoritarian” regimes could change, “totalitarian” regimes could not.

It was Kirkpatrick who said of the dead churchwomen, “They weren’t just nuns. They were political activists on behalf of the Frente” – the country’s leftwing coalition of rebel groups.

In this updated version of his earlier book on the subject, Bonner includes an illuminating epilogue about an American Foreign Service officer, H. Carl Gettinger, who outed the murderers and rapists of the churchwomen. The courageous Gettinger, a young, low-ranking, embassy official who would go on to receive the State Department’s highest award in 1982 for “creative dissent,” broke the story after he was approached by a knowledgeable Salvadoran officer and taped his information which named names. Larry Rohter of the New York Times then interviewed four of the men mentioned on the tape and wrote a page one story headed: “Four Salvadorans Say They Killed U.S. Nuns on Orders of the Military.”

Years after, a high Salvadoran official living comfortably in Florida was found by a US Immigration judge to have “assisted or otherwise participated” in the murders of Archbishop Romero, the four American churchwomen and the mass killings at El Mozote. The same judge ruled that a second former Salvadoran official, also a Florida resident, had “assisted or otherwise participated” in the deaths of the churchwomen and in the practice of torture. In 2015, the two men were sent back to El Salvador, all the while protesting they had been American allies in the war against communism.

“It was all true,” writes Bonner.” The two men had been carrying out American policy, had been praised and feted by American officials, had been welcomed at the White House” and then makes his crucial point: “No American official has been held to account for the crimes committed by the American- backed governments in El Salvador or for the deceit emanating from Washington.”

But that’s the way it’s been since Vietnam. Our many misadventures have caused irreparable harm to ourselves and others, yet we remain paralyzed, unable to change course.
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Re: The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women we

Postby admin » Tue May 30, 2017 3:00 am

Time for a US Apology to El Salvador: Obama recently expressed regret for US support of Argentina’s “dirty war.” It’s time Washington did the same regarding our active backing of right-wing butchery in El Salvador.
by Raymond Bonner
April 15, 2016

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Over the ages, the United States has routinely intervened in Latin America, overthrowing left-wing governments and propping up right-wing dictators. President Obama pressed a reset button of sorts last month when he traveled to Cuba and Argentina. Now it’s time for him to visit a Latin America country that is geographically smallest but where Washington’s footprint is large and the stain of intervention perhaps greatest—El Salvador.

In Argentina, on the 40th anniversary of a military coup that ushered in that country’s “dirty war,” President Obama said it was time for the United States to reflect on its policies during those “dark days.” In the name of fighting communism, the Argentine government hunted down, tortured, and killed suspected leftists—sometimes throwing their bodies out of helicopters into the sea. “We’ve been slow to speak out for human rights and that was the case here,” Obama said.

That failure to speak out looks benign in contrast to the active role Washington played in the “dirty war” in El Salvador in the 1980s, which pitted a right-wing government against Marxist guerrillas. The United States sent military advisers to help the Salvadoran military fight its dirty war, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid.

In Argentina, the security forces killed some 30,000 civilians. In El Salvador, more than 75,000 lost their lives during the civil war, which lasted from 1980 until the 1992 peace agreement. The guerrillas committed atrocities, but the United Nations Truth Commission, established as part of the accord, found that more than 85 percent of the killings, kidnappings, and torture had been the work of government forces, which included paramilitaries, death squads, and army units trained by the United States.

The Reagan administration often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.


The United States went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador. The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.

In March of 1980, the much beloved and respected Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered. A voice for the poor and repressed, Romero, in his final Sunday sermon, had issued a plea to the country’s military junta that rings through the ages: “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.” The next day, he was cut down by a single bullet while he was saying a private mass. (In 2015, Pope Francis declared that Romero died a martyr, the final step before sainthood.)

Eight months after the assassination, a military informant gave the US embassy in El Salvador evidence that it had been plotted by Roberto D’Aubuisson, a charismatic and notorious right-wing leader. D’Aubuisson had presided over a meeting in which soldiers drew lots for the right to kill the archbishop, the informant said. While any number of right-wing death squads might have wanted to kill Romero, only a few, like D’Aubuisson’s, were “fanatical and daring” enough to actually do it, the CIA concluded in a report for the White House.

Yet, D’Aubuisson continued to be welcomed at the US embassy in El Salvador, and when Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s point man on Central America during the Reagan administration, testified before Congress, he said he would not consider D’Aubuisson an extremist. “You would have to be engaged in murder,” Abrams said, before he would call him an extremist. But D’Aubuisson was engaged in murder, and Washington knew it. (He died of throat cancer in 1992, at the age of 48. Abrams was convicted in 1991 of misleading Congress about the shipment of arms to the anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua, the so-called “Iran/Contra” affair. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, later served as special adviser to President George W. Bush on democracy and human rights, and is now a foreign-policy adviser to GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz.)

* * *

The administration knew the Salvadoran military murdered four US churchwomen in 1980—but denied the evidence.


No act of barbarism is more emblematic of the deceit that marked Washington’s policy in El Salvador in the 1980s than the sexual assault and murder of four US churchwomen—three Roman Catholic nuns and a lay missionary—in December 1980, a month after Ronald Reagan was elected president.

The American ambassador, Robert White, who had been appointed by President Jimmy Carter, knew immediately that the Salvadoran military was responsible—even if he didn’t have the names of the perpetrators—but that was not what the incoming administration wanted to hear.

One of Reagan’s top foreign-policy advisers, Jeane Kirkpatrick, when asked if she thought the government had been involved, said, “The answer is unequivocal. No, I don’t think the government was responsible.” She then sought to besmirch the women. “The nuns were not just nuns,” she told The Tampa Tribune. “The nuns were also political activists,” with a leftist political coalition (Kirkpatrick died in 2006).

In Argentina, President Obama praised two American diplomats, Tex Harris and Patt Derian, for their commitment to documenting the human-rights abuses in Argentina.

Two American diplomats in El Salvador deserve similar presidential recognition. Ambassador White, a career diplomat, lost his job and was forced out of the foreign service by Secretary of State Alexander Haig when he refused to participate in a cover-up of the Salvadoran military’s involvement in the murder of the American churchwomen. Haig told a congressional committee that the women may have been trying to run a roadblock when they were killed (Haig died in 2010; White died in 2015).

At considerable risk to his career and his life, a junior diplomat in the US embassy, H. Carl Gettinger, wasn’t deterred by the chicanery in Washington and carried out his own investigation. It was Gettinger who had learned from the Salvadoran military informant about D’Aubuisson’s role in the assassination of Archbishop Romero, and he turned to the man, an army lieutenant, to help him solve the churchwomen’s case. The lieutenant, who had so much blood on his own hands during the dirty war that Gettinger dubbed him “Killer,” gave Gettinger, and the United States, the name of the sergeant who led the operation and that of four other soldiers who had participated, a crime that senior Salvadoran military commanders had successfully covered up until then (the men were convicted in 1984).

“Carl is an unsung hero,” Carol Doerflein, who was the assistant public affairs officer in the US embassy in El Salvador at the time, told me recently.

One year after the churchwomen were murdered, one of the worst massacres in modern Latin American history occurred when soldiers from the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion carried out an operation in the mountainous region of northeastern El Salvador. Altogether more than 700 men, women, and children were killed in El Mozote and surrounding villages.

In 1981, the military massacred over 700 civilians at El Mozote—and Reagan’s officials dismissed it as “propaganda.”


The Reagan administration steadfastly denied there had been a massacre by government troops. Reports of the massacre, by myself in The New York Times and Alma Guillermoprieto in The Washington Post, were dismissed by administration officials and their right-wing supporters as “guerrilla propaganda.”

But cables and documents declassified by the Clinton administration in the early 1990s—as well as the findings of the UN Truth Commission—have confirmed the massacre in grisly detail. “As many as several hundred men, women and children were allegedly massacred by the Atlacatl Battalion during the December 10-13, 1981, El Salvadoran Armed Forces (ESAF) offensive,” the State Department wrote in a secret eight-page report to the Truth Commission. The commission removed the “allegedly.” On the morning after arriving in the area, according to the commission, the soldiers had “proceeded to interrogate, torture and execute the men.… Around noon, they began taking out the women in groups, separating them from their children and machine-gunning them. Finally, they killed the children.”

