Former envoy testifies on behalf of Salvadoran ex-general
BY DAVID GREEN
When former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador Edwin Corr heard two
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
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
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
The necessity of maintaining that balance was Corr's ultimate
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,
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
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,''
the court after taking the witness stand at the end of the day, ``it is easy to form a
solution 20 years later.''