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Killing 4 women not policy { October 19 2000 }

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October 19, 2000

Killings of 4 Churchwomen Not Policy, Salvadoran Says

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Oct. 18 — Almost 20 years after Salvadoran soldiers beat, raped and shot four American churchwomen to death, the country's former defense minister testified in court for the first time today, saying that while men in his forces "could have" committed abuses, such crimes were in no way emblematic of the military as a whole.

"I have accepted that there were abuses committed in the forces, but not to point a finger at the institution making it responsible for everything that is going on," said former Gen. José Guillermo García, who was El Salvador's defense minister at the time of the killings.

In his daylong testimony in Federal Court here, Mr. García also asserted that whenever his office investigated press and diplomatic reports of killings and torture against unarmed civilians, the conclusion his subordinates brought him was always the same: the events were military operations.

And he repeatedly refused to acknowledge the occurrence of massacres by the Salvadoran military, even though the killings were later classified as such by an international Truth Commission that investigated the 12-year civil war, which claimed the lives of some 75,000 people.

Relatives of the churchwomen are seeking punitive and compensatory damages from the general and his co-defendant, former Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova. who was director of El Salvador's National Guard. Mr. García's testimony came in response to attempts by the plaintiffs' lawyers to set the historical context for their lawsuit.

The case has been brought in Florida, where the two men have lived in retirement for about 10 years, under the 1992 Torture Victim Protection Act. The law allows victims or their surviving relatives to sue individuals who may have known of crimes or the probability of their occurring but took no action to stop them.

While about a dozen such cases have been brought since the statute was enacted, this is one of the few where the defendants have appeared in court.

The day's testimony centered on Mr. García's knowledge of illegal acts by the military and the actions he took to address them, a central part of the plaintiffs' case.

The four women who were killed — Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Maryknoll sisters; Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline sister; and Jean Donovan, a lay missionary — were abducted, raped and shot to death while driving from the airport near San Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980.

Five Salvadoran national guardsmen were convicted of the crime in 1984, but Salvadoran authorities did not press charges against the military's leaders. Three of the guardsmen were later released after serving part of their 30-year sentences.

Members of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights traveled to El Salvador in 1998 to interview four of the five convicted guardsmen, who said then that they had acted on orders from superiors.

Speaking briefly after his testimony, Mr. García said he wanted to prove he had nothing to do with the murders of the churchwomen.

"I came here to demonstrate my innocence in participating in the crime against the nuns," he said. "But that was the least of what was discussed today."

When asked during his testimony about the 1981 massacre at El Mozote, where the elite Atlacatl Battalion killed 600 men, women and children, Mr. Garcia said he could not remember what information he had or what conversations he held with American diplomats at the time. One declassified cable projected on a screen behind Mr. García said he had told the American ambassador, Deane Hinton, that the account of the killings was "a soap opera."

"I am a very honest man and I do not recall having used those words," Mr. García said.

He later said: "I do not remember. I never denied there had been operations. What I say is, as it is referred to, a massacre, we were not able to accept it as such at the time."

When asked what inquiries he made, he said: "Yes, something was done. The corresponding level did an investigation. But the response was always the same, military action.

"It is easy in a time of peace to establish what really happened," he said. "But I agree, there were abuses that should not have been committed and which brought with them the consequences the result of which you talk about."

Mr. García was repeatedly asked about a newspaper advertisement in which the military published a list of "traitors to the Fatherland," which included the names of priests, political opponents and others accused of "discrediting" the country.

Despite being shown a newspaper article in which the military explained its decision to publish the list, which a plaintiff's lawyer called "a death list," Mr. García said that it was never authorized by the military commanders but that an investigation he ordered to determine its origin failed.

At the same time, he stunned onlookers when he said the publication of the list was "proof that there was freedom of expression" in El Salvador.

The killings of the churchwomen came at the beginning of an escalation in El Salvador's civil war, which also claimed the lives of Archbishop Oscar Romero and six Jesuits slain at the University of Central America. The church, along with proponents of liberation theology and its social interpretation of religious teachings, had been both an advocate for the country's poor and a target of its military.

The deaths of the Jesuits in 1989 caused outrage around the world and helped to galvanize international opposition to the Salvadoran regime.

The relatives of the slain women said that both officers had planned the attack and its subsequent cover- up. Although the two men denied knowing anything about the murders beforehand, a report by the United Nations after conflict ended said that Mr. García had failed to seriously investigate them.

In his testimony today, Mr. García said that he had requested that the killings be investigated and that he had not obstructed anything.

He said that he had been restricted by resources in investigating reported abuses and that the violence of the time resulted in claims of abuses being made by both sides. A later report by the Truth Commission, however, attributed some 85 percent of the abuses to the military and its allies in paramilitary death squads.

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Cuba criticizes reagan for salvador war { June 7 2004 }
El mozote massacre { December 10 1981 }
General cleared churchwomen deaths { November 3 2000 }
Generals connected to soa found liable for torture { July 23 2002 }
Genocide { March 31 1980 }
Killing 4 women not policy { October 19 2000 }
Murdered nun case refused { June 5 1998 }
Negroponte knowledge of 1980s death squads { March 21 2005 }
Nuns raped murdered
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Prey for nuns [jpg]
Rapist murderers of nuns in elsalvador released { July 22 1998 }
Romero { March 24 2002 }
Salvador commie threat just poor people { January 29 2007 }
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Suit filed oscar romero death { September 17 2003 }
Time line { July 18 2002 }
Torture victims win { July 24 2002 }
US considers salvador option for iraq { January 10 2005 }
Us role death romero { March 24 2002 }

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