Copyright © 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and prior years as relevant back to 1986 Frank Smyth (and co-authors whenever relevant), to all articles on

All Rights Reserved.

May I print copies? Yes, you may but with limitations. Noncommercial users may print one copy of one article, up to five different articles for your personal use. Noncommercial users who wish to print more than the above must use the form below to indicate how many copies you wish to print of each article and for what purpose. All commercial users must negotiate rates prior to printing by using the form below.

May I copy text? Never. While readers are encouraged to use the various functions provided here to share articles, no one may copy and paste any article or any of its text to disk in order to preserve the integrity of each article. In years past CD-Rom and other commercial information services such as “Uncover” have copied my articles without permission; they have since paid me thousands of dollars in damages for copyright violations as part of multiple plaintiff lawsuits.

May I copy images? Never. Each image is copywritten by the author of the image. Requests for permission to copy or otherwise use any images must be sent directly to the the author of the image.

Are the articles authentic? Yes. Every article posted on appears exactly as it did in the original print or online publication unless otherwise indicated, and any copies, references or quotes should be fully cited accordingly to both the original publication and In the few cases where I have made any minor changes or corrections to the original text, they are marked by brackets [oops!] around any post-publication modifications.

(Readers may also notice: New links have been inserted or embedded into the original text in a few cases. Transliterations of names from languages like Arabic remain identical to the way they appeared in the original publication, so both Osama bin Ladin and Osama bin Laden appear in different articles here. Occasional typos or format mistakes may also occur due to either technological or human errors; please bring them to our attention so we may fix them as soon as possible.)

Is this site legal? You betcha! The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001 in favor of a writer against The New York Times, saying that writers retained the electronic rights to their printed articles. went up on that premise in 1998, and it includes articles under my byline dating back to 1987. In every case, the original publication also retains (and where relevant, also co-authors) copyright to the same articles. But unlike most publication sites along with commercial services like LexisNexis that charge fees to access articles, offers my articles to readers for free. The above lawsuit against the Times was brought by the National Writers Union, which I first joined in 1988.

Ladan Nekoomaram, a graduate from American University’s masters program in journalism and public affairs, edited this website with the developer.

Thank you for reading! Frank

Request Permission to Print Multiple Copies

    Your Name (required)

    Your Email (required)

    Address (required)

    Contact Phone (required)

    Purpose to use

    Security Code

    To use CAPTCHA, you need Really Simple CAPTCHA plugin installed.



    Recommended Biography for Speaking Events

    Frank Smyth (pronounced like Smythe) is an independent, award-winning investigative journalist specializing in armed conflicts, organized crime and human rights overseas, and on the gun movement and its influence at home. He is a former arms trafficking investigator for Human Rights Watch breaking the role of France in arming Rwanda before its genocide. Smyth is a global authority on journalist security and press freedom testifying to Congress and the member states of several multilateral organizations. Frank is founder and CEO of GJS, today the leading U.S.-based hostile environments training firm. He is the author of The NRA: The Unauthorized History, published by Flatiron in 2020. Frank is featured speaking throughout the documentary, “The Price of Freedom,” about the NRA and gun violence that aired on CNN in 2021 and that is now airing on HBO Max.


    Narrative Biography to Read — only if you’ve got the time 😉

    Frank began his career in 1984 on Wall Street in the World Trade Center at Telerate, the first real-time (pre-Internet) electronic stock and bond trading system. His first major story, “Duarte’s Secret Friends,” in 1987 in The Nation broke “SECRET” U.S. State Department cables revealing the Reagan administration was, in its own words, trying “one by one” to “destroy” the opposition labor movement in El Salvador.

    Smyth was based in San Salvador from 1988 through 1990, reporting for CBS News Radio and others. He reported and criticized abusive tactics by leftist guerrillas in The Progressive in 1988 including the planting of car bombs in populated areas and assassinations of locally elected majors. In 1989 in The Village Voice, he wrote “Waiting for Tet” while embedded with El Salvador’s leftist guerrillas on the slopes of the volcano overlooking the capital, also quoting an audio recording of a U.S. military advisor under heavy fire the month before in Zacatecoluca, near the capital, aired at the time over CBS News Radio. Three months later, Frank documented a massive influx of Soviet and Chinese arms to the guerrillas. After five more months, in November 1989, he covered the largest guerrilla offensive of the war, describing it as having left both Salvadoran and U.S. officials “Caught With Their Pants Down.

