The School of the Americas and
Terror in El Salvador
excerpted from the book
State Terrorism and the United
From Counterinsurgency to the
War on Terrorism
by Frederick H. Gareau
Clarity Press, 2004, paper
Terrorism consists of deliberate acts of a physical and/or psychological
nature perpetrated on select groups of victims. Its intent is
to mold the thinking and behavior not only of these targeted groups,
but more importantly, of larger sections of society that identify
or share the views and aspirations of the targeted groups or who
might easily be led to do so. The intent of the terrorists is
to intimidate or coerce both groups by causing them intense fear,
anxiety, apprehension, panic, dread, and/or horror. Obviously,
the groups that have been directly targeted experience these emotions
to a much higher degree than the larger sections of society that
the terrorism is also intended to intimidate and coerce. The overall
purpose of terrorism is to intimidate and coerce, not to eliminate
a group physically or socially. The latter is called genocide.
Washington publishes an annual list of governments that it alleges
terrorists. Typically, this list contains a majority of governments
of Arab states - Iran, Cuba, and North Korea. This highlights
the importance of how terrorism defined. If state terrorism were
included in the definition, Washington would halve to include
itself on the list!
A guide to terrorism published in 1988 asserted that proving "state
terrorism is usually more difficult than proving insurgent (private)
terrorism." The guide went on to explain that except in unusual
circumstances such as the Nuremburg and Tokyo trials there are
no courts collecting evidence that prove that a regime is guilty
of state terror. But the situation has changed. International
criminal courts have been set up for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia,
and one with general jurisdiction, the International Criminal
Court, has been established as well. More significantly, this
evidentiary deficiency has been filled by truth commission reports--extensive
studies, each based on thousands of interviews conducted under
the auspices of post-terrorist governments, the United Nations,
or the Catholic Church.
At least one of these reports has been
completed for each of the following countries: El Salvador, Guatemala,
Chile, Argentina, and South Africa.
Archbishop Tutu ... winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1984
and Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South
Africa ... had no difficulty in distinguishing between the moral
and legal position of the apartheid regime that ruled South Africa
and those who fought against it: those who fought against this
unjust apartheid regime clearly were fighting for a just cause
while the government was "an illegal, oppressive, and inhuman
system imposed on the majority without their consent . This moral
and legal superiority was interpreted to mean that in principle
the state terrorism and other acts of oppression committed by
the government were immoral and illegal, whereas the bellicose
acts by the guerrillas were not.
The School of the Americas and Terror
in El Salvador
The School of the Americas was opened in 1946 under the name of
the Latin American Training Center-Ground Division. It assumed
its most persistent name in 1963, and it moved from the Canal
Zone to its present location in Fort Benning, Georgia in 1984.
The school officially closed on December 15, 2000, perhaps solely
in an effort to escape its widely-circulated epithet as the School
of Assassins-for it swiftly reopened the next January 17 with
a new name: the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation.
It is located on the same premises and-according to its critics-teaches
essentially the same courses to the same clientele. Its original
purpose was to promote closer ties with the militaries of Latin
America and to assist the military and police forces in the region
better to maintain control of their environment. Over time the
main focus of the training became counterinsurgency and low intensity
warfare, and its graduates, and others similarly trained, became
notorious for their suppression of human rights and worse. More
recently, the school has introduced a course in human rights,
but the impact of the course is problematical. Indeed, its critics
question the motive for its introduction. The school is the most
famous of more than 150 facilities in the United States and abroad
used to train foreign soldiers. The school has trained upward
of 59,000 Latin American military personnel, policemen, and civilians.
Ten of the graduates of the school became the president/dictators
of their countries, 23 became ministers of defense, and 15 ministers
of other departments.
Serving as the head of Guatemalan Intelligence,
General Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas was responsible for
the disappearances and deaths of thousands of Guatemalans. He
was not only a graduate of the school, but his portrait hangs
on the wall at the school's headquarters along with that of General
Banzar and other distinguished alumni who have been selected for
the Hall of Fame. Over two-thirds of the more than sixty officers
cited for the worst human rights abuses in the United Nations
report on the repression in El Salvador graduated from the school.