In 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the civil war’s end, El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, went to El Mozote to apologize. “For this massacre, for the abhorrent violations of human rights and the abuses perpetrated in the name of the Salvadoran state, I ask forgiveness of the families of the victims,” he said, wiping away tears. He laid flowers on the monument that had been erected.

In Argentina, Obama tossed white roses into the water at a memorial to the victims of that country’s dirty war. No US official, not even a mid-level one, has ever visited the monument at El Mozote or apologized or expressed regrets about that massacre or, more broadly, for Washington’s active role in funding and encouraging El Salvador’s dirty war.

RAYMOND BONNER Raymond Bonner, a former New York Times correspondent who covered Central America from 1980 to 1982, is the author of Weakness and Deceit: America and El Salvador's Dirty War, which is being reissued by OR Books this month.
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Re: The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women we

Postby admin » Tue May 30, 2017 3:07 am

US policy in El Salvador in the 1980s: The US to El Salvador junta: we’ll do your fighting for you
by Political Crumbs

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The US has long demonstrated its deep and unwavering commitment to human rights and democracy. El Salvador offers a useful case study for examining this unique US obsession with individual freedom, civil liberties, and popular democracies.

Throughout the 1980s, and actually beginning much earlier, the US was obsessed with controlling the political situation in El Salvador. In order to control El Salvador’s political policies, the US armed, funded, and supported a military dictatorship.

It didn’t matter what the Salvadorian people themselves desired, or what form of government they preferred. What mattered was what kind of government the United States wanted to impose on the country, in the interests of US businesses.

Making the facts fit the policy

The US State Department, under both Carter and Reagan, had the habit of rearranging reality to make it fit policy. In this light, it is useful to compare presidential speeches and State Department memos, on one hand, with accounts by journalists and historians, on the other.

In his 1981 book Weakness and Deceit, New York Times reporter Raymond Bonner, who spent substantial time reporting on the ground in El Salvador, details some of these facts:

It was also the regular army that stormed into the village of Cerros de San Pedro after a day of mortar shelling. A survivor told the archdiocese’s legal aid office that the soldiers seized fifteen people, including a 65 year old woman, her sister, and the latter’s children, ages three, five, and seven. All those taken away were shot. …

The Rio Lempa and San Pedro weren’t isolated instances. They were illustrative of the manner in which the Salvadoran Army fought the counterinsurgency war. And contrary to the claims from US officials that the American training produced commanders who respected human rights, the US-trained battalions, as well as the commanders most highly regarded by the advisers, also carried out massacres.

After the elite Atlacatl Battalion, which was the first trained by the advisers, swept through the Guazapa Volcano in the spring of 1983, “the signs of slaughter were everywhere,” freelance journalist Don North reported for Newsweek. … A villager from Tenango showed him shallow graves in which he said the soldiers had buried dozens of men, women, and children after executing them with guns and machetes. … On the adobe walls were “graffiti marks left by soldiers congratulating the Atlacatl Brigade on its second anniversary.” …

A few days before the incident at Cabanas there was another army massacre, which the State Department is still [as of 1984] covering up. … The [November 10, 1981] cable [sent from Ambassador Hinton to the State Department] is described as a report “of a particularly violent military operation.” … The department refuses to release any part of the cable. … But a US government official who read the cable said that it contained a report that at least 200 noncombatant civilians, primarily women and children, were killed during an army operation. …

At the edge of a cornfield [in the village of Mozote], under the swooping green leaves of the banana trees, was a pile of fourteen bodies–infants and men and women in their teens and early twenties. Horrified disbelief was reflected int heir wide eyes and gaping mouths. …

The carnage was wreaked during a ten-day military operation through the northern part of Morazan Province just before Christmas 1981. Again, it was the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion, reinforced by helicopter gunships and heavy artillery. …

The first column of soldiers arrived on foot in Mozote at about 6:00 a.m. More soldiers were landed by helicopter. The villagers were ordered out of their houses, into the tiny square in front of the church, men in one group, women in another. The men were blindfolded, taken away in small groups of four and five, and shot. Women were raped [including children ten years old and up, as later evidence would show]. Of the 482 Mozote victims [later revised to over 800], 280 were children under 14 years old. …

In addition to her [survivor Rufina Amaya’s] son, somewhere among the ruins in Mozote were the skeletons of her blind husband and three daughters, ages three years, five years, and eight months. …

When the soldiers and helicopters began arriving in La Joya, a smaller village south of Mozote, the older boys and men fled. “We didn’t think they would kill children, women, and old people,” explained César Martínez. … But the soldiers killed Martínez’s mother and sister and his sister’s two children, ages five and eight. …

Another villager from La Joya, Gumersindo Lucas … explained that before he fled from the advancing troops with his wife, children, and other relatives, he had taken his sixty-two-year old mother, too sick to walk, to a neighbor’s house and hidden her under some blankets. He returned to find that she had been shot in bed. … Among the victims in La Joya were a seventy-year-old woman, a mother, and her three-day-old baby. On the adobe walls, the soldiers had scrawled, “The Atlactl Battalion will return to kill the rest.” …

In Cerro Pando, the toll of 149 included twenty-four-year-old Rosalda Argueta, who was pregnant, one-month-old Jermia Argueta, and ten men and women in their seventies and eighties. …

In the year preceding Reagan’s first certification (January 28, 1982) that the Salvadoran government was making a serious effort to respect human rights, 13,353 Salvadorans had been murdered by the Salvadoran Army, security forces, and paramilitary groups, according to the archdiocese’s legal aid office. There had been the massacres at the Rio Lempa, Cabanas, Mozote, the small-unit sweeps through Soyapango and Armenia, the decapitations in Santa Ana. And three days after the President had issued his certification, a patrol of soldiers from the First Infantry Brigade attacked San Antonio Abad, a warren of mud huts and tin shacks. … The army said there had been a shoot-out with “subversives.” But the slum residents and a nun said that the soldiers, accompanied by several men with hoods, arrived during the still-dark morning hours and went house to house, dragging out people dressed in their underwear or without shoes and socks. Many were shot in the back of the head or the heart. Among at least twenty victims were a fifty-seven-year-old couple and their twenty-two-year-old son. The soldiers raped three sisters, ages sixteen, fourteen, and thirteen, and shot their twenty-year-old brother. (Bonner 334-339, 344-345.)


A November 1983 State Department cable recorded that, according to the International Red Cross investigations, “Perhaps as many as 90 percent of detainees are being tortured during interrogation;” and the Red Cross “has seen a continuing deterioration in the treatment of detainees since April” (Bonner 353).

Bonner supplies a long list of examples, culled from a collection of “horrendous stories about rape, torture, murder, and mayhem that could fill pages,” perhaps even volumes (Bonner 352).

All of this was during the same four-year period that the Reagan administration was vigorously defending the regime, supporting it to the hilt, and to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, military supplies, and US boots on the ground.

“We didn’t know shit about the [ES] left.”

The administration, and the security intelligence institutions in general, tended to make up the vision of the world that best suited their assumptions.

The policy under both the Carter and the Reagan administrations was to keep a leftist government from coming to power in ES. It was a policy better served by viewing the opposition in simplest black-and-white terms, by using labels such as terrorists, Marxist-Leninists, … or Communist-led insurgents.