    In 1990 in The Village Voice, Frank implicated the-then Salvadoran army chief in ordering the recent Jesuit murders –three years before the commander was so accused by a United Nations Truth Commission. Smyth co-wrote with Riordan RoettDialogue and Armed Conflict: Negotiating the Civil War in El Salvador, and with Tom GibbEl Salvador: Is Peace Possible?. The latter was the first to make the case to cut military aid by 50 percent as leverage to facilitate negotiations, a step implemented by Congress six months later.

    Smyth covered the 1991 Gulf War from Amman Jordan. Afterward, he covered an Iraqi opposition conference in Beirut, Lebanon before crossing into northern Iraq to embed with Kurdish guerrillas, reporting for CBS News, The Economist and The Village Voice. The Voice nominated him for a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service for his coverage of the post-Gulf War anti-Saddam uprisings. Frank along with two photojournalists including Alain Buu went missing for 18 days after being captured by Iraqi forces. By then, Iraqi soldiers had already captured and executed Frank’s colleague, photojournalist Gad Gross, along with an armed Kurdish guerrilla, Bakhtiar Abdel-al-Rahman. He later wrote about the experience in “The Chance to Cry.”

    Later in 1991, Frank wrote “Who Killed Guatemala’s Leading Anthropologist?” in the Village Voice. Based in Guatemala through 1992, he reported on land clashes and other human rights abuses for outlets including The Christian Science Monitor. In 1993, he documented Colombia’s Cali cartel’s expansion into Guatemala in The Washington Post. A year later, in the Village Voice, he documented the violent displacement of peasants to build the clandestine runways of a cocaine syndicate tied to the Guatemalan Army. In 1995, in The Wall Street Journal, Smyth documented the Clinton administration’s cover up surrounding the Good Friday murder of Guatemala’s chief justice, Epaminondas González Dubón, that stopped the extradition of an Army officer wanted in a separate case over DEA-brought charges.

    In 1994, on the eve of the Rwandan genocide, Smyth broke the role of France in providing arms and military advisors to Rwanda’s already abusive ruling clique, as author of the Human Rights Watch report Arming Rwanda. Days into the carnage, he wrote “French Guns, Rwandan Blood” in The New York Times. Frank and co-author Stephen D. Goose received a Project Censored award for “Arming Genocide in Rwanda” in Foreign Affairs. Smyth has twice been interviewed on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program, talking about Iraq and Rwanda.

    Earlier the same year Frank wrote “Box of Pain” in The New Republic about Grateful Dead fans given long sentences for LSD sales. Smyth managed to gain access to a 1994 National Rifle Association board meeting, revealing in The Village Voice the start of a long internecine war that helped shape the organization. In 1995, one month after the Oklahoma City bombing, he exposed neo-Nazis of the National Alliance, whose leader had influenced the bomber, quietly recruiting on the NRA convention floor. Frank’s Washington Post piece on NRA firebrand and conspiracy theorist Neal Knox, “Gunning for His Enemies,” was later cited in a New York Times lead editorial. His work on Rwanda and Colombia, respectively, was referenced or cited in two more New York Times lead editorials.

    In the mid-1990s Smyth worked in Colombia and obtained U.S. Defense Department and Colombian documents to show the CIA and other U.S. agencies helped reorganize Colombian military intelligence to clandestinely run paramilitary death squads, as revealed in the 1996 Human Rights Watch report “Colombia’s Killer Networks.” The same year, Frank provided U.S. military documents to Amnesty International showing 12 out of 13 abusive Colombian military units had received U.S. training or arms; these documents were soon cited in Congress to help pass the Leahy Law. In 1996, in The Washington Post, Smyth established that the FBI sketch artist, Jean Boylan, who had outed others, believed Sister Diana Ortiz when she said that “Alejandro,” whom Boylan drew based on Ortiz’s description, was an American agent who had tortured her inside a Guatemalan military prison.

    In 1997, Frank wove his own Italian great-grandfather’s military experience a century before on the African Horn into his chronicling of a road trip across Eritrea to report on anti-Khartoum guerrillas over the border in Sudan. A year later, during the U.N. weapons inspection crisis over Iraq, Smyth wrote “Playing the Iran Card” in The Village Voice, and “We Need More Than Missiles to Oust Saddam” in The Washington Post. The same year, after the East Africa U.S. embassy bombings, he teamed up with terrorism expert Peter Bergen. Their story in The New Republic–based on separate reporting in Sudan and Afghanistan–was among the first to suggest that Osama bin Laden was behind the simultaneous U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Frank and another colleague, Jason Vest, wrote Voice piece about the al-Qaeda leader later heralded as “Bin Laden three years before 9/11.”