It "has graduated over 500 of the worst human rights abusers
in the hemisphere, who are implicated in the murder and torture
of countless Latin Americans." General Hector Gramajo Morales,
a graduate of the school and formerly Guatemalan Defense Minister,
has been honored in a different way. His term as Defense Minister
was up in 1989, and the following year he became a Fellow of the
Edward Mason Program at the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard
University. In 1993 he delivered the commencement address to the
graduating class of the officers of the Command and General Staff
College of the School of the Americas.
THE UN TRUTH COMMISSION ON EL SALVADOR
The Reception of the UN Report
The report of the commission was presented
to the Secretary General of the United Nations on March 15, 1993.
This gave Boutros Boutros-Ghali the opportunity to express his
view of the document, a view vigorously contested by those found
to be the chief perpetrators of the crimes described in the report.
He declared that in order to put the war behind them, the Salvadorans
would have to go through the catharsis of facing the truth. He
went on to assert that bringing the truth to light is part and
parcel of the process of reconciling Salvadoran society. There
can be no reconciliation without the public knowing the truth.
Since the armed conflict left no one untouched, all citizens must
be made aware of the truth contained in the report. It should
become a part of their culture and their history, so that they
can better face the future. He concluded that once the truth came
to light, they could contemplate forgiveness.
These lofty and noble terms contrast with
what another United Nations report characterized as an "outcry"
sparked by the release of the report of the truth commission.
Immediately after the publication of the report, the Christiani
government rushed through the Salvadoran legislature an across
the board amnesty for all charged with serious acts of violence.
The outcry originated with the High Command of the Armed Forces,
the President of the Supreme Court, and other highly placed government
officials. Indeed, tension mounted as these political figures,
joined by segments of the media, rejected the commission's findings
and recommendations. They charged that the commission had exceeded
its terms of reference and had arrogated to itself the judicial
function. Heightened criticism of the world organization followed,
as did threats to the United Nations personnel stationed in the
country. In contrast to this, the FMLN, the guerrilla organization,
accepted the report, including its recommendations to reform the
That the armed forces, the supreme court,
and much of the government reacted this way is understandable
in view of their indictment by the report. The indictment of the
judicial system was such that the commission did not recommend
that those found guilty be prosecuted. It found the judicial system
compromised beyond the point at which it could conduct fair trials.
The commission put the blame for most of the crimes at the door
of the armed forces, including those committed by the death squads.
Governmental officials were often found to have participated in
the work of these squads and their structure was found to be still
in place. Indeed, the three members of the Ad Hoc Commission that
had drawn up a report critical of the officer corps "delivered
their report in New York and, fearing or their lives, remained
outside El Salvador for some time .1113 The sub-committee report
charged over 100 officers, including the Minister of Defense and
the Chief of the General Staff, with serious violations of human
rights and called for their dismissal. This report of the sub-committee
was intended to be secret, but was leaked to the press before
the publication of the committee's report, From Madness to Hope.
Another outcry, but this for a vastly
different reason, came from the Honorable Robert G. Torricelli,
Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs.
The chairman began the hearings on the report of the truth commission
in the standard and traditional way, this time by echoing some
of the noble and upbeat sentiments voiced by the Secretary General
indicated above. He congratulated the parties to the dispute and
the peacemakers for having successfully concluded a peace agreement.
But then he added that the report of the truth commission was
of concern not only to El Salvador, nor would his comments be
limited to that country only. Nor would his comments be limited
and mild, the usual characteristics of the opening remarks of
the chairman of a committee. Mr. Torricelli's "outcry"
began with the affirmation that rarely as a member of "this
institution" had he been more "personally offended or
betrayed" than when he learned of the findings of the truth
commission. This was the case because for years he had listened
to the testimony of so many witnesses of different administrations
informing the committee about what they reputably knew about the
crimes committed in El Salvador. He next turned to the process
established by the Congress, whereby President Reagan would periodically
certify that El Salvador was making progress in respect to human
rights. As a reaction to positive certifications, Congress provided
military assistance to the government to fight the war there.
