The Miami Herald
October 27, 2000

Former envoy testifies on behalf of Salvadoran ex-general


 When former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador Edwin Corr heard two retired
 Salvadoran military officials were on trial in West Palm Beach, he had one

 He bought a plane ticket.

 ``In my opinion [one of the generals] is a very honorable man,'' Corr told the court
 Thursday. ``I believe he made a tremendous contribution to the restoring of
 democracy and the reduction of human-rights abuses in El Salvador.''

 Corr delivered that opinion from the witness stand after volunteering to interrupt his
 duties as an administrator at the University of Oklahoma to testify at the trial of
 Gen. José Guillermo García and Gen. Eugenio Vides Casanova.

 The two are being sued by the families of four American churchwomen raped and
 murdered by soldiers in El Salvador in 1980.

 The 61-year-old former ambassador told the court he first read of the ongoing trial
 last week in The New York Times. He remembered Casanova from his diplomatic
 stint in El Salvador, he said, and had vowed not to let the general be targeted

 But lawyers for the families quickly pointed out that Corr, while ambassador, had
 played a role in what eventually became known as the Iran-contra scandal.

 He was identified in congressional hearings as being involved in illegal air drops of
 military supplies to the contras.

 Corr's sympathetic depiction of former National Guard director Casanova -- and
 the military government for which he worked -- sparked heated disagreements in
 the courtroom over political chaos that engulfed El Salvador two decades ago.

 By Corr's version of events, the military junta that seized power in 1979 genuinely
 hoped to repair the country's blasted institutions.

 They were trying to restructure society, Corr testified before federal Judge Daniel
 T.K. Hurley. ``[Casanova] as well as others in the government were in a very
 delicate balance.''

 The necessity of maintaining that balance was Corr's ultimate point: Casanova
 most likely was unaware of specific political killings, Corr insisted. And even if he
 was aware, Corr testified, his handling of those abuses was hampered by the
 government's need to avoid inflaming an already violent situation.

 Many among the dozens of spectators in the courtroom disagreed.

 Family members of the murder victims and human-rights activists insisted in the
 hallway during a break that most of the top military officials were deeply involved
 in the abuses. That included Casanova and García, they said.

 They treated Corr's impromptu appearance with skepticism.

 ``He has some agenda to come here,'' said Jim Clarke, 67, of Lantana, brother of
 one of the slain churchwomen. ``We're just not sure what it is.''

 The two generals already have been implicated in the atrocities.

 A 1993 U.N. report found Casanova knew that five Salvadoran soldiers raped,
 tortured and shot Catholic lay missionary Jean Donovan, and nuns Ita Ford,
 Maura Clarke and Dorothy Kazel.

 The same report found that former defense minister Garcia failed to investigate the

 The grisly civil war ultimately claimed 75,000 civilian lives.

 ``For a person who doesn't know what really happened in El Salvador,'' García told
 the court after taking the witness stand at the end of the day, ``it is easy to form a
 solution 20 years later.''