    Another co-author, Dan Connell, and Frank documented the origins of Africa’s “New Leaders” in 1998 in Foreign Affairs. (They were wrong, however, in predicting they would remain allied instead of warring with each other.) Frank in The New Republic established the incident–a border-area clash killing Eritrean soldiers and officers–that sparked the Horn War between Eritrea and Ethiopia. He later wrote “Infallible Nation?” about once promising Eritrea’s turn to a totalitarian state.

    Automobile sent Smyth in 1998 to cover “Heroes of the Revolution” or the Cuban mechanics who keep classic American cars running without spare parts. In he later wrote a Letter from Havana about the Communist regime’s new tolerance of emerging gay culture, and spreading corruption throughout the island.

    Frank’s 1999 piece in, “The Genocide Doctrine,” over Kosovo was later republished in the book William J. Clinton. Smyth contributed two chapters involving human rights abuses in Iraq during the Gulf War to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know.

    In 2000 Frank became Washington Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists.  At the same time, he worked in Colombia for the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. In 2001 Smyth wrote CPJ’s investigative report on Colombian paramilitary attacks against journalists, “Bad Press.” He later wrote in Newsday about the Bush administration’s attempts to censor the homemade video implicating bin Laden in 9/11 attacks. In 2002 in The American Prospect, Smyth wrote ““Saddam’s Real Opponents” later republished in The Iraq War Reader.

    On behalf of CPJ, Smyth testified before a joint House/Senate committee hearing about press freedom in Central Asia, a Senate committee terrorism hearing where he spoke against the CIA posing as press (a case he previously made as a freelance journalist in a New York Times op-ed), and the Helsinki Commission on press freedom abuses in Tunisia and Morocco.

    Smyth wrote “Iraq’s Forgotten Majority” in The New York Times in October 2002, or less than six months before the U.S.-led invasion, becoming among the first observers to point out that most Iraqis are Shia Muslims who were likely to aspire to power in any post-Saddam Iraq. One month later, in Newsday, Frank challenged the Bush administration’s notion that Saddam and bin Ladin were allies, reporting Bin Laden had long derided Saddam as a false Muslim. On the eve of the invasion, he wrote “Iraq’s Eclipsed Red Star” about the longstanding enmity between Saddam’s Ba’athist regime and the Iraqi Communist Party.

    After the U.S.-led invasion, Smyth wrote in The International Herald Tribune about the search for the remains of people including Gad Gross still missing in Iraq in the wake of the 1991 uprisings. Later, in the Los Angeles Times, Frank compared his witnessing of torture by Saddam’s guards with U.S. military interrogation and torture practices. In 2002, he received a National Press Photographers Association Special Citation for his leadership in journalist trauma awareness.

    By 2003, Smyth also became CPJ’s Journalist Security Coordinator, writing a dangerous assignment guidebook later translated into Spanish and Arabic. In 2004, he wrote in The Texas Observer about a nonprofit “law enforcement” front group created by the NRA and others to influence elections. The following year, in The Texas Observer, Smyth quoted DEA officials finally acknowledging the sacrifice of Guatemala’s late chief justice González Dubón 11 years after his covered-up murder.

    Frank wrote “The Congressman and the Dictator’s Daughter” about Illinois Rep. Jerry Weller’s conflict of interest as a member of a subcommittee for Latin America who was married to a powerful Guatemalan congresswoman in 2006 in the Chicago Reader. Smyth documented Congressman Weller’s undisclosed beachfront properties in Nicaragua in another Chicago Reader story, which, after being further pursued by the Chicago Tribune, led Weller to leave Congress.

    In 2005, Frank, on behalf of CPJ, testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission about press freedom conditions in China. The following year, on World Press Freedom Day, Smyth spoke on Capitol Hill on behalf of CPJ at the inauguration of the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press, before an address by the California Representative Adam Schiff, who founded the press freedom caucus and whose founding co-chair was then Illinois Congressman Mike Pence.

    In Newsday  Smyth wrote “A war ‘shock and awe’ didn’t win” about Iraq, and, among others, another piece about the fallout for Israel. In 2007 for CPJ Smyth wrote about the California Bay-area murder of “Local Newsman” Chauncey Bailey. Smyth blogged in The Hill to challenge the congresswoman, the Democrat Betty McCollum from St. Paul, Minnesota, over her praise for the brutal despot of Tunisia, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, whose downfall later began the “Arab spring.”

    Smyth wrote “El Salvador’s Cold War Martyrs” in 2009, pegged to the 20th anniversaries of the both the nation’s Jesuit murders and the fall of the Berlin Wall. He testified on impunity for crimes against the press in Latin America in 2009 before the member states of the Organization of American States. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2010 published Smyth’s study, “Painting the Maya Red: Military Doctrine and Speech in Guatemala’s Genocidal Acts.” Harvard International Review published Frank’s piece about unsolved murders of journalists worldwide, “Murdering with Impunity.