The chairman gave an example of this, Presidential Determination
82-4, dated January 28, 1982. It was worded as follows:
I hereby determine that the government
of El Salvador is making a concerted and significant effort to
comply with internationally recognized human rights. I hereby
determine that the government of El Salvador is achieving substantial
control over all elements of its own armed forces. I hereby determine
that the government of El Salvador has made a good-faith effort
to investigate the murders of the six U.S. citizens in El Salvador
in December 1980 and January 1981.
Mr. Torricelli commented by charging that:
It is now abundantly clear that Ronald
Reagan made these certifications not only in disregard of the
truth but in defiance of it. Members of his administration came
forward to this Congress and swore that they had no knowledge
of acts of violence. Peace was being restored and rights respected.
It was a lie.
He continued his indictment by arguing
that the process of certification "has been poisoned"
and concluded that based on what was then known about the credibility
of certification, no future Congress could ever establish such
a process again. On this point he has not proved to be an accurate
forecaster of Congressional behavior. He was back on track when
he referred to the "deceit and betrayal" that induced
the Congress to invest the nation's fortune and honor in a conflict
"in the blind belief that we were being told the truth."
This he found to be "a shameful chapter in American foreign
Congress was not as innocent as Torrcelli's
remarks suggest, but it did set up a system that ostensibly was
designed to restrain the executive from aiding governments engaged
in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally
recognized human rights. Presidential certification was required
under certain conditions. None of this, however, seemed to deter
either Reagan or subsequent executives from continuing to aid
governments they were determined to help.
Rape and Killing of Nuns
Shortly after 7 P.M. on December 2,1980
members of the National Guard of El Salvador arrested three American
nuns and one American lay missionary as they were leaving the
Comalapa International Airport. Two of the nuns, members of the
Maryknoll Order, were returning from Nicaragua, and the other
two women were picking them up at the airport. The four women
were beaten, raped, and murdered. Their bodies were thrown in
a ditch. The truth commission concluded that this atrocity was
planned ahead of time, that the sergeant in charge of the actual
executions was acting on orders from higher up, that the head
of the National Guard, then Colonel Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova,
among others, had facilitated the cover up of the crime, and that
General Jose Guillermo Garcia, the Minister of Defense, made no
serious effort to determine who was responsible for the murders.
General Garcia had taken the counterinsurgency course at the School
of the Americas in 1962, and Colonel Vides Casanova (later promoted
to general) was a guest speaker there five years after the rape
and assassination of the religious women.
The report contains several incidents
that suggest cover-ups. These included judicial instances of cover-ups
and the refusal of a group of forensic doctors to perform autopsies,
because they said they had no surgical masks. In this instance,
indicative of what would indeed be possible if Washington were
to seriously desire to prevent state terrorism or the cover-up
in its aftermath, the day after the murders, the Carter administration
suspended aid to El Salvador. On April 26 of the following year
embassy officials met with Generals Garcia and Vides Casanova
to inform them that the failure to investigate the murders was
jeopardizing American aid. Just three days after the meeting five
enlisted members of the National Guard were arrested, and the
following day $25 million in aid was approved.
And then something unique in the history
of the country occurred. For the first time, members of the armed
forces were convicted by a judge. To be sure, they were enlisted
personnel. The higher ups who had ordered the murders were not
made to face judicial proceedings, despite the fact that four
of the convicted enlisted men later admitted that they were acting
under orders. Three have since been freed from custody. The day
after the convictions, the U.S. Congress approved $62 million
of emergency aid for El Salvador.
Two weeks after the murders, Jeanne Kirkpatrick,
who was to serve as the Reagan Administration's Ambassador to
the United Nations, offered her opinion about the murders. She
I don't think the government (of El Salvador)
was responsible. The nuns were not just nuns; the nuns were political
activists. We ought to be a little more clear-cut about this than
we usually are. They were political activists on behalf of the
Frente (the guerrillas) and somebody who is using violence to
oppose the Frente killed them.
