After 20 Years, Still Hiding the Truth About US Collusion in Salvadoran Atrocities

Yesterday, the Boston Globe reported on a renewed legal case against Inocente Orlando Montano, “a former Salvadoran government minister accused of colluding in the infamous killing of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador two decades ago,” who has apparently been living a quiet life in Everett, Massachusetts.

The international indictments issued in May seek justice for the clergymen, five of them Spaniards; their housekeeper; and her 16-year-old daughter, who were roused at night from their beds on the campus of Central American University in San Salvador and executed by an elite unit of the Salvadoran military.

Most of those accused of the notorious war crime have never faced justice.

The article goes through Montano’s charges thoroughly, top to bottom. It details the Jesuit massacre he was allegedly involved in, plots to assassinate other members of the church that the Salvadoran government and military junta suspected of “supporting leftist rebels,” even the Salvadoran civil war which was “riddled with atrocities” and resulted in the deaths of “about 75,000 people.” It even quotes Massachusetts Representative James McGovern as saying “I find it unbelievable and unconscionable that somebody involved in this crime is in the United States.’’

One important element, though, completely left out of the Globe article is that these crimes were committed with the support and direct involvement of the United States. McGovern finds it unbelievable that Montano was even in the country, never mind his side having been allied with Washington at the time of these atrocities. Going back to the Carter administration, the U.S. had been actively supporting, equipping, and training the brutal Salvadoran government and military. In 1980, the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, sent a letter to Carter pleading with him to not “send military aid to the junta,” saying it would be used to “sharpen injustice and repression against the people’s organizations” which were struggling “for respect for their most basic human rights.” A few weeks later, Romero was murdered. Then the war escalated. As did support for atrocities from Washington. A more honest history lesson can be found here:

The Jesuits were murdered by the Atlacatl Battalion, an elite unit created, trained and equipped by the United States. It was formed in March 1981, when fifteen specialists in counterinsurgency were sent to El Salvador from the US Army School of Special Forces. From the start, the Battalion was engaged in mass murder. A US trainer described its soldiers as “particularly ferocious….We’ve always had a hard time getting them to take prisoners instead of ears.”

In December 1981, the Battalion took part in an operation in which over a thousand civilians were killed in an orgy of murder, rape and burning. Later it was involved in the bombing of villages and murder of hundreds of civilians by shooting, drowning and other methods. The vast majority of victims were women, children and the elderly.

[…] In another case, an admitted member of a Salvadoran death squad associated with the Atlacatl Battalion, Cesar Vielman Joya Martinez, detailed the involvement of US advisers and the Salvadoran government in death-squad activity. The Bush administration has made every effort to silence him and ship him back to probable death in El Salvador, despite the pleas of human rights organizations and requests from Congress that his testimony be heard. (The treatment of the main witness to the assassination of the Jesuits was similar.)

The results of Salvadoran military training are graphically described in the Jesuit journal America by Daniel Santiago, a Catholic priest working in El Salvador. He tells of a peasant woman who returned home one day to find her three children, her mother and her sister sitting around a table, each with its own decapitated head placed carefully on the table in front of the body, the hands arranged on top “as if each body was stroking its own head.”

The assassins, from the Salvadoran National Guard, had found it hard to keep the head of an 18-month-old baby in place, so they nailed the hands onto it. A large plastic bowl filled with blood was tastefully displayed in the center of the table.

Present-day reports on such events around the world obviously leave it out when the U.S. is responsible, or involved in any way. They wouldn’t dare expose incumbents like that. But why, after more than 20 years, can’t the mainstream press report the truth about these atrocities in El Salvador?

  • muzz al atesta

    thank you for this post.

    probably the leading right-wing terrorist training camp, The School of the Americas, is still open for business.

    from Roberto D'Aubuisson to Hugo Banzer to Ivy League graduate Hector Gramajo, there is hardly a member in the all stars pantheon of mass killing & torture in Central & South America who wasn't trained in Fort Benning, Georgia, US of A.

    once again, your taxdollars at work

  • Tom Mauel

    Why can't the main stream report these crimes? Because they are capitalists that are part of the cover up of there wealthy capitalist clients.

    • Brad_Smith2

      It's not capitalism it's corporatism or crony capitalism if you would prefer. If they were simply capitalists they would gladly report on any sensational story to turn a buck. They fact is that one hand washes the other so they can both line each other's pockets. That not capitalistic it's corporatism.

      I would suggest we all boycott the MSM or at the very least jeer it and understand that it is simply propaganda.

  • Brad_Smith2

    Our shadow wars are all a product of our CIA, but it goes back a lot further. They were pretty much given a free hand in that whole region. You can't swing a dead cat down there without hitting a spook of one kind or another. DEA, CIA, military intelligence, SF "Trainers" If you spend enough time down there you bump into all kinds.