    In 2011 Smyth left most of his duties at the Committee to Protect Journalists to become CPJ’s part-time Senior Advisor for Journalist Security. He blogged for CPJ about a court subpoena for raw footage taken for the environmental documentary Crude, and on whether news blackouts help or hurt hostages including journalists. Frank blogged for outlets including NiemanWatchdog.

    He moderated panels at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn including on Threats to Environmental Reporters, and Advocacy vs. Objectivity covering Human Rights. Smyth is the main author of CPJ’s Journalist Security Guide released in 2012, and since published in 11 languages including Spanish, FrenchArabic, Russian, Somali and Chinese.

    By late 2012 Smyth founded Global Journalist Security, training journalists and humanitarians operating in hostile environments around the world and within the United States. GJS is now among the most respected hostile environments training and consulting firms worldwide. Clients include major news organizations as well as leading health, development and relief groups. GJS, under Frank’s tutelage, helps freelance journalists, humanitarians and activists obtain affordable training in collaboration with nonprofit groups.

    Smyth continues to report and break news. In January 2013, after the heartbreaking Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Mother Jones ran his story, “EXCLUSIVE: Unmasking the NRA’s Inner Circle,” showing a longtime NRA director and chairman of the NRA’s Nominating Committee for board elections was living in Newtown just a few miles from the school. One committee member serving under her was the CEO of the firearms consortium that made the AR-15 rifle used to kill children and educators inside the school. The “Lean Forward” MSNBC television network soon made Frank both an online and on-air contributor. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded him a Delta Sigma Chi award for National Magazine Investigative Reporting.

    Today Smyth is GJS CEO. He serves on the Global Advisory Network for World Pulse, using media platforms to unite and empower women. Continuing to be a voice for journalists, Frank, in 2014, addressed the member states of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on a journalist safety panel with top U.N. human rights and free expression officials, arguing that the U.N. must finally adopt “plain language” and report “violations of the right to life” with “a clearer term like murder“–a policy the U.N. took six years to change. In 2015 in Vienna, he spoke and moderated a panel on Safety of Journalists before the member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

    Smyth in 2015 took the lead for CPJ in criticizing the Obama administration and the Pentagon for producing a watershed Law of War manual that treated journalists as spies, leading the administration to change the objectionable language.

    In 2016 in Nairobi, Frank participated in a conference on kidnapping-for-ransom hosted by the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Center. Later that year, in Wilmington, North Carolina, Smyth addressed security for environmental activists at the WaterKeepers Alliance after the murder of the Honduran advocate Berta Cáceres. He spoke at a Virginia Commonwealth University conference on Countering Violent Extremism about groups from Mexican drug traffickers to ISIS using violence as a tactic to communicate strength.

    Frank addressed then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s incitement against journalists during a profile of GJS training by The Daily Show. In 2017, during President Trump’s first year in office, he spoke out on CNN against Trump’s remarks potentially endangering CNN and other journalists.

    In 2017, Smyth spoke on an American Bar Association panel on international law and attacks against the press. He spoke at the U.N. headquarters in New York at the Media for Social Impact Summit on the potential for virtual reality to enhance training. In 2018, he spoke in Washington, D.C. on a panel addressing security for documentary filmmakers at a Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival. In 2019, Frank spoke in Miami on an American Bar Association Communications Law panel on the treatment of journalists and erosion of press freedoms. That fall he was a Logan Nonfiction resident fellow researching the NRA and the armed right. In 2020, he spoke in Orlando at the University of Central Florida Nicholson School of Communication and Media on “Communication Under Siege: The Story of Steven Sotloff.”

    Frank’s book, The NRA: The Unauthorized History, was released by Flatiron March 31, 2020, and was reviewed in The New York Times and London Review of Books. He then wrote, among other NRA pieces, “The unsung war heroes of the National Rifle Association” in Stars and Stripes, and “Five myths about the National Rifle Association” in The Washington Post. Frank authored the Geneva-released report of UNESCO, Safety of Journalists Covering Protests – Preserving Freedom of the Press During Times of Civil Unrest. He revisited the war surrounding El Salvador’s Jesuit murders after the first conviction in Spain of a perpetrator.

    In October, a week before the 2020 elections, Smyth wrote in The New Republic about the NRA “Myths Fueling the Armed Right.” In 2021, Frank in the N.Y. Daily News wrote in March, “The slope is not so slippery, actually: Dems must tackle disinformation about gun control head-on,” about the challenges facing Biden’s gun plan, and in May, “Holocaust, guns and the truth,” about how the NRA has spun history to advance gun rights. Frank appears prominently throughout the 90-minute documentary, “The Price of Freedom,” about the NRA that aired in September 2021 on CNN, and is up now on HBO Max.