By contrast, Reagan administration officials, and most reporters, did not politically label as rightists the forces that the United States trained and equipped and that were trying to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. They were usually referred to as simply guerrillas, rebels, insurgents, or counterrevolutionaries (often shortened to the Spanish contras). President Reagan called them freedom fighters. …

“There would almost never be a discussion of the ideological issues involved” … Feinberg explained. “It was basically labeling. The information from the CIA would basically be: These guys are Marxist.” … “We didn’t know shit about the [ES] left,” said a senior member of the Carter administration.” … An embassy officer who served in ES until mid-1982 said that the US embassy “knew very little about who exactly is out there in the hills. … We know that they receive arms through Nicaragua. But beyond that I don’t think we know very much. ” …

Robert White, who frequently used the phrase “Pol Pot Left” to refer to the Salvadoran left when he was ambassador [in ES], was more charitable after he had left El Salvador. … White told a congressional subcommittee: “The guerrilla groups, the revolutionary groups, almost without exception began as associations of teachers, associations of labor unions, campesino unions, or parish organizations which were organized for the definite purpose of getting a schoolhouse up on the market road. When they tried to use their power of association to gain their ends, first they were warned and then they were persecuted and tortured and shot.” (Bonner 87, 88.)


Part of the reason the Reagan administration’s analysis of ES was so informed, penetrating, and balanced was because Reagan had been careful to surround himself with capable, seasoned analysts with a strong sense of Central American history and society:

To implement his hard-line policy in Central America, Reagan conducted one of the most thorough purges in State Department history. … Reagan removed from the highest levels of the State Department and as ambassadors in Central America nearly everyone with knowledge about and understanding of Latin America. In their stead were substituted men who had established their conservative reputation, in many instances a bit tarnished, in Southeast Asia. “The Gang That Blew Vietnam Goes Latin” is how The Washington Post characterized Reagan’s Central America team. …

Enders [assistance secretary of state for Inter-American affairs] was to be the first assistant secretary for Latin America in several decades without any prior experience in the region. He could speak several languages–French, German, Italian–but not Spanish. (Bonner, 244-245.)


What the US state actually wanted

The administrations under Carter and Reagan funded, equipped, and supported the ES junta for a decade. They wanted what the US state has always wanted in Latin America: a reliable client prepared to offer profitable arrangements for US businesses.

***

Photo-documentation of the conflict can be viewed in this PDF file.

***

The Oliver Stone film Salvador does a good job portraying some of the events and issues of the early 1980s US backing of the junta:

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Re: The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women we

Postby admin » Tue May 30, 2017 3:11 am

El Mozote Case Study
by Stanley Meisler

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Synopsis:

This case examines foreign coverage of a wartime episode when reporters have to test their powers of observation and verification. It raises the issues of one-sided information, the role of an editor and a news organization’s relationship with government.

Narrative:

In 1981, at the height of the Cold War, the new Reagan Administration rushed arms and funds to the army of El Salvador in a determined campaign to prevent the country from falling to leftist rebels the way Nicaragua had during the Carter Administration. Sensing the whiff of a possible new Vietnam, editors assigned correspondents and stringers there to find out what was going on. Watching the rebels in action was an obvious story, and American reporters repeatedly asked leftist contacts in the capital of San Salvador and elsewhere to arrange for them to travel with the revolutionary guerrillas. "As I remember it," says Ray Bonner of the New York Times, "I wanted to go in with the guerrillas. I think every reporter down there wanted to go in with the guerrillas. How could you not want to go in with the guerrillas?"

Both Bonner and Alma Guillermoprieto, a stringer for the Washington Post, had received separate invitations from the guerrillas in December 1981 to enter Morazán, a province in northeastern El Salvador largely under rebel control. But the rebels called off the visits before the two reporters arrived. The Salvadoran Army was mounting a massive offensive against the guerrillas in Morazán. This was not the time for the guerrillas to entertain foreign correspondents.

Soon after New Year’s Day 1982, Bonner, back in New York, received word from the rebels that they were extending the invitation once more. He and freelance photographer Susan Meiselas, who had won international acclaim for her photographs of the Nicaraguan Civil War, prepared to fly to Honduras to enter Morazán together.

New York Times and Washington Post reporters regard themselves as competitors. But dangerous assignments like coverage of the wars in Central American foster camaraderie among foreign correspondents. Just before departing New York, Bonner phoned Guillermoprieto in Mexico City. "Ray said he would hate himself for telling me," she recalls, "but he finally said he was going in." G uillermoprieto was shocked. No one had reached her to reinstate her invitation. " I got berserk," she says. She sought help from Mexican journalists who had contacts with the guerrillas in Morazán. Those contacts had helped her set up the aborted trip in December. "I picked up all the threads," she says. Three days after Bonner telephoned, she received word from the guerrillas that they would allow her, too, into their territory. Guillermoprieto flew to Honduras, relieved yet fretful about Bonner’s head start.

Neither correspondent had much news experience in those days. Bonner, then 39, was a former Marine officer, San Francisco lawyer, assistant district attorney, Nader’s Raider and law instructor who had decided a few years earlier to seek a career in journalism. He had set out for Latin America and, as he puts it, "started bumming around." As a free lance, he attracted attention at the New York Times with some dispatches from Bolivia. The Times soon found itself short-handed in Central America because its veteran Mexico City correspondent Alan Riding had received death threats from right-wing extremists in both El Salvador and Guatemala. Bonner, asked to string in those two countries, arrived in San Salvador just before Salvadoran National Guardsmen executed four American nuns near the airport in early December 1981. "I got there on Sunday, the nuns were killed on Tuesday," he says, "and the rest is history." Within a month, the Times hired him as a reporter. He was assigned to the metro staff in New York but spent most of the year on loan to the foreign desk, heading in and out of Central America.

Guillermoprieto, then 32, was not yet a staff reporter for any publication. During the past two and a half years, she had worked as a stringer for a London newsletter, the Guardian and, since mid-1981, The Washington Post. Operating out of Mexico City, where she was born and raised, Guillermoprieto was bilingual, able to speak and write both English and Spanish fluently.

The editors had no hesitation about approving the trips into rebel territory. Bonner says he received "the usual caution — We don’t want you to do this if you don’t think it’s safe. Be careful, et cetera, et cetera." But Bonner had no intention of canceling his trip out of fear. Bonner, in fact, had long ago shrugged off the fears of working in the city of San Salvador. Despite the obvious hatred of him by right wing extremists, he would jog by himself every morning. "I used to say they would never kill a New York Times reporter," he recalls. "Then, I’d think, wait a minute. They killed four nuns. Why do I say that?"

Like Alan Riding of the Times, Guillermoprieto no longer traveled to San Salvador because of right-wing death threats. But she does not even recall discussing safety when she talked about the impending trip to guerrilla territory with Jim Hoagland, the assistant managing editor for foreign news, and Karen De Young, the foreign editor. In Guillermoprieto’s mind, there was simply no question that the story was worth the risks involved. Though she might find herself in extreme dangers, she understood that these were "the rules of the game." She does recall asking whether the Post would pay for her gear as well as her airfare. "I was a stringer," she said. "Stringers get treated like dirt." The Post agreed to pay for her gear.

On the Scene

Reports of a massacre by the Salvadoran Army were spreading before Bonner and Guillermoprieto entered Morazán. The Rev. William L. Wipfler, the director of the human rights office of the National Council of Churches in New York, telegraphed U.S. Ambassador Deane Hinton for "confirmation or otherwise" of the reports of a massacre. He also left a message for Bonner in the Mexico City office of the New York Times. The message never reached Bonner. Radio Venceremos, the voice of the rebels, which had shut down during the government offensive, resumed broadcasting in late December and issued its first massacre account — a highly emotional one — on Christmas eve. Salvadoran President José Napoléon Duarte, in a national broadcast a week later, denounced the massacre story as "a guerrilla trick."

Despite these public accusations and counteraccusations, Bonner and Guillermoprieto, outside El Salvador at the time, were so preoccupied with arrangements to enter Morazán that neither recalls knowing anything about the massacre before meeting the guerrillas. Bonner and Meiselas checked into the Maya Hotel in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Their instructions were to go to a designated coffee shop and look for a contact carrying a Time Magazine. They did not find him in the coffee shop but wandering on the road nearby. The contact led them by car on January 3rd to a mountainous area near the border of El Salvador. "We removed our trousers, then held our shoes above our heads while crossing a wide river," Bonner would write a few years later. "…I was scared. I flashed back so many years earlier, to when I had been in Vietnam and how patrols were ambushed at night. Our Salvadoran escorts were so poorly armed…that I knew they would be no match for an army patrol." There would be three night marches before they reached rebel-controlled territory.

