The Miami Herald
November 2, 2000

 Deliberation begins in case of slain churchwomen


 In the end, it comes down to this: The Salvadoran generals believe a Palm Beach
 County federal jury must exonerate them in the 1980 rape/murders of four
 American churchwomen, because no direct evidence links them to the crime --
 not a document, not a witness.

 The women's families think the jury saw and heard a mountain of circumstantial
 evidence that proves the men complicit in the deaths: reams of diplomatic
 correspondence -- and the testimony of some who wrote them -- as well as
 reports from U.S. and United Nations investigators.

 The case is now in the hands of four men and six women.

 Since Oct. 10 they have learned more about history, politics and war in El
 Salvador than most Latin American studies graduate students.


 They will decide whether retired generals José Guillermo García and Carlos
 Eugenio Vides Casanova should pay damages to each woman's surviving
 siblings. Wednesday, the families' lawyers asked for $25 million each in
 compensatory damages for Sisters Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazels, and
 lay missionary Jean Donovan.

 Can you imagine, lawyer Bob Montgomery asked in closing arguments, what
 each minute of ``peril and panic'' was like for the women, after National
 Guardsmen kidnapped them near the San Salvador airport on Dec. 2, 1980?

 A Salvadoran court convicted five low-level Guardsmen in 1984.

 But the families contend that García and Vides are equally responsible.

 Montgomery also requested punitive damages, ``as a deterence to others,
 wherever they may be, for doing like acts.''

 The amount, he told the jurors, ``is up to you.''

 The verdict must be unanimous.

 The judge explained that the generals may be held liable for torture and
 extrajudicial killing that troops under their command committed under two
 theories grounded in U.S. and international law.

 First: If the commander acts proactively, to order and/or participate in abuses,
 he's liable.

 Second: If the commander fails to do what he can to control his troops and
 prevent abuses, he's also liable.


 This, U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley explained, is the theory of ``command
 responsibility'' established after World War II in the Nuremberg Nazi war crimes

 To convict, the plaintiffs had to prove that a preponderance of evidence showed
 the generals' subordinates had committed, were committing or were about to
 commit abuses; that the generals knew or should have known about it, and that
 they failed to take ``all necessary and reasonable measures within [their] power to
 prevent or repress [the abuses] or failed to investigate the events, in an effort to
 punish the perpetrators.''

 Garcia, 67, of Plantation, and Vides, 62, of Palm Coast, ``were pleased to have
 had the chance to tell their side of the story,'' said their lawyer, Kurt R. Klaus Jr.,
 of Miami.