    On November 17, 2021, on the NRA’s sesquicentennial, Frank wrote in USA Today why today’s NRA leaders sidestepped their own organization’s 150th anniversary, burying the NRA’s British Royal roots to falsely claim the NRA was founded in support of the Second Amendment. In December, after the Oxford high shooting, he wrote in the N.Y. Daily News that gun reform was over for now, and how its adherents need to reach out to gun owners going ahead.

    In 2022, after the Uvalde, Texas elementary school shooting, Frank wrote in Politico how the NRA is weak, but its ideology is stronger than ever. He appeared on the NYTimes podcast The Sway with Kara Swisher and the columnist Nicholas Kristof discussing gun reform options. Frank appeared on CNN with Abby Philip talking about the power of the ideology of gun rights. In 2023, Frank wrote “Record Imprisonments, Impunity for Murders: Can Press Freedom Watchdogs Even Keep Up?” in Harvard International Review.

    Frank has taught journalism, global media, U.S. news history, and 20th century political and cultural history at American University and the Corcoran College of Art + Design. He is an alumnus of Boston College and the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

    Frank’s CV is available upon request.


    Green Berets in El Salvador

    By 1987 “our guys simply stopped reporting…up through the chain [because] they were reporting things they felt were absolute violations, and were absolutely wrong, and they were not seeing any action taken. …It was up to the State Department to arrest those people or to investigate those at fault… .You couldn’t go up to people and say ’40 persons got themselves whacked over here because they were thinking of forming a workers’ union. And the landowner is not into that at all, so he asked his buddy the Colonel to send a squad over and take care of the problem. ‘ [If] you did that, it was real easy to find yourself on the receiving end of a grenade, or a bomb, or a rifle bullet. So…our guys…reported the information and then just saw it disappear into that great void.”

    An ex-adviser in El Salvador says senior U.S. officials covered up the combat role of U.S. advisers and hid a pattern of human rights violations by the Salvadoran army.

    Greg Walker was a U.S. military adviser in El Salvador, and he is not happy with the people who assigned him there. Walker is the director of Veterans of Special Operations, which, he says, represents an estimated 4,500 U.S. advisers, pilots, medics, and other personnel who served in El Salvador during the 12-year war. But, according to Walker, since the Pentagon denies that U.S. military personnel in El Salvador served in a combat situation, it refuses to give them proper compensation or recognition. That refusal means lower pay, no combat military decorations such as the Purple Heart, and less chance of promotion. Walker, a Green Beret who volunteered for El Salvador, says that’s not fair.

    Fairness is a different kind of question for those Salvadorans who survived the 75,000 killings and the consistent pattern of human rights abuses that marked the U.S.-sponsored war. What bothers Walker, however, is that although this spring’s U.N. Truth Commission Report on El Salvador laid the blame for the majority of these human rights crime on U.S.-backed Salvadoran Armed Forces, U.S. personnel are being tarred with the same brush. Walker served as a Green Beret Army Special Forces adviser in El Salvador from 1982 to 1985 when the Salvadoran military, after substantial U.S. training, committed some of the worse violations.

    Walker maintains that although he and other U.S. advisers secretly took part in combat, they regularly reported extra-judicial killings and other crimes to the U.S. Embassy and their military superiors. Those senior officials there and in Washington routinely covered them up.

    President Clinton has ordered the CIA, Pentagon, and the State Department to pursue an “expedited review” of all documents relevant to 32 specific violations in El Salvador in response to the U.N. report.

    Frank Smyth: What was your mandate while you were in El Salvador? What exactly were you doing?
    Greg Walker: Well, the mandate of the entire military assistance program, if there was a single mandate, was to reorganize, restructure, and reform the Salvadoran army.

    FS: Were there any restrictions placed upon you and other personnel about what it was you were and were not allowed to do in terms of participating in combat or going into the field?
    GW: Well, the restrictions and the limitations essentially were placed upon us by the United States military through Congress. For example, where did the 55 advisers limit come from? That limitation did not come from Congress. That limitation came from the military itself when they sent a colonel to the country in the very early ‘80s to reassess what was going to be necessary to upgrade the military and to keep America’s involvement to a minimum.