Guillermoprieto checked in at the Maya Hotel a few days later. While waiting two days for an escort, she walked up and down the hills of Tegucigalpa in what she now calls "a desperate attempt to get into shape." She later followed the same arduous and dangerous route as Bonner and Meiselas with escorts resentful that they had to endanger themselves by guiding a third journalist. Fording the wide river in her bikini underwear bottom, she slipped, ruining her camera and damaging her pack. After three nights of walking, she came to a rebel camp where Bonner and Meiselas were waiting to take the route back to Honduras.

"They were going out as I was coming in," she says. "I was jealous and envious and enraged about being scooped. But I didn’t realize they had the story." After talking with Bonner, in fact, she felt better, for he seemed excited about seeing the guerrillas in combat. "I was interested in seeing how their society was organized," she says. "I wasn’t that interested in combat."

On her first day in rebel territory, the guerrillas led her to El Mozote and nearby villages. Guillermoprieto came upon awful sights that had shocked Bonner and Meiselas a few days earlier. The "sickly sweet smell of decomposing bodies" pressed the air.

The two American journalists and the American photographer saw dozens of bodies beneath the rubble of the village and lying in nearby fields. They found little children’s bodies rotting in the charred ruins of adobe houses. The village church was in ruins. An array of bones lay in the burned sacristy. Skulls, rib cages, femurs, a spinal column and countless other pieces of bone poked out of ruble. They found charred bones in two of the burned houses of the village. These scenes, photographed by Meiselas, would appear in the Washington Post and the Sunday magazine of the New York Times. "By the end of the day," says Guillermoprieto, "I realized that something untoward and unspeakable had taken place."

In a nearby refugee camp, Guillermoprieto, like Bonner, interviewed Rufina Amaya, the sole survivor of the El Mozote massacre. Guillermoprieto also interviewed two survivors from attacks on other villages. Aside from these eyewitnesses she interviewed a dozen other civilians who told her that their relatives had been killed by the Salvadoran soldiers. In all, Bonner said he interviewed thirteen peasants who told him that Salvadoran soldiers had killed their relatives. Both Bonner and Guillermoprieto were allowed to interview the civilians without the presence of guerrillas. The rebel soldiers also gave the reporters their version of events, and Guillermoprieto said that an American working in the area also described what he believed had taken place. Bonner said that he, too, had met an American, whom he identified as Joe David Sanderson. According to Bonner, Sanderson was killed in combat a few months later. Bonner also received a list from some villagers with the names of 733 peasants killed by the Salvadoran army. Bonner was told that the survivors had compiled the list.

From their separate interviews and observations, Bonner and Guillermoprieto, who did not consult each other afterwards, put together more or less the same basic account of what had happened:

In mid-December, a few weeks before the American reporters entered Morazán, the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Army had destroyed the village, killing almost everyone there. The Atlacatl was an elite, 1000-man battalion trained in counterinsurgency and rapid deployment by U.S. Special Forces military advisors. The Atlacatl, commanded by Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa, was taking part in a Salvadoran Army search-and-destroy offensive in northern Morazán, an area largely in the hands of the rebels.

The Atlacatl soldiers marched into the village of El Mozote in the late afternoon of December 11. The village had fifteen to twenty mud brick homes around a square with a church and a small building that served as a kind of sacristy. The villagers did not regard themselves as rebel supporters, and some government soldiers had assured a local businessman that no villager would be harmed if all remained in their homes.

The Atlacatl soldiers, however, pounded on the homes and forced everyone to come out and lie down on the square in the darkness. After an hour and a half, the villagers were allowed to go back into their homes. "We were happy then," Rufina Amaya told Guillermoprieto. "`The repression is over,’ we said."

But before dawn the next day, the soldiers forced everyone back into the square. After a few hours of standing, the soldiers separated the men from the women and children and herded the men into the church. The women and children were put into a single home.

The soldiers beat and interrogated the men and then led them blindfolded from the church in small groups. At noon, the soldiers pulled young girls and women out of the house and took them to the hills outside the village, raping and killing them. The soldiers returned for the older women, marching them in small groups to another house where soldiers waited to shoot them. Some soldiers hesitated about killing children. But their officers berated them. Mrs. Amaya told Bonner she heard her nine-year-old son scream, "Mama, they’re killing me. They’ve killed my sister. They’re going to kill me."

After the carnage, the Atlacatl Battalion burned down the buildings of El Mozote and moved on. Rufina Amaya, who had heard the screams of her husband and other children as they were murdered, managed to slip away. Both before and after the massacre, the soldiers killed civilians in other villages. But no other village suffered a slaughter as massive and as near complete as El Mozote. Hundreds of civilians had died.

Guillermonprieto’s Report

Guillermoprieto felt that she had to get her story out right away. It was not so much the fear of being scooped. But she was sure that, if Bonner’s story appeared on the front page of the New York Times and hers reached the Post more than a day later, the editors would cut it and place it inside. "I was desperate," she says. "I was going to lose this story. It was going to be on page 17 in four paragraphs." What had happened, she believed, was a monstrosity, and she wanted everyone in Washington to take notice.

After gathering more detail from villagers and guerrillas on the second day, she sat down and wrote the story in closely packed script on seven pages of her notebook. She rolled the pages into a plastic film canister and persuaded a young rebel courier to take it to Tegucigalpa. Her plan to get the copy to the Post involved several simple but crucial steps. "Miraculously, it worked," she says. Following her instructions, the courier phoned an American radio journalist in Tegucigalpa. He picked up the canister and, heeding the plea on the handwritten copy, dictated the story to the Post.

The Editing Process

Guillermoprieto’s visit was cut short a few days later when the guerrilla commander informed her that he could no longer guarantee her safety. It was probably time to go anyway. She had banged a leg on a rock, and it was swelling. "When I got back to the Maya Hotel in Tegucigalpa," she says, "I was a nightmare. I had this enormous purple leg. I called the Post and asked, ‘When did the story run?’ And Karen (Foreign Editor De Young) said we were waiting to talk with you."

This upset Guillermoprieto . She felt that "they didn’t believe the story. Both Jim (Assistant Managing Editor Hoagland) and Karen thought I was overwrought and got too emotional and was too sympathetic to the guerrillas. What happened was so unbelievable that they didn’t believe it." There was only one consolation. She had not been scooped by Bonner. No story of his on the massacre had yet run in the Times.

The delay in publishing Guillermoprieto’s story was less an issue of belief than of cautious editorial practice. Since De Young had covered the Nicaraguan Civil War and other Central American stories as a highly regarded correspondent, she and other Post editors were sensitive to the need in Washington to produce full evidence in any story exposing the brutality of the armies of anti-communist dictatorships in the region. Without such evidence, the stories would be dismissed as left-wing propaganda.

Hoagland took the phone to talk with Guillermoprieto. "Jim spent an hour grilling me," she says. "God bless him, he was convinced." As Hoagland recalls the hour-long conversation, "We wanted to go over the details that had to be explained…It was not an unbelievable story to me. But we had to ask the basic question that all editors ask — How do we know that?" After the talk, he says, "I was satisfied that we had shown the scope of what we knew." Even though there was a possibility the Post would be scooped by Bonner, Hoagland says he had no intention of running the story until he had talked with Guillermoprieto and satisfied himself about the evidence.

The story was heavily edited by De Young. Guillermoprieto, who now writes for the New Yorker, says she tends to write at length and take time before getting to the heart of a story. She believes that the first half of her story was incoherent and that De Young mostly used the second half. After conferring with her, De Young and Hoagland inserted a key paragraph. It stated that the rebels had invited her to the province two weeks after their radio station had broadcast reports of the massacre. "It was clear that the guerrillas’ purpose was not only to demonstrate their control of the region," the paragraph said, "but also to provide what they said was evidence of the alleged massacre in December." Hoagland says readers need to know "when you are in a situation where you are dependent on your hosts for food and lodging and, in fact, your life."

