Salvadoran generals' human rights trial reaches closing arguments
BY ELINOR J. BRECHER
With one of their number festively attired in a Halloween-motif
10-member Palm Beach County federal jury Tuesday heard the last word from the
last witness in the ground-breaking human rights case against two former
Codefendant Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, on redirect examination
lawyer, Kurt R. Klaus Jr., had been pursuing a convoluted analogy about El
Salvador's evolving democracy.
``Many changes have taken place,'' said Vides, 67, the National
Guard chief who
succeeded co-defendant José Guillermo García as defense minister in 1983.
``This is like giving birth. The baby is not born in one or two months. It is long and
painful to the one giving birth, and when it's over, it's a healthy baby. Then . . .
when you think you have resolved all the problems by the time he is 16, the
teenage problems begin.''
U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley held up his hand like a
stop sign -- as he
often has, when one of the generals heads off on a tangent -- and declared he had
It was 12:40 p.m. The jury that began viewing recently declassified
documents Oct. 10 will hear closing arguments and a lengthy, unusual jury
Then, they'll have to decide whether the families of Maryknoll
Sisters Ita Ford, 40,
and Maura Clarke, 49; Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, 40, and lay missionary
Jean Donovan, 27 -- whom National Guardsmen rape and shot on Dec. 2, 1980 --
have proved the generals' complicity in the deaths.
They're basing their civil suit on the 1992 federal Torture Victim Protection Act.
García, 67, of Plantation, won political asylum on Aug.
6, 1990. The Immigration
and Naturalization Service concluded, after consulting with the State
Department's Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs bureau, that García -- called
García-Merino in some INS documents -- had ``a well-founded fear of persecution''
in El Salvador.
INS also granted García's wife and son asylum (four other
children already had
Vides, 62, of Palm Coast, near Daytona, arrived about a year earlier,
a resident alien with a green card.
After he dismissed the jury, Hurley read several questions that
answered: Were the generals given written inquiries from U.S. officials about the
murders (they contend no U.S. investigators ever questioned them)?
Was there, in fact, a travel advisory in effect when the churchwomen
went to El
Salvador as missionaries in the 1970s and 1980?
And those Legion of Merit awards given the generals by U.S. Defense
brass in the mid-1980s: What was their significance?
A juror wanted to know whether there would be any justification
for them if State
Department officials really believed the generals were covering up the murders, as
the families claim they did.