October 9, 2000

Ex-Salvadoran generals face Florida trial for nuns' deaths

                  WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) -- Two decades after five soldiers were
                  convicted of abducting, raping and killing three American nuns and a social
                  worker in El Salvador, the missionaries' families still want others to pay.

                  For years, the families of social worker Jean Donovan and sisters Ita Ford,
                  Maura Clarke and Dorothy Kazel have pressed Salvadoran and U.S. officials to
                  probe deeper into the killings, sure that high-ranking officials of the Salvadoran
                  National Guard knew of the murders.

                  Now, they have a chance to prove they are right.

                  On Tuesday, the families' wrongful death lawsuit against El Salvador's former defense minister, Jose
                  Guillermo Garcia, and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, former director-general of the
                  Salvadoran National Guard, goes to trial in federal court in West Palm Beach.

                  For the first time, family members will see face-to-face the two men they believe were
                  ultimately responsible for the deaths.

                  "These two generals, at the time of the murders,
                  controlled the Salvadoran military, which was a
                  very top down organization," said Bill Ford, a New
                  York City lawyer and Ita Ford's brother. "I've been
                  to El Salvador eight or nine times and no one
                  believes five low-ranking guardsmen would take it
                  upon themselves to kill four North American
                  church women. There were clearly higher orders."

                  Garcia denies ordering the slayings, saying it has
                  already been established that the five soldiers were
                  responsible. He now lives in Plantation, a Fort
                  Lauderdale suburb.

                  Efforts to reach Casanova, who lives near Daytona
                  Beach, were unsuccessful. A lawyer for both men, Kurt R. Klaus Jr. of Coral
                  Gables, did not return calls to his office.

                  The families believe the killings were part of a campaign to silence sympathizers
                  of El Salvador's leftist guerrillas. The targets included church members critical of
                  the military-led government and its actions during the 12-year civil war that
                  began in 1979.

                  The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed in 1999 after the
                  families learned the two former generals had entered this country 10 years

                  "When we discovered they were in Florida that gave us jurisdiction," said Robert
                  Varenik of the Lawyers Committee For Human Rights, a New York City
                  nonprofit group that has represented the families for 20 years. "It also added
                  insult to injury in that the men who had been linked through the years to so many
                  human rights injuries were in the United States."

                  The victims -- Ford, 40, and Clarke, 51, both of New York, and Kazel, 42, and
                  Donavan, 32, both of Cleveland -- worked at a Catholic refugee center in the
                  Central American country.

                  They were detained by soldiers at a roadblock on December 2, 1980, and the
                  next day their bullet-riddled bodies were discovered along a dirt road.

                  The five members of the Salvadoran National Guard were convicted in 1984 and
                  sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 1998, four of them said they had been acting
                  under orders.

                  In order to win, the families must show that the generals had knowledge of a
                  policy or pattern of abuse by soldiers and didn't stop the violence, Varenik said.

                  The case isn't just about four American women, but about the "tens of thousands
                  of Salvadoran victims murdered by the men the defendants' commanded,"
                  Varenik said.

                  "As you can imagine, generals don't often leave fingerprints on triggers.
                  Somebody several levels below them does," Varenik said.

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.