After her talks with Hoagland and De Young, Guillermoprieto slept for a day. She felt feverish but wrote quickly, finishing a series of articles on life behind guerrilla lines. The story already in the hands of her editors was published in the Post on Wednesday, January 27, with the headline: "Salvadoran Peasants Describe Mass Killing: Woman Tells of Children’s Death."

Datelined Mozote, the Post story began:

"Several hundred civilians, including women and children, were taken from their homes in and around this village and killed by Salvadoran Army troops during a December offensive against leftist guerrillas, according to three survivors who say they witnessed the alleged massacres.

"Reporters taken to tour the region and speak to survivors by guerrilla soldiers, who control large areas of Morazán Province, were shown the rubble of scores of adobe houses they and the survivors said were destroyed by the troops in the now deserted village community. Dozens of decomposing bodies still were seen beneath the rubble and lying in nearby fields, despite the month that has passed since the incident.

"In Washington, Salvadoran Ambassador Ernesto Rivas Gallont said, ‘I reject emphatically that the Army of El Salvador’ was engaged in ‘killing women and children. It is not within the armed institution’s philosophy to act like that.’ He acknowledged that the ‘armed forces have been active in that part of the country,’ particularly during a December offensive against the guerrillas, but said that their actions had ‘definitely not been against the civilian populations.’

"The survivors, including a woman who said her husband and four of her six children were killed, maintained that no battle was under way during the second week in December when the alleged massacre took place…"
Bonner’s Report

Although the Times had already published the start of the Bonner series, his first article did not discuss the massacre. There was nothing by Bonner to match the Guillermoprieto story in the first edition of the Times for that day.

Bonner flew to Mexico City to write a series on life behind guerrilla lines. He did not rush out a story on the massacre but included it as the second piece in his series. He sent it to the New York Times as one in a batch of three articles. His fourth would follow. "I was so green and naïve in journalism that I didn’t know what I had," he says. "I didn’t know what impact it would have."

Craig Whitney, then deputy foreign editor of the Times, edited the series. After the first piece was published, he worked on the massacre story and then, much like Hoagland and De Young at the Post, set it aside, assuming he could talk with Bonner about it the next day. "The reporting was there," he recalls. "The next step was making sure by asking the obvious questions. How do you know it happened? What is the evidence? How do we know how many people were killed?" But Whitney received a call at home that evening informing him that Guillermoprieto’s story had appeared on the front page of the first edition of the Post. "I said run the story," says Whitney. "I edited it and talked with Ray on the phone, and it ran. It ran on Page 1. There was never any doubt that he had the basic facts." Bonner says "the story probably had a fair amount of editing because it probably needed it. I wasn’t an experienced writer at that time."

The story appeared on the front page of the final edition of the New York Times on Wednesday, January 27, the same day that the Guillermoprieto story appeared on the Post’s front page. The headline read: "Massacre of Hundreds Reported in Salvador Village."

Also datelined Mozote, the Times story began:

"From interviews with people who live in this small mountain village and surrounding hamlets, it is clear that a massacre of major proportions occurred here last month.

"In some 20 mud brick huts here, this reporter saw the charred skulls and bones of dozens of bodies buried under burned-out roofs, beams and shattered tiles. There were more along the trail leading through the hills into the village, and at the edge of a nearby cornfield were the remains of 14 young men, women and children.

"In separate interviews during a two-week period in the rebel-controlled northern part of Morazán Province, 13 peasants said that all these, their relatives and friends, had been killed by Government soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion in a sweep in December.

"The villagers have compiled a list of the names, ages and villages of 733 peasants, mostly children, women and old people, who they say were killed by the Government soldiers. The Human Rights Commission of El Salvador, which works with the Roman Catholic Church, puts the number at 926…"

Bonner’s story did not have a paragraph like the one in the Post story stating that the guerrillas had invited him in so that he could look at the massacre site. But, though almost all of the evidence in his story implicated the Salvadoran Army as the perpetrators of the massacres, the Bonner story did say, "It is not possible for an observer who was not present at the time of the massacre to determine independently how many people died or who killed them."

Although Bonner was too inexperienced to realize the impact that his story would have in Washington, he now feels that his inexperience was probably an advantage. "I was not journalistically trained," he says. "I wasn’t trained in the culture of the New York Times and I wasn’t trained even in the culture of journalism. I f I did a good job… I sometimes wonder how much of that was because I did not have journalistic training. I think I’d be much more cautious in what I wrote today, and I’m not sure it would be better…I had no idea what the impact of the New York Times was…Maybe that was good because I just wrote what I saw."

Guillermoprieto expected the stories to have more of an impact than they did. "I was surprised at the lack of world outrage," she says. "By my standards, what I had hoped for, there was no impact. I felt as if I were in a nightmare when you try to scream and have no voice."

Reactions Back Home

The stories on the front page of the two most influential newspapers in the country upset and embarrassed the Reagan Administration. They appeared a day before President Reagan sent Congress his certification that El Salvador was "making a concerted and significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human rights." he certification — required by law as a condition for continued military aid — was ludicrous if the stories were true.

In San Salvador, Ambassador Deane Hinton, who had already assured the National Council of Churches that he had no reason to believe that reports of a massacre were true, sent Todd Greentree, a political officer, and Maj. John McKay, a military attaché, to investigate. Greentree and McKay flew over El Mozote but, since it was in rebel territory, never set foot in it. On the ground, where they were joined by Deputy Chief of Mission Kenneth Bleakley, they interviewed refugees but mainly in the presence of Salvadoran soldiers. The conclusions of the embassy officers, sent to the State Department in a cable over Hinton’s signature, were cautiously put together.

"Although it is not possible to prove or disprove excesses of violence against the civilian population of El Mozote," the cable said, "it is certain that the guerrilla forces…did nothing to remove them from the path of battle…nor is there any evidence that those who remained attempted to leave. Civilians did die during Operation Rescate, but no evidence could be found to confirm that government forces systematically massacred civilians in the operation zone." There was a good deal of ambiguity in the cable, but it clearly blamed the rebels for leaving civilians "in the path of battle." This implied, of course, that they were killed by chance in battle and not by the deliberate act of bloodthirsty, abusive soldiers.

Citing the investigation by the two embassy officers and repeating the words of the cable, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas O. Enders told both a Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee and a House Appropriations Subcommittee a week after publication of the stories that "there is no evidence to confirm that government forces systematically massacred civilians in the operations zone." Enders also said that the number of dead civilians could not possibly have reached Guillermoprieto’s estimate of several hundred or Bonner’s of 500 to 700 since government records list the population of El Mozote as only 300. This ignored the fact that both correspondents had reported that the massacres occurred in more villages than just El Mozote.

The administration’s belittling of the news accounts soon led to a right-wing campaign against the reporters, especially Bonner. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal, citing as evidence the paragraph that the Post editors had inserted in Guillermoprieto’s story, said that Bonner had clearly taken part in "a propaganda exercise" and "there is such a thing as being overly credulous." The presence of the "propaganda" paragraph in the Post story deflected the attack from Guillermoprieto, and the Journal did not criticize her directly. But that did not mean it believed her account. Much of the American press in El Salvador, according to the Journal, was following a Vietnam War-style of reporting "in which Communist sources were given greater credence than either the U.S. government or the government it was supporting." But Bonner seemed the main culprit. The editorial accused Times editors and reporters who had defended Bonner of closing "ranks behind a reporter out on a limb."

The attacks intensified. George Melloan, who had contributed to the editorial, went on the televised McNeil-Lehrer Report to say that "obviously Ray Bonner has a political orientation." The conservative newsletter Accuracy in Media castigated Bonner for carrying on "a propaganda war favoring the Marxist guerrillas in El Salvador." Ambassador Hinton, in a breakfast with Washington reporters in June, dismissed Bonner as an "advocate journalist."

