Former military leader denies role in deaths of nuns
Salvadoran avoided inquiry
BY ELINOR J. BRECHER
Gen. José Guillermo García, a top military official
in El Salvador during part of its
ruinous civil war, Wednesday portrayed himself as a peace-loving patriot and said
he did not investigate the killings of four American churchwomen only to avoid the
appearance of military interference in the probe.
``You cannot imagine what it is like to have the finger pointed
at you for
something you have not done,'' García, 67, told a West Palm Beach federal jury
during a rambling monologue, ending his second day of testimony in a
wrongful-death case brought by the families of the four churchwomen murdered in
El Salvador 20 years ago.
``I want to say to you that our families have suffered,'' said
Minister García, alluding to codefendant Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, 62, the
former National Guard director.
García, of Plantation, entered the United States on a political
asylum claim after
resigning in 1983 because, he testified, he refused to use the incendiary weapon
napalm on left-wing guerrillas. His wife and children preceded him.
It was then-Salvadoran President José Napoleon Duarte who
told García not to
investigate the murder for fear of tainting the process with military intervention,
To prove their claim under the 1992 Torture Victim Protection
Act, the plaintiffs
must show that the generals ordered, tolerated or failed to prevent, investigate
and/or punish crimes committed by their subordinates.
The women's relatives listened in amazement.
``I couldn't believe it,'' Mike Donovan said later. The Palm Beach
accountant's sister was Jean Donovan, a Catholic lay missionary raped and shot
along with nuns Ita Ford, Maura Clarke and Dorothy Kazel on Dec. 2, 1980.
Five Salvadoran National Guardsmen were convicted of the crimes.
Ford's sister, Irene Ford of Brooklyn, N.Y., dissolved into tears
after the jury left
``The real victims are the women . . . and the people of El Salvador,''
58. ``I lost my best friend.''
García spent much of the day narrating and interpreting
a collage of old
Salvadoran government propaganda films: choppily edited and lacking identifying
information or context, yet complete with melodramatic voice-overs and
horror-movie and martial music.
One showed a map of the Caribbean and Central America with an
pointing from Cuba to El Salvador. Another splashed the word ``Terrorismo''
across the screen in red typeface that looked like dripping blood.
During footage of soldiers goose-stepping around a San Salvador
declared: ``Since so many negative things have been said, it's good that you can
see the relations of the armed forces and the people.''
He took credit for military restraint at the funeral of Archbishop
assassinated in March 1980 -- by government troops, it's generally believed.
News footage presented at the trial showed insurgents with handguns
firing into a
crowd of thousands of mourners, with the sound of exploding smoke bombs.
Thirty-nine mourners died, most trampled in the ensuing panic.
García said he refused to permit insurgents to provoke
a government response
and, thus, create propaganda for themselves.
Carl Hersh, the ABC News photographer whose footage of the Romero
was shown in court, said he doesn't doubt that García was involved in keeping
soldiers away from the Plaza Barrios that day.
``The international press was out in force, and they would have
stupid for them to have [attacked] -- not that that always stopped them,'' said
Hersh, who didn't attend the trial but said by phone that he recalled the day very
well. Hersh now runs Close-Up Productions, a South Miami documentary
García had his lawyer, Kurt Klaus Jr. of Miami, displayed
pamphlets that, he said, proved he tried to sensitize El Salvador's 14,000 military
and security officers to human rights. But he couldn't control them all, García
Mike Donovan, brother of one of the victims, said he was not impressed.
``It's the typical refuge of the former dictator: `I was a patriot
and I sacrificed
everything for the people.' Give me a break!''