Deliberation begins in case of slain churchwomen
BY ELINOR J. BRECHER
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
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,
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
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
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
Second: If the commander fails to do what he can to control his
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
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.,