The attacks were too furious to be ignored in the Times newsroom. "There were all kinds of aspersions on Ray as a person and as a reporter," recalls Whitney, soon promoted to foreign editor. "…They (the administration) and their friends were really vicious about Ray and quite unfair. We probably applied more rigorous standards to his stories after then. But criticism makes me contrary and more determined than ever to get the story into the paper."

In August, seven months after the El Mozote stories were published, Managing Editor A. M. Rosenthal withdrew Bonner from Central America and assigned him to the business section in New York. Rosenthal insisted at the time and continues to maintain today that the relatively inexperienced Bonner needed more training as a journalist and more understanding of the way the New York Times works. The reassignment, however, was interpreted in some journalistic circles as a repudiation of Bonner and a surrender to pressures from the Reagan Administration.

This interpretation infuriates Rosenthal. Citing the Times’s history of defying Washington — especially its publication of the Pentagon Papers during the Nixon Administration, Rosenthal says, "The Times has a pretty good record. Why in God’s name should we become whores for Ray Bonner?" He says any suggestion that he punished Bonner for writing the El Mozote story "is a lie."

But Rosenthal, who covered communist Poland as a young foreign correspondent and had the reputation of a tough Cold Warrior, acknowledges that he may have been worried about Bonner’s attitudes toward the Salvadoran government and toward the Salvadoran rebels. "As a matter of fact," he says, "I had doubts about a large part of the press corps." It was no accident that he hired Shirley Christian of the Miami Herald as a Times correspondent after she wrote an article in the Columbia Journalism Review denouncing American reporters for favoring the leftist Sandinista rebels during the Nicaraguan Civil War. While the need for training was the primary motive for reassigning Bonner, Rosenthal continues, "I’m not saying we were not worried about his articles. He’s a good reporter, but he’s not Jesus Christ Almighty."

Bonner agrees that he was not reassigned because of State Department pressure over the El Mozote story. A colleague informed him that Rosenthal told several Times editors and reporters at a private meeting, "If I have to choose between Bonner and the State Department, I’ll take Bonner." But Bonner believes that Rosenthal regarded communism as a far greater threat to Central America than brutal, repressive regimes and was troubled by correspondents who spent what Rosenthal regarded as too much time exposing the tactics of these regimes. Rosenthal, according to Bonner, was probably more upset by Bonner’s favorable view of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua than by the El Mozote story. Bonner says that three of his Nicaragua stories were never published.

The reassignment may have chilled El Salvador coverage. Reporters, according to Michael Massing of the Columbia Journalism Review, became "wary of provoking the embassy." "If they can kick out the Times correspondent," said one foreign correspondent in San Salvador, "you’ve got to be careful." A New York Times correspondent heading off to Latin America told Bonner, "I’m not going to get caught in the same trap that you did." The whole episode, said another Times foreign correspondent, "had an intimidating effect on the foreign desk."

Bonner took a leave of absence to write a book on El Salvador and then resigned from the Times in 1984. He became a free lance writer working mainly for The New Yorker. In the 1990s, after Rosenthal retired as executive editor and began writing a column, Bonner returned to the Times as a contract writer and then as a staff correspondent assigned to Washington in 1999.

The Post rewarded Guillermoprieto by promoting her to a full-time job in Washington as a reporter. But the promotion did not work out well. "The whole thing was hexed from the beginning," she says. Her mother took ill and soon died. After the excitement of covering Central America, she had to cover suburban Maryland for the metro desk. Instead of reporting wars, she had to report on fires breaking out in middle class American homes. She felt a kind of culture shock. "It was a complete mismatch," she says.

She also felt "there was a ring of mistrust around me" because of her Salvador stories and the attacks on her by the Reagan Administration. The Post in those days was subject to a continual barrage of criticism from the White House. "There was tremendous pressure on us during the Reagan Administration," says De Young, the foreign editor. "People in the White House would complain to high executives at the Post about the correspondents covering Central America. That led to an air of mistrust. You know, if you call someone a leftist often enough, some of it sticks. But, having said that, I can not think of a single time that a story was changed or dropped because of pressure from the White House."

In a similar description of the atmosphere, Hoagland, the assistant managing editor, says it was not unusual for some editors to feel suspicious about the reporting of a correspondent in the field. "It was sort of like what happened in newsrooms during the Vietnam War," he says. "There is a difference between the Washington view, based on what editors hear from officials, and the view of reporters in the field who see the problems and failures of U.S. policy." But Hoagland believes that he defended Guillermoprieto against the doubts of some editors and that he had a duty to defend her. "I defended someone who had risked her life for us and given us a scoop," he says.

After two years, Guillermoprieto won an Alicia Patterson fellowship for travel in Europe and then accepted a job with Newsweek as its Latin American correspondent. She left Newsweek in 1987 to write a book and then became a staff writer for the New Yorker.

Epilogue

Guillermoprieto and Bonner were vindicated 11 years after the publication of their dispatches on the massacres.

As part of the accords that ended the Salvadoran Civil War on December 31, 1991, the U.N. Secretary-General appointed a Truth Commission to record the violations of human rights during the war and identify the culprits who perpetrated them. The commission comprised former Colombian President Belisario Betancur as chairman, former Venezuelan Foreign Minister Reinaldo Figueredo Planchart, and Thomas Buergenthal, an American law professor who once headed the Inter-American Court for Human Rights.

The Commission issued its report in March 1993. In the section on El Mozote, the commissioners concluded that "more than 500 identified victims perished at El Mozote and in the other villages." They added that "many other victims have not been identified" but gave no estimate of their number.

There was "full proof," the commissioners said, that units of the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion "deliberately and systematically killed…the entire civilian population that they had found there." The commission added that there was "sufficient evidence" that the soldiers "massacred the non-combatant civilian population" in several nearby villages both before and after the El Mozote slaughter.

The commission’s conclusions were based heavily on the findings of forensic experts. A team of four Argentine forensic anthropologists dug up and examined the bones in El Mozote and then passed the material on to a team of four American doctors in San Salvador for a forensic examination.

The most damning evidence was exhumed in the sacristy. The Argentines found the skeletal remains of 143 bodies there. Of these, 131 were of children under the age of 12. The evidence showed that many of the victims were lying on the ground when shot from above by the killers standing in the door and by the windows. The bullets uncovered were U.S. government ammunition for U.S. government M16 rifles. The forensic experts concluded that the evidence "confirms the allegations of a mass murder." "There is no evidence to support the contention," the experts went on, "that these victims, almost all young children, were involved in combat or were caught in the crossfire of combat forces." The Truth Commission condemned the El Mozote massacre as "a serious violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law."

In all, the Truth Commission received 22,000 complaints of human rights abuses during the war. In contrast to what the Reagan Administration had insisted about rebel exaggerations and rebel killings, the commissioners said that the victims attributed 85 percent of the abuses to the army and other agents of the state, paramilitary groups allied to the government, and right-wing death squads.

After the Truth Commission published its report, Secretary of State Warren Christopher appointed a panel to examine "the activities and conduct" of the State Department during the war. The panel was made up of I. M. Destler, a professor at the University of Maryland, and two distinguished former foreign service officers, George S. Vest and Richard W. Murphy.

The panel was generally kind to the State Department. It concluded that "within the parameters of overall U.S. policy, the Department and Foreign Service personnel performed creditably — and on occasion with personal bravery — in advancing human rights in El Salvador." But the panel found a few exceptions, and El Mozote was the main one.

The panel criticized Assistant Secretary of State Enders for failing to make clear to Congress that the two U.S. embassy officers had not set foot in El Mozote during their investigation. The department was chastised for going even further than Enders in trying to discredit the Bonner and Guillermoprieto stories in its correspondence with members of Congress. Although Ambassador Hinton had cabled Washington in February his suspicion that "something happened that should not have happened and that it is quite possible Salvadoran military did commit excesses," the State Department still insisted in July that it had "no evidence to support allegations of large-scale massacres." That went even further than the testimony of Enders that they had no evidence "to confirm" the massacres.