    Our "sphere of influence" is so far flung now it's simply crazy. It started with Protectorates very early on. Hawaii and Samoa were the first ones. We had to protect our interests using force if necessary. The Platt amendment allowed us to basically control Cuba until the Good neighbor policy went into effect. But that still left us in charge of the infamous Gitmo. Taft in Nicaragua was another. Panama of course and then Wilson made it the entire area. Now of course it's anywere we feel like our coruptorations need a hand.

  • BadReligion

    It was the same story all over El Salvador, and in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras during that time. These wars, and the neoliberalism (free markets for the poor, welfare for the rich) practiced by the US-backed regimes, has a lot to do with the status of those countries today. This is why you rarely hear about illegal immigrants from Belize, Costa Rica, or Panama, despite their governments being only slightly better in most cases.

    What I always want to know is this: it's so trendy for goody-goody church groups and others to go to these countries, but why can't they make the connections with U.S. foreign policy? These people go home, and vote for those who will continue to oppress the lands to our south, and punish those who flee from them.

  • Pingback: Antiwar.com’s Week in Review | August 19, 2011 « Antiwar.com Blog()

  • montaigne

    I liked that one: free markets for the poor, welfare for the rich!

    • BadReligion

      That's been the way of the West since about 1980, and especially since the fall of the Soviet Bloc. They always tried to repress independent nationalism, and impose neoliberalism all over the damn world, but they didn't impose it at home until then. Now it's all run aground. Latin American social movements have organized, resisted, and, after years of struggle, changed governments just enough to really make a difference. The Middle East lacks that organization, but the resistance there is similar. Europe still has a Left that is trying to fight back. Here, where it's most important, there's the least resistance.
      There is some. Say what you will about state employees, a la Wisconsin, but the crisis is *not* their fault. Also, I'm excited about the Occupy Wall Street actions planned for next month.

  • MvGuy

    War Crimes were committed….. 30 thousand dead campasindas… Elliot Abrams was involved, convicted of lying to congress…

    In early 1982, when reports of the El Mozote massacre of civilians by the military in El Salvador began appearing in U.S. media, Abrams told a Senate committee that the reports of hundreds of deaths at El Mozote "were not credible," and that "it appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas."[12] The massacre had come at a time when the Reagan administration was attempting to bolster the human rights image of the Salvadoran military. Abrams implied that reports of a massacre were simply FMLN propaganda and denounced U.S. investigative reports of the massacre as misleading. In March 1993, the Salvadoran Truth Commission reported that 5,000 civilians were “deliberately and systematically” executed in El Mozote in December 1981 by forces affiliated with the Salvadoran state.[13] Also in 1993, documentation emerged suggesting that some Reagan administration officials could have known about El Mozote and other human rights violations from the beginning.[14] However, in July 1993, an investigation commissioned by Clinton secretary of state Warren Christopher into the State department’s "activities and conduct" with regard to human rights in El Salvador during the Reagan years found that, despite the department's mistakes handling El Mozote, its personnel “performed creditably and occasionally with personal bravery in advancing human rights in El Salvador.”[15] Abrams himself claimed that Washington’s policy in El Salvador was a ”fabulous achievement.”[16]..

    During investigation of the Iran-Contra Affair, Lawrence Walsh, the Independent Counsel tasked with investigating the case, prepared multiple felony counts against Abrams but never indicted him.[20] Instead, Abrams entered into a plea agreement with Walsh. Abrams pled guilty to two misdemeanors of withholding information from Congress.[21] He was sentenced to a $50 fine, probation for two years, and 100 hours of community service. However, Abrams was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush.

    President George W. Bush appointed Abrams to the post of special assistant to the president and senior director for democracy, human rights, and international operations at the National Security Council on June 25, 2001.[22] Abrams was appointed special assistant to the President and the NSC’s senior director for Near East and North African Affairs on December 2, 2002.[23] Some human rights groups and commentators considered his White House appointment controversial due to his conviction in the Iran-Contra Affair investigation and his role in overseeing the Reagan administration’s [[ GENOCIDAL… my opinion*]] foreign policy in Latin America.

    Just another dual citizen type and Neocon out to kill as many wogs as possible to show loyalty to the MIC…

    OOOOOOO and this…!!

    John Robertson: Elliot Abrams bangs the drum for war against Iran

    by Guest Contributor on July 11, 2011

    By John Robertson, War in Context, July 11, 2011

    Once again, from one of those worthies privileged to call themselves “fellows” of the Council on Foreign Relations, a call for America to suck it up, be strong, hammer those bad guys into submission (and not a word about how much it costs, or how little the US can afford it).

    Yaa…. America gotta fight ONE MOO WAR for AMERICA's No.1 Welfare Queen…… Here is another case of a Jewish Person being a good Nazi….. KILL…KILL…KILL…KILL for der Fuerer…..

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