El Salvador: Torturers May Meet Their Victims

In an unusual, and brave move,

El Salvador’s Supreme Court has struck down a 1993 amnesty law enacted after the country’s devastating civil war, clearing the way for possible prosecutions of war crimes at the risk of reopening old wounds.

The amnesty has contributed to more than two decades of impunity for crimes committed during the 1980-1992 civil war, which claimed 75,000 lives. It helped end the conflict between the government and leftist guerillas, but it has blocked access to justice and reparations for victims.

The court’s constitutional chamber ruled 4 to 1 Wednesday that the amnesty violates international law and El Salvador’s constitution. The ruling said the government has an obligation to “investigate, identify and sanction the material and intellectual authors of human rights crimes and grave war crimes” and to provide reparations to victims.  Washington Post

If what happened during those years is hazy, or has been swamped by more recent atrocities, a short excerpt from a collection by courageous reporter, Martha Gellhorn, then in her 80s, is just below.

What Hands, Susan Meiselas, 1980

White Hands, Susan Meiselas, 1980

For a portfolio of Magnum photos see here.

A Daily Mail, 2013 article about the abducted children.


Genocide Trial for Reagan’s Man in Guatemala

…for the first time “anywhere in the world,” according to the United Nations, a former head of state is being tried for genocide by his own nation’s justice system. That man is Efrain Rios Montt, an ex-military dictator who ruled Guatemala from 1982 to 1983. — And, a Pentecostal minister, friends of Pat Robertson and the later Jerry Falwell.

That’s the good news.

Ixil Mayan Indians are standing in court to testify what it was like during the years of Montt’s rule and that is the bad news, the grotesque news



 The soldiers killed Jacinto Lopez’s teenage daughter Magdalena by repeatedly stabbing her in the neck.

Then they shot and killed his sons, 13-year-old Domingo and 10-year-old Pedro.

His in-laws were not spared. Barely anyone in the village was.

These atrocities, which took place in the remote Guatemalan town of Santa Maria Nebaj in July of 1982, have never been described in a courtroom.

“They killed my family and destroyed our crops,” Lopez testified. “They took even my cows.”

CNN  and NY Times

“I was 12 years old,” said one woman, whose identity was protected by the court. “They took me with the other women and they tied my feet and hands. They put a rag in my mouth … and they started raping me … I don’t know how many took turns. … I lost consciousness … and the blood kept running. … Later I couldn’t even stand or urinate.”

And how is the United States involved?  Deeply. And this is the news which is floating off, forgotten, the news which shames the leaders at the time, those who knew and implemented or knew and did nothing.

“In ’82 and ’83, as Gen. Rios Montt was sending military sweeps into the northwest highlands, annihilating by their own count 662 rural villages, Reagan went down, embraced Rios Montt, and said Guatemala was getting a bum rap on human rights. The U.S. military general attaché at the time told me the sweep strategy was in large part his idea, and that he was working hand in hand with [the Guatemalan military] to carry it out. It’s hard to overstate the U.S. role, because the U.S. role was so extensive.”

Progressive  and Democracy Now  transcript of Charlie Rose show March 31, 1995

President Bill Clinton offered a rare half-apology for the support the United States had given the killers.