The panel said that the reports of the massacre had clearly called for "an extraordinary effort" by the State Department to investigate what had happened. But none was mounted. "The Embassy does not seem to have been inclined to press," the panel said, "and Washington preferred to avoid the issue and protect its policy then under siege." The panel concluded that U.S. statements on the case were wrong and "undermined the Department’s credibility with its critics — and probably with the Salvadorans — in a serious way that has not healed."
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Re: The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women we

Postby admin » Tue May 30, 2017 3:14 am

Did Bill O’Reilly Cover Up a War Crime in El Salvador?: Brian Williams isn’t the only one telling fibs.
by Greg Grandin
February 9, 2015

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Before Bill O’Reilly was, well, Bill O’Reilly, he worked for a time as a foreign correspondent for CBS Nightly News, anchored by Dan Rather. O’Reilly talks about that period of his career in two of his books, and in both mentions that in early 1982 he reported from northeastern El Salvador, just after the infamous El Mozote Massacre. “When the CBS News bureau chief asked for volunteers to check out an alleged massacre in the dangerous Morazán Territory, a mountainous region bordering Nicaragua, I willingly went.”

El Mozote is a small, hard-to-reach hamlet. The massacre took place on December 11, 1981, carried out by US-trained Atlacatl Battalion, which was not just trained but created by the United States as a rapid response unit to fight El Salvador’s fast-spreading FMLN insurgency. The killing was savage beyond belief: between 733 and 900 villagers were slaughtered, decapitated, impaled and burned alive.

The story of the massacre was broken on the front page of The New York Timesby the journalist Raymond Bonner and in The Washington Post by Alma Guillermoprieto; both stories were published on January 27, 1982, and accompanied by photographs taken by Susan Meiselas. Bonner and Meiselas got to El Mozote, after hearing about the massacre, by walking for days in from Honduras. Guillermoprieto wrote about seeing “countless bits of bones—skulls, rib cages, femurs, a spinal column” poking “out of the rubble.” Bonner noted the “charred skulls and bones of dozens of bodies buried under burned-out roofs, beams, and shattered tiles.” Later, Mark Danner reported on the massacre in detail, first in a lengthy New Yorker essay and then in a book.

Aside from the brutality of the killing, El Mozote is distinguished by the fact that Washington moved quickly to cover it up. It was, in a way, the first massacre of the “second Cold War,” the Reagan administration’s drive to retake the third world; what My Lai was to the 1960s, El Mozote was to the 1980s (later, in 1989, Atlacatl would commit another infamous crime: the execution of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter).

In addition to describing the massacre, Danner documents the cover-up in detail: the US embassy in El Salvador immediately disputed Bonner’s and Guillermoprieto’s reporting, as did New Right organizations like Accuracy in Media. Thomas Enders, Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for inter-American Affairs, and Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for human rights, denied the killing. Abrams said “it appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.” The Wall Street Journal called Bonner “overly credulous” and “out on a limb” and placed the word massacre in “scare quotes.” The Times sided with the critics, and Bonner eventually left the paper, after first being transferred to the business section.

O’Reilly doesn’t give an exact date for when he travelled to El Salvador, but he writes that it was just before the Falklands War. In other words, probably in March 1982, between the first reports of the “alleged massacre,” in late January, and Argentina’s early April invasion of the Malvinas. Here’s O’Reilly’s account, from his book, The No Spin Zone:

A few weeks after taking the CBS job I was flown to El Salvador to report on the war going on there at the time. I drew an assignment that sent me to the Morazán province in the mountainous northeastern part of that beautiful country. This was ‘Indian country,’ a place where the communist guerrillas (‘los muchachos’) operated with impunity. It was a dangerous place, and my crew—driver, producer, and cameraman—was not thrilled to be going there. It took us a full day to drive to Morazán from San Salvador, the capital city, because all the bridges had been blown up and we had to ford the rivers in our van. This was slow going, making us easy targets. Our only protection was a message painted in black letters over and over again on the sides of the van: periodistas—no dispare (Journalists—don’t shoot).


O’Reilly continues along these lines, emphasizing the danger he and his crew faced. He recounts being given the “local war news” by a Salvadoran army colonel: “The ‘muchachos’ had wiped out a small village called Meanguera a few miles to the south because its mayor was deemed friendly to the government. The atrocity had not been confirmed, though, because nobody in his right mind would go into the guerrilla-controlled areas.”

Note that O’Reilly doesn’t mention the massacre at El Mozote. He rather focuses on a supposed killing committed by leftist insurgents in nearby Meanguera (Meanguera, a municipal town center, is nine kilometers away from the hamlet of El Mozote). It is extremely unlikely that O’Reilly would not have known about the El Mozote massacre. Not only was it reported on in all the major papers, the Reagan administration’s denials had themselves become a story (The Wall Street Journal ran its attack on Bonner on February 10).

In any case, O’Reilly went to Meanguera and not El Mozote. Leigh Binford, an anthropologist who wrote a great book on the larger context of the massacre, tells me that “all of these municipal centers sustained attacks by the FMLN; they were, after all, where the repressive forces (National Guard or Treasury Police) were housed, and from which they had been making forays into the countryside over the course of at least a year to kill, harass, capture, and torture for some time.” So it is very possible that Meanguera was attacked by the rebels. But it certainly wasn’t “wiped out.” In other words, going to Meanguera in early 1982 would be as if Seymour Hersh, when he first learned of the My Lai massacre, decided to investigate events the next town over.

Here’s what O’Reilly writes in his book about his report: when he finally arrived in Meanguera, “the place was leveled to the ground and fires were still smoldering. But even though the carnage was obviously recent, we saw no one live or dead. There was absolutely nobody around who could tell us what happened. I quickly did a stand-up amid the rubble and we got the hell out of there.”

He continues to emphasize his courage (writing that a Salvadoran military official said that he had “cojones” for having travelled to Meanguera). Then, having made it back to San Salvador safely, he filed his story: “I explained that while a scorched-earth policy was clearly in effect in remote village—the evidence was right there on tape—it was impossible to say just who was doing the scorching. Could be the muchachos [that is, the guerrillas], could be the government. The ninety-second package contained great video and a fairly impressive ‘on the scene in a very bad place’ stand-up by yours truly.”

O’Reilly tells a version of this story in two different books, since it supposedly captures a key moment in his personal narrative, a moment when he stood up to the “liberal establishment”—that is, CBS News—and eventually becomes who he is today. His editor apparently didn’t broadcast the report until O’Reilly forced him to do so.

I’ve located the broadcast and there are a number of problems with how O’Reilly tells the story in his book.


Video courtesy of Vanderbilt TV News Archive

First off, Meanguera isn’t “leveled.” There are some knocked-down buildings, and a bit of rubble in front of which O’Reilly gives his “impressive” stand-up. But most of the town seems intact. No “smoldering” fires are to be seen. “We saw no one, alive or dead,” he writes. But I counted at least eight people who looked like residents of the town in the broadcast, going about their business. Also, the clip makes clear that O’Reilly actually got a fly-over helicopter tour of the region by the Salvadoran army, to survey infrastructure damage caused by the rebels—so at least part of his harrowing journey into “Indian Country” was at an altitude.

But, more importantly, as Bonner and Guillermoprieto (and then, later, Danner and Binford) show, it was not “impossible” to say who was “doing the scorching.” The question is: Did O’Reilly intentionally deflect away from a war crime that implicated Reagan’s Central American policy, or was the deflection a result of his ignorance and laziness?

O’Reilly’s report captures the degeneration of post-Vietnam journalism. Bonner, Guillermoprieto, and Meiselas were operating under the old model, pioneered in Southeast Asia by correspondents like Neil Sheehan and Peter Arnett who questioned Washington’s version of events and did all that was necessary to get to the scene and get at the truth. In contrast, O’Reilly, whether he was whisked into Meanguera on a US-supplied helicopter or arrived overland, did, as he writes, a ninety-second “package”—a “stand-up” routine that largely confirmed the official story, as dictated by Enders and Abrams. Bonner was punished for his intrepidness. O’Reilly went on to transform cable TV.

In his memoir, O’Reilly said, of his reporting in El Salvador, that he “banished the fear from my mind.” “I learned a tremendous amount about the conflict and about myself. I could face a high-risk situation. It was a huge confidence builder.”