    FS: You mean Fred Woerner?
    GW: Fred Woerner, Joe Stringham, any number of officers went down there. …Beginning in 1983, there were always no more than 55 U.S. military special operations advisers, as per the mandate in-country. But, at the same time, especially with the Army Special Forces advisers, we are trained in a multitude of different military skills such as communicators, medics, etc. So you saw a lot more highly trained, highly skilled special operations advisers in El Salvador because they were slotted into those MILGROUP staff slots. …So, probably at any one time, we had as many as 300 conventional and soft advisers working in-country at any one time, carrying out mobile training teams. Quite a bit more than when you were given the big 55 number. But you just have to understand the mechanics; it was no secret, it was just that people simply did not explore and know the right questions to ask.

    FS: What about military limitations?
    GW: The limitations that were placed upon the military adviser in the very early stages were that they would not carry long guns or assault rifles or things like that, and were restricted to essentially carrying only a sidearm, which at the time was either a .45 or a 9mm pistol. It was typical of the State Department policy process that if we didn’t look like we were in a war, then the other side would take it that we weren’t really there to be a in war.

    …In 1982, when I first went into the country, we were provided with long guns, or assault rifles, by Salvadoran commanders who refused to be responsible for our safety out in the “training areas” or in the field, or going between the cuartel [military base] to the capital, [or] any kind of transportation or movement whatsoever. Simply because they knew what the reality of the war was for both themselves and for us out there. At that time I was working out of Sonsonate, and we were pulled out because of the Las Hojas massacre, and moved over to the Caballo Rio where the cavalry was down the street of Atlacatl [Battalion]. Certainly in 1983, when [Lt. Cmdr. Al] Schaufelberger was killed, we were at that time given permission through the MILGROUP commander by the State Department, the Embassy, whoever you want to cal it, to be fully armed.

    Now [New York Times correspondent] Lydia Chávez, are you familiar with her? Lydia was probably one of the most gutsball reporters I have ever met down there, and the morning after Schaufelberger was killed, Lydia ran into myself and the Special Forces captain over at Estado Mayor [military headquarters]. We had two visiting military dignitaries with us, we were armed with an M-16 shotgun and submachine guns, and Lydia to her great credit, asked the question as she was staring at us in our vehicles. “What happened last night? Are you guys armed any differently?”

    Well, we had managed to stuff everything that was short and ugly under the seat because we saw Lydia was coming. Lydia had a good reputation for ferreting things out like that, but one individual who should have known better, but didn’t, left his M-16 fully exposed on the back seat with a magazine in it. And being good Special Forces troopers, we immediately lied to the media and said, “No, although they just killed the director of security for the entire embassy, there’s no difference at all in our armed attitude.” And Lydia, with her photographer there, clearly saw that rifle and simply told us, “You guys take care of yourselves” and did not take pictures, which she said she could have, and did not report that. But we were dully armed immediately after Schaufelberger was killed.

    As far as contact, in 1984, during the elections, we were under continuous fire from the FMLN because we were manning reporting sites all over the country in all the nice places like El Paraíso and Usultán. I was in Usultán then, and we took fire in the cuartel every other night. In ’84, you have to understand that the military base at Palmerola in Honduras served as an aviation launch platform for U.S. Air Force aircraft to include AC-130 gunships which flew rescue missions for us specifically, so that if we got hit in the cuartels or had to get out of the cuartels and go into an escape and evasion mode and had to get picked up either by rotary aircraft or be covered by AC-130s.

    FS: Did the officers or military personnel involved get combat credit for these actions, but it was not made public? Is that correct?
    GW: No, they don’t get credit if it’s not acknowledged that it’s combat. At the same time, we have advisers in El Salvador who were being paid hostile fire pay as early as 1981.

    FS: Where did people come under fire in El Salvador, inside of cuartels or in the field?
    GW: U.S. advisers down there came under fire most in the cuartels. As a matter of fact, some of the major battles that U.S. advisers were involved with took place in cuartels, but we came under fire in the field as well, and quite obviously came under fire in the urban areas, as Schaufelberger’s experience dictates. The thing that is forgotten here, thanks in part to the lack of coverage by the American media, is that El Salvador is a country that was taking part in a guerilla war, and anybody who studies anything about guerilla warfare knows that there are no safe havens. So we were subject to fire at any time, any place.

    For example, where do you train people to do fire and maneuver things? Where do you train people how to patrol? Where do you train people how to use anti-tank weapons, anti-bunker weapons and things like that? In a place like El Salvador, you have to train them outside of the cuartel area, which means you have to go to the field, and you have to specifically find areas if at all possible where there are no or minimal inhabitants, which is difficult because it’s so intensely populated. Well, in other words, you’re out exactly where the guerillas are and they have a tendency to really kind of get a little P.O.’d when their property is invaded by folks like us.

    FS: Were all these contact with the enemy outside cuartels reported to MILGROUP commanders in San Salvador?
    GW: In every incident, to my knowledge, there was a very strict reporting system and it went up the chain of command up to the U.S. MILGROUP.

