Salvadoran ex-official denies role in killings
BY ELINOR J. BRECHER
In a voice that four bereaved families have been waiting nearly
20 years to hear,
former Salvadoran Defense Minister José Guillermo García promised to tell the
truth in a West Palm Beach federal courtroom Wednesday, then denied he knew
about widely publicized killings committed by security forces he commanded.
Was he aware of the December 1981 El Mozote massacre, which left
peasants dead? lawyer Bob Kerrigan asked.
No, said García, 67. A ``military operation''; not a massacre.
Did he know that security forces and paramilitaries were murdering
nurses, medical students -- even patients in their hospital beds?
No, said García.
``There were innocent children and babies being killed, and you
never heard a
complaint in 1980?'' Kerrigan demanded, referencing the year in which security
officers raped and shot four American churchwomen in El Salvador.
``There were abuses that cannot be denied,'' García said. ``But not massacres.''
If he had known about atrocities, he would have tried to prevent
them, by better
educating and training troops, he said.
But he said he couldn't have prevented the deaths of Sisters Ita
Clarke and Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan, crimes for which five
low-level soldiers served prison time.
``Do you now think that you should have known in 1980 that killings
place by the armed forces?'' Kerrigan asked.
``I really don't understand how you can ask me that,'' García
snapped. ``It was a
He blamed a ``culture of death'' in El Salvador not just for the
75,000 casualties in
the country's 12-year civil war, but for ``20 killings a day'' in crime-related violence
He admitted he saw news reports about the ``abuses,'' but absent
to investigate, he didn't. In any case, García said he lacked ``the means'' to do
The churchwomen's families are suing García and ex-National
Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, 62, in civil court. The suit relies on the
internationally recognized ``theory of command'' principle that holds superior
officers liable for their subordinates' misdeeds, if they knew about or could have
Vides Casanova testifies today. Both men live in Florida.
Attempting to show no one below them moved without direction or
military brass like García and Vides Casanova, the plaintiffs introduced Brig. Gen.
Fred Woerner's fall 1981 El Salvador Strategy Assistance Team report.
``Staff procedures are highly centralized in the persons of the
officers to such a degree that deputies are constrained even from making
recommendations in the absence of the principal,'' the report reads. ``The concept
of delegation of authority is virtually nonexistent.''