Sometime later Secretary of State Alexander
Haig declared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee:
I would like to suggest to you that some
of the investigations would lead one to believe that perhaps the
vehicle that the nuns were riding in had tried to run a road block
or may have accidentally been perceived to have been doing so,
and there may have been an exchange of fire.
Congressman Torricelli questioned Professor
Buergenthal, the American member of the truth commission, about
these statements. After having read these statements to him, Torricelli
asked if he had received any testimony from anyone suggesting
how Haig had come to this conclusion.
Buergenthal answered "no."
Torricelli persisted, "Among the
hundreds of people you talked to, no one suggested that this was
Buergenthal insisted, "No. The statement
is outrageous .1136 With respect to Kirkpatrick's statement, he
advised that one might have concluded that the nuns and the lay
missionary were sympathetic to the FMLN, but not that they were
involved in the conflict. He went on to say that there was no
doubt that there was no basis for Kirkpatrick's statement as a
justification for the killing of the churchwomen. They may have
been sympathetic to the FMLN, but to Buergenthal and to the commission,
this was totally irrelevant. They were unarmed, and they
Rewards and Punishments
In October 2000 those who read the inside
pages of the New York Times were able to keep up with the lives
of Generals Vides Casanova and Garcia. They had retired, and they
lived in South Florida. They had been living there since 1989,
and as the lawyers for the plaintiff alleged in a lawsuit soon
to be described, they lived there "surrounded by relatives."
They had been granted "green cards," permanent residence,
by the United States government. In addition, they received awards
from the United States military, as well as the United States
Legion of Merit award from President Ronald Reagan in 1984 .
As is usually the case with truth commissions, the one for El
Salvador did not focus on Washington's support for the government
despite this, the chapter provides sufficient evidence to prove
this support for San Salvador along with the other two central
questions that the evidence is asked to resolve)That terror was
committed in El Salvador is not disputed. Those who doubt this
should reread the above and realize that an estimated 75,000 were
killed in this small country in the period 1980 to 1991. The truth
commission found that the terrorism that was committed in the
country was overwhelmingly governmental terrorism, committed by
the Salvadoran army, the National Guard, and their death squads
and affiliated agencies. They were responsible for 95 percent
of the deaths, the guerrillas for only five percent.
These were the same institutions that
were the concern and the favorites of Washington-receiving its
indoctrination and training and profiting from its largess. El
Salvador received six billion dollars in aid from Washington in
the period 1979 to 1992. This subsidy to the tiny country during
the government repression and terrorism came to average out at
$100,000 for each member of its armed forces. This subsidy allowed
the government to pay for the terrorist activities committed by
the security forces. By virtue of this largess and the military
training, notably in counterinsurgency warfare, Washington emerges
(In this chapter)as an accessory before and during the fact. By
covering up for San Salvador after it had committed terror, Washington
was an accessory after the fact. It gave diplomatic support to
state terrorism. By training and equipping the Salvadoran security
forces in, and for, counterinsurgency warfare, Washington served
as an accessory before and during the fact. This may sound like
blaming the teacher for what the student does.
The situation existing in El Salvador in 1980 has now been re-established,
complete with massive social injustice and a considerable amount
of violence. ARENA won the runoff elections in 1994 and also the
1999 elections. It implemented none of the reforms recommended
by the truth commission, nor has it advertised its findings. The
government is under the control of ARENA, a party founded by D'Aubuisson,
who was supported by the elites, founded many death squads, and
was charged by the truth commission with many atrocities, including
ordering and planning the assassination of Archbishop Romero.
With only 40 percent of the vote, Francisco Flores was victorious
in the 1999 election. A strange and contradictory ideological
mix and the heir to a cattle ranch, he praises D'Aubuisson, the
founder of his party. But he is said to follow a guru who teaches
non-violence. The present situation in El Salvador is grim, providing
more of the same, perhaps moderated, internal violence without
social justice. The future does seem brighter because of the recent
electoral gains of the FMLN, now reconstituted as a legitimate
Terrorism and the United States