The Miami Herald
October 11, 2000

Salvadoran ex-generals on trial

 Families of four U.S. church women who were slain in 1980 are suing Gen. José
 Guillermo García and Gen. Carlos Vides Casanova under a federal war crimes
 victims act.


 Calling the 1980 deaths of four American church women in El Salvador ``brutal
 murders'' and a ``horrible atrocity,'' a Palm Beach federal judge Tuesday began
 the civil trial of two former top Salvadoran military officials being sued under
 international law by the victims' families.

 But in impaneling a jury of six women and four men, U.S. District Judge Daniel
 T.K. Hurley stressed that the deaths were not the issue; others had been
 convicted and sentenced for the crime, he explained.

 The jury will decide whether Gen. José Guillermo García, former defense minister,
 and Gen. Carlos Vides Casanova, then national guard director, should be held
 liable for the actions of subordinates.

 Five Salvadoran soldiers raped, tortured and shot to death Sisters Ita Ford, Maura
 Clarke and Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan.

 The civil trial is expected to last through the end of the month.

 The relatives are suing for at least $1 million under the 1992 federal Torture Victim
 Protection Act.

 The law permits war crimes victims or their survivors to sue high-ranking
 government officials who, as Hurley said, ``authorize, tolerate or knowingly ignore''
 their subordinates' heinous acts.

 The soldiers were sentenced to prison in the women's deaths, which occurred
 during a bloody civil war that claimed an estimated 20,000 civilian lives, including
 Archbishop Oscar Romero.

 Among dozens of plaintiffs' witnesses expected to testify are Robert White, the
 American ambassador at the time; former Salvadoran military junta figure Col.
 Adolfo Majano; United Nations officials; religious-order members; and journalists,
 including photographer Susan Meiselas, whose widely circulated still photo of the
 women's bodies, exhumed from shallow graves as White looked on, is likely to be
 shown by plaintiffs' lawyers in opening arguments today.

 A 1993 U.N. report concluded that both defendants were complicit in the deaths:
 Vides Casanova because he knew guardsmen had killed the women but covered
 up their actions; and García because he failed to vigorously investigate the

 After Hurley dismissed the jury Tuesday, the plaintiffs' lawyers, Bob Montgomery
 and Bob Kerrigan, showed the gruesome photograph as well as video of the
 exhumation in which peasants drag the bodies in the dirt with ropes.

 Hurley agreed with defense attorney Kurt Klaus that Montgomery and Kerrigan
 could not show the video during opening arguments but might be able to use it
 during the trial.

 Vides Casanova and García glanced impassively at the images on a giant screen,
 listening on headphones as Pilar Nelson, a simultaneous interpreter, explained
 the attorneys' arguments.

 Both men live in Florida: García in Plantation, Vides Casanova in Palm Coast
 north of Daytona Beach.

 Their legal resident status in the United States troubled at least one prospective
 juror, a woman who said she would have trouble being fair to the defendants
 because she didn't feel they had a right to be here.

 Hurley excused her from serving, as he did others who said their Catholic faith
 might influence their decision.