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?