    FS: When I was in El Salvador, the American Embassy only admitted, as late as right before the offensive in 1989, that only on three occasions had U.S. military advisers come under fire.
    GW: There is a big difference in what the U.S. military advisers, who were conventional Army, Air Force, Marine, as well as special operations forces representing all the services, were required and trained to do, what they actually did, and what the State Department or the Embassy did with that information afterwards. So if that was your experience, all I can tell you is they did a very good job, because three times under fire–that’s pretty good. …That’s clearly not only a misrepresentation of the facts, but it’s a lie.

    FS: When these individual members of the military testified before Congress and gave reports underestimating the level of engagement with the enemy, were they acting of their own volition, or on orders from superiors?
    GW: …Was there an orchestrated, very carefully structured program of downplaying, misleading, misrepresenting, not quite giving the right answer if the precise question isn’t asked? Quite obviously, the answer is, yes, there was.

    FS: From your perspective, why wouldn’t you want to let this rest? What is it that you feel the American military personnel in El Salvador are being cheated out of because of this policy?
    GW: Well, we’re not letting it rest because it’s not the right thing to do…In today’s political and military politics, it would appear to be a very simplistic answer, but in a nutshell, approximately 4,500 or 5,000 American military personnel served in El Salvador over a 12-year period. To my knowledge, and certainly we’ve heard from a great many folks, and from what we’ve been able to see, we know that we are serving in a war. We had friends who were both wounded and killed in that war. We had a vital commitment that was handed to us to go down there and do the best job possible under extremely difficult diplomatic and wartime constrictions and restraints, and we did this job. To turn around and see that effort sullied by a formal attitude that there was no war…dishonors everything we though we were representing and involved in. And certainly, a [current] example of that is the U.N. human rights report, which essentially is not being clarified by the proper authorities in the government and is making the military personnel that were involved down there look somewhat like we were involved in things and training and teaching things that were not at all honorable, and that is not the case. What are we being cheated out of? Our just and due acknowledgement for a job well done.

    FS: In terms of levels of engagement, are we talking dozens or hundreds?
    GW: …[O]ver a 12-year period of time, [that] number is in the high hundreds to the low thousands. And I consider that a round fired where there was American military personnel in the area is coming under fire. [For example] in San Salvador when they were blowing the telephone and the power pole…you were under fire. So I would say, in that instance, American military personnel came under fire on an everyday occurrence.

    FS: Have you any estimates, or perhaps the figures, on how many U.S. military personnel were killed in El Salvador?
    GW: Fifteen were killed.

    FS: You made a point earlier about human rights and some of the revelations that came out in the U.N. Truth Commission Report and you mentioned that this report somehow suggests that American military personnel were involved in things that cast them in a bad, dishonorable light. Could you explain what you meant by that?
    GW: With respect to human rights, this needs to be made real clear, and this is one of the things that really is a sticking point for most of us who served down there, both Special Forces and conventional. We were mandated…to identify, to gather information, to root out those that possibly were involved in human rights violations,…who were actually taking part in death squad activities, in massacres, in any of the things that were mentioned in that report.

    American advisers made every attempt to do this, often at risk to themselves, and in fact, we were, by 1984 and ’85, finding ourselves targeted by the extreme right for this kind of activity, as well as by the guerillas who were ticked off about our military involvement. Now, it was real easy to accept the guerillas trying to take us out, but it was a little difficult to accept that the folk we were supposed to be supporting in some cases were out for our scalps as well.

    FS: And you were encouraging the Salvadorans not to commit violations according to the U.S. military policy on human rights?
    GW: Well, you can’t lump the entire Salvadoran military into the same pot…We were to identify those Salvadoran military officers who were, in fact, very concerned with changing that policy, and were not taking part in, but were part of a system that had been involved in that kind of thing for years. And that’s endemic to that entire region. That’s historical fact, like it or not.

    So we’d identify the senior officers within the military structure that you would want to preen, and to cultivate, and to bring to the forefront so you could replace the ones that were tainted, and at the same time, we were charged with training these young officers coming out of the officers school, the lieutenants, and the new and emerging Salvadoran non-commissioned corps, in the entire human rights process…[R]eporting did take place, and when my particular team was pulled out of Sonsonate, and pulled back in 1983 after Las Hojas was discovered, and those 70 peasants were discovered on my particular rifle range, we were held in check for ten days as a bargaining chip by the State Department to try to force the military structure to cough up the military personnel or the people responsible.[1]

    Now, what seems to be the bone of contention here is not that American military personnel weren’t doing a hell of a job as far as gathering information, intelligence, and turning it over to the people responsible for evaluating it and taking further action, but how much of that was shared when questions were asked by the Congress or by human rights groups or by reporters. That is the big stumbling block as far as El Mozote was concerned. When that was brought to the forefront by the media, the State Department turned around and just about said it absolutely didn’t happen, [it] couldn’t find any evidence, you’re just trying to muck up this whole thing for us down here. As we find out now, it most certainly did happen.