H/T John Dolan.
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Re: The Diplomat and the Killer: When four American women we

Postby admin » Tue May 30, 2017 4:24 am

The Diplomat Who Wouldn’t Lie: Robert White was the rare official who chose to lose his job to keep his integrity.
by Raymond Bonner
April 19, 2015

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“An ambassador is a gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” It was an English poet, as well as diplomat, Sir Henry Wooten, who coined this aphorism, over four hundred years ago. Through the ages, many a diplomat—too many—has observed the maxim. Robert White was not one. White, who worked for seven presidents, served America by refusing to lie—holding firm even when pressured to sweep murder under the rug by the Reagan Administration—an act of principle and integrity that cost him his career.

White, who died in January at the age of 88, was sent by President Carter to El Salvador in 1980. As hard as it is to fathom today, at that time the tiny nation—White was fond of observing that it was possible to see the entire country from a helicopter at 9000 feet—was on the front burner of American foreign policy, as Syria, Iraq, ISIS, are today. The fear then was Communism. In neighboring Nicaragua, the Sandinistas had overthrown the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, whose family had ruled and looted the country for decades, with American acquiescence.

Washington was now worried that El Salvador would be the next domino to fall into the Moscow-Havana-Managua orbit. The country had long been ruled by an alliance of the military and the oligarchy. With support from the country’s peasants, a leftist-revolution led by students was growing.

Carter tasked White with preventing a civil war by assembling a political center, something between the extremist right and revolutionary left. During White’s confirmation hearings, Senator Jacob Javits, the moderate Republican from New York, urged him to be more than a traditional ambassador. “You really have to be an activist and take a chance with your career,” Javits told White. He was and he did.

White was a rarity among diplomats. He not only spoke his mind, he spoke it on the record. During one briefing at the American embassy, after White, dressed in his diplomatic pin stripes, took his seat behind the microphones, the press officer explained the ground rules. “This is for background,” he began. White interrupted, “Hell, no—what I have to say is on the record! You can attribute to me.”

I arrived in El Salvador to report for the New York Times several months after White had taken up his post. He sought to wean me from calling him “Mr. Ambassador,” by responding, “Mr. Journalist.”

The son of Irish immigrants, White enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 and served in the Pacific during World War II; when the war was over, he worked for two years to raise the money to attend college, at St. Michael’s in Vermont. He then got a degree from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, before entering the foreign service—Eisenhower was president, John Foster Dulles secretary of state.

Twenty-five years later, President Carter’s Secretary of State Cyrus Vance turned to White. “Secretary Vance had chosen me specifically to go to El Salvador because I liked the human rights policy of the Carter Administration,” White told me last year. “I thought it gave us an opportunity to distance ourselves from dictators, which by definition, are unstable; and to shelter democracy, and allow the democratic elements in these dictatorships of that era to change.”

I interviewed White for a mini-documentary I was working on with RetroReport, the innovative online news organization that revisits and re-reports on old stories as a counterweight to sound-bit journalism. We talked for nearly two hours, and I came away thinking what a tragedy that no one had done an oral history with him. He still looked every inch the distinguished diplomat, dressed in a sport coat and tie; his gravelly baritone voice still had a trace of his New England roots, and his mind was as sharp as three decades earlier. He had not yet been diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him.

White often clashed with Latin American dictators, from Paraguay’s Stroessner to Nicaragua’s Somoza—and with Washington. When he criticized the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet for his human rights abuses, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger issued a letter of reprimand; White threatened to resign; Kissinger withdrew it.

When he arrived in El Salvador, White faced a constant stream of atrocities. “Ten bullet-ridden bodies of people who have ‘disappeared’ are found daily on city streets or provincial highways, while the armed forces are increasingly attacking protest groups they describe as ‘subversive,’” the New York Times’ Alan Riding wrote in March 1980. A 27-year-old leftist politician and his 23-year-old Danish wife were picked up the National Police; their tortured bodies were later found by the roadside 40 miles from the capital. When workers went on strike at an American-owned electronics plant, security forces stormed the building, took three workers to a separate room, and shot them in the head. Soldiers killed at least 300 civilians, many women and children, as they were trying to cross the Rio Sumpul into the safety of Honduras. “There were so many vultures picking at the bodies in the water that it looked like a black carpet,” a priest said.

Not long after arriving in El Salvador, White sent Vance a “Preliminary Assessment of the Situation. The 27-page cable is reminiscent of George Kennan’s “long telegram”—which analyzed the political landscape in the Soviet Union in 1946 and set the containment policy that was to guide the United States during the Cold War—and it deserves to be accorded the same place and importance in history.

It was a highly classified “NoDis,” meaning that it was not to be sent to anyone who was not on the short recipient list. It was not declassified and released until 1994. Even then, it has been largely overlooked; I wasn’t aware of it until I interviewed White last year. I was struck at how accurate and prescient his analysis was—and, sadly, how it had been ignored in Washington.

“There is no stopping this revolution; no going back,”

White began. In a sentence, he explained why. “In El Salvador the rich and powerful have systematically defrauded the poor and denied 80 percent of the people any voice in the affairs of their country.”

The government’s security forces must “stop torturing and killing any youth between 14 and 25 because he may be involved with labor unions, church organizations, etc.,” White wrote. He added, “The daily total of dead, many among them teenagers bearing marks of brutal torture, result from right-wing terrorism.”

At the same time, he was fully aware of the threat from the left. “An extremist Communist take-over here, and by that I mean something just this side of the Pol Pot episode, is unfortunately a real possibility due to the intense hatred that has been created in his country among the masses by the insensitivity, blindness and brutality of the ruling elite.”

There was one thing White particularly wanted to be “well understood in Washington.” Yes, Cuba was providing training for some of the guerilla fighters and Russia was supplying some arms. But neither of these has “created this threat of violent revolution but rather decades of oppression and a studied refusal on the part of the elite to make any concessions to the masses.”

White outlined the “main players in this revolution.” They ranged from the “ultra-right,” to the “far left guerrilla groups,” as well as the army and included the Roman Catholic Church, which was led at the time by Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

Romero was the voice of the poor; his Sunday sermons were broadcast over radio, and peasants throughout Latin American tuned in. . White warned Washington in his cable that the archbishop might be the target of an “incident of terrorism.” Attending his first mass after presenting his credentials as ambassador, White heard the archbishop read from a letter he had sent President Carter calling for the cessation of military aid. The archbishop then turned to the Salvadoran military, and concluded the mass with a plea that rings through the ages. “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.”

The next day, Romero was celebrating a small mass for the mother of the owner of an independent newspaper, which had been bombed two weeks earlier, when a shot rang out. The bullet entered the left side of the archbishop’s chest, hit his heart and lodged in his lung.

White attended the funeral. His presence was a political statement, as much as a religious expression, applauded by the poor and peasants, condemned by the rich and military.

The Salvadoran military and some in Washington sought to blame the assassination on the left, but it was the work of a thirty-five year old former military officer, Roberto D’Aubuisson. Muscular, fit and charismatic, D’Aubuisson was the founder of a political party, the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance—and ran death squads, which targeted students, union leaders and peasants. White, again not mincing his words, described him as a “psychopathic killer,” barred him from the embassy and instructed his staff not to meet with him.

White worked tirelessly to achieve a political settlement. But he only had nine months—until Ronald Regan was elected in November 1980. In sharp contrast to White, Reagan’s first ambassador to El Salvador, Deane Hinton, whose mission was to repair U.S. relations with the Salvadoran right, welcomed D’Aubuisson. Hinton developed an “almost father-son relationship” with him, one of Hinton’s aides told me at the time. “He thought he could channel him, push him along the democratic path, and theoretically curb his more violent tendencies. In the process, he created a monster.” (In February, Pope Francis declared Archbishop Romero a martyr, a step toward sainthood. D’Aubuisson died in 1992.)

Raymond Bonner, a former foreign correspondent and investigative reporter for the New York Times, is author of Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong.
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