Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Salvadoran war crimes once again in a US court room

Once again a US court room is the scene of testimony about human rights abuses during El Salvador's civil war.   This time the setting is a deportation proceeding as the US seeks to deport former Salvadoran defense minister General Jose Guillermo García.

The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) offers this description of General Garcia:
General Jose Guillermo García (b. 1933) graduated in 1962 from The School of the Americas. He later became the Minister of Defense in El Salvador from 1979 to 1983. García was in charge of the military forces responsible for the infamous El Mozote and Sumpul River massacres where over 1367 civilians were killed.  He was also the Minister of Defense when the revered Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated and blocked any attempts at an investigation. In 1989, he retired to Florida after receiving political asylum in the United States.
The CJA successfully sued Garcia on behalf of victims of torture and kidnapping in the case Romagoza Arce v. Garcia and Vides Casanova and obtained a $54.6 million verdict.

Now Garcia returns to a federal court room as the US seeks to expel him from the country.  The US is seeking to deport Garcia under a 2004 law aimed at stopping human rights abusers from taking refuge in the US.    The government's lead witness, Stanford professor Terry Karl, testified about Garcia's role:

Karl said it has been well documented that the Salvadoran armed forces were responsible for the majority of the deaths. She said soldiers during that time were disciplined for drinking but not for human rights abuses. 
"And the number that were disciplined I can count on one hand, and they happened after General Garcia's tenure," Karl said.
The AP describes Garcia's testimony when he took the stand this week:
Dressed in a dark suit, gray shirt and black and gold tie and with his hands crossed, Garcia described how he at first rejected the defense minister appointment, wanting to retire and manage a radio station instead. But one of the top colonels running the revolutionary government continued to insist. After consulting with his family, he decided to accept. 
Garcia said human rights abuses were occurring before his tenure, and that he did take certain steps to stop them. He invited the Red Cross to have a presence at military quarters, unannounced, and made public statements reminding soldiers of their obligations to the civilian population. 
Asked by the judge whether there were any investigations into reports of massacres, Garcia replied there had been. 
"Investigations were done," he said. "But with a certain degree of limitation due to the fact an investigation is done based on the information that was available." 
Questioned by his attorney on whether he ever committed, ordered, incited or participated in an act of torture or extrajudicial killing, Garcia replied in a confident voice, "No."
Although this case is being followed in the Salvadoran press, it is no substitute for having judicial proceedings in El Salvador where the facts and responsibility for war crimes can be addressed.   Such proceedings have been blocked since the passage of the 1993 general amnesty law.  


Mike said...

Should he be sent back to El Salvador, is there likely to be any recourse against him? Does the general amnesty just mean that he will retire in El Salvador rather than in Florida?


I would not assume an equivalence between retiring in El Salvador vs. retiring in Miami, FL. Clearly, Mr. Garcia would much prefer Miami. It may have to do with public benefits he might receive. It may have to do with sleeping more peacefully knowing that people you may have wronged are far away. It may just be the better standard of living the U.S. offers compared to El Salvador. In any event, the ability to be in the United States is a privilege that many Salvadorans and other people in different parts of the world would love to enjoy. In fact, there are many people in the United States facing deportation who have done far lesser wrongs than Mr. Garcia is accused of. Those are the main reasons why deportation matters; as to amnesty, he might be more prone to legal action here than in El Salvador!