The Miami Herald
October 25, 2000

Slain women's siblings testify against generals

Defense begins in Salvadoran officers' trial


 When she went there, to watch her sister's defiled remains consigned to El
 Salvador's troubled earth, Julia Clarke Keogh found the Bible that Sister Maura
 Clarke always carried.

 It lay in her room at the cathedral in Chalatenango, the place where Sister Maura
 ministered to the poor -- a simple room adorned only with a cross.

 The Bible was on a desk, she recalled, ``waiting for me to pick it up.''

 Her words moved some in a West Palm Beach federal courtroom to tears.

 Clarke died with two other nuns and a Catholic lay worker on Dec. 2, 1980, when
 armed Salvadoran military men kidnapped, raped and shot them. Tuesday, one
 sibling from each of the four families testified against two former Salvadoran
 generals whom they're suing in civil court.

 ``You always blame yourself,'' Keogh told the jury. ``What was she doing there?''

 Then Keogh answered her own question. She described entering the cathedral
 courtyard, and seeing the sacks of beans and rice.

 ``So many women came up to me and said, `Your sister did so many things for
 us.' ''

 Then it was attorney Kurt Klaus Jr.'s turn. He represents former Salvadoran
 Defense Minister José Guillermo García and former National Guard Director
 Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova.

 For the first time since the trial began Oct. 10, members of the generals' families
 attended, including Vides Casanova's three brothers from El Salvador, his wife,
 Marie Lourdes Vides, and their two, sneaker-wearing teenage daughters.

 Vides Casanova lives in Palm Coast, near Daytona. García lives in Plantation.

 ``I'm sorry for your loss,'' Klaus told each of the siblings as they left the stand.
 Then, in opening arguments that he had deferred until the plaintiffs finished their
 case, the Miami lawyer told the jury that evidence would show the generals had
 no control over squads terrorizing Salvadoran civilians during the early 1980s, and
 couldn't be blamed for the women's deaths.

 He also suggested that those who killed the women could have had base
 motivations unrelated to the class struggle fueling that country's 12-year civil war,
 which cost 75,000 lives.

 Five Guardsmen were convicted of the crimes and served short prison sentences.
 Among Tuesday's evidence: the transcript of a 1981 conversation between the
 group's leader and one his superiors, a man secretly wearing a wire.

 In it, the anonymous superior tells subsergeant Luis Antonio Colindres Alemán,
 who confessed to the murders: ``Just like I don't want them [his superiors] to f---
 with me, I don't want them to f--- anyone working for me. Do you understand what
 I am telling you?''

 The lawsuit contends that they couldn't have acted without the generals' direction
 or consent. But Klaus implied that the Guardsmen might have had base motives.

 ``Even in El Salvador in 1980, people were victims of crimes all the time, and they
 were not always political,'' Klaus said.

 ``Are we ever going to find out who was responsible for their deaths?'' he asked.
 ``We want to find out the truth for the sake of the families, El Salvador, and the
 State Department.''

 By the time he's through, he said, ``the evidence will show that there was no way
 [the generals] could have communicated with [the assailants] that night.''

 Before calling García to the stand, Klaus observed that the families might refuse
 to believe ``that there had to be a bigger reason'' for their loved ones' murders.
 ``But I don't think that's what the evidence shows.''

 Bill Ford, brother of slain Sister Ita Ford, disagrees, and said so every way he
 knew how, as he took the stand.

 The New York trial lawyer has relentlessly pursued information for 20 years that
 might reveal the high-command officers he's convinced planned the murders.

 In sometimes bristly exchanges with Klaus -- who asked each sibling if he or she
 had sought legal remedies in El Salvador -- Ford belittled the notion that justice
 was available there. ``Every judicial officer we spoke to said he would be killed'' if
 he agreed to take the families' case.

 Ford described how the families met with State Department officials and two
 Salvadoran lawyers in 1983 and 1984 -- lawyers who, the officials said, might be
 willing to act as special prosecutors in a Salvadoran criminal case.

 ``One wanted $150,000,'' Ford recalled. ``A $50,000 fee. He needed $50,000 to
 bribe the jury, and $50,000 to relocate his family'' out of the country.

 He described how the ``brave'' judge who sentenced the Guardsmen had suffered
 for his courage.

 ``He was harassed for years by the army. I made sure that the American
 Embassy put in a call in to him once a week to make sure he was alive.''