    FS: Were there any instances, for example El Mozote[2] or Las Hojas, or other cases of particular violations, where you were aware of information, or you personally or MILGROUP was aware of massacres that were then not made public? Or human rights violations or practices by members of the army which led to human rights violations which then were covered up in terms of specifics?
    GW: We were aware of any number of things, not only on the Salvadoran Armed Forces side of the house, but on the FMLN’s side of the house. We photographed Salvadoran soldiers who were shot down at San Sebastian, San Vicente, Puente de Oro, the other side of San Miguel. Both sides committed some pretty heinous acts all in the name of the common good, I guess. The only way to answer that, I guess, is to say that we did a hell of a lot of reporting, and by 1987, from what I’ve been able to ascertain from letters I’ve been sent by people down there, after a while, our guys simply stopped reporting. And the reason that they stopped reporting it up through the chain is that they were reporting things that they felt were absolute violations, and were absolutely wrong, and they were not seeing any action taken.

    It was up to the State Department to arrest those people or to investigate those at fault. Now, the diplomats will say “You have to understand it’s a long and involved process.” But for somebody who’s down there in the field and participating in the uncovering of these things, you see one body, or a group of bodies, and it’s pretty difficult not to say, “Why can’t you stop that now, with the information that we’ve provided for you?” And in fact, when you’re being targeted by the right, when you have to watch your front as well as your back, and you’re being told “Don’t worry, it’s been taken care of, just don’t bring it up again,” that takes a lot of the impetus out of the reporting. That’s unfortunately human nature.

    FS: The reporting was being stopped because nothing was being done. But did earlier reporting include specifics–names, and dates, and facts?
    GW: Absolutely. As best as we could ascertain them. You couldn’t go up to people and say 40 persons got themselves whacked over here because they were thinking of forming a workers’ union, and the landowner is not into that at all, so he asked his buddy the Colonel to send a squad over and take care of the problem. Because if and when you did that, it was real easy to find yourself on the receiving end of a grenade, or a bomb, or a rifle bullet. And so it was something that had to be done very carefully, very slowly, and our guys put themselves at tremendous risk to accomplish that, and then reported the information and then just saw it disappear into that great void.

    FS: Specifically, to whom was this information reported?
    GW: Any kind of combat field info all went up your immediate chain of command. If I was, say, at Usulutan and got something like that, I would report it up one step above myself–in most cases to US. MILGROUP. From there it would be channeled through the deputy commander, MILGROUP commander, and from there, directly to the Ambassador,…[ and] directly from the military, right into the hands of those charged with conducting our foreign policy in that country.

    FS: Then it presumably would have gone on to Washington?
    GW: And from there it would have gone directly on to Washington. And that’s a good point, too. Washington wanted to know what was going on in El Salvador, and did indeed know on an almost real time basis. In 1984, when had I had a tape recorder, I would have loved to have taped this one–the American advisory element in El Paraiso came under fire. An AC-130 gunship was scrambled from Honduras, and flown over El Paraiso to help pinpoint those guerrilla actions. This was all being monitored by the MILGROUP and the Embassy. Southern Command was called immediately and came on the line as well, and then a line went up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And it was real interesting listening to all of these parties all over asking, “How are these five Americans, where are they, and what’s going to happen to them?” The interest level in Washington was really high. They knew at any time exactly what it was that was going on, where we were, and what we were doing, throughout the entire war.

    FS: And then at a certain point, people decided it wasn’t worth trying to get this information, nothing was being done, and it was in fact dangerous to get it?
    GW:It was very dangerous to get it, and it was just like you were feeding reports into this big report file, and if something was being done, it was taking an enormous amount of time, or it wasn’t really happening at all, because[the] bigger picture was intruding upon the immediacy of what you were seeing or hearing.

    FS: So your point in terms of honor of the role of U.S. military people on the ground is that it is not that the revelations of the U.N. Truth Commission aren’t true. What you’re saying is it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ground that nothing was done; it was the fault of people higher up who didn’t do anything with the information. Is that correct?
    GW: That’s correct.

    Inset article:

    War in Periods of Peace

    During the Iran-Contra hearings, House chief counsel John Nields asked Lt. Col. Oliver North about a line in his notes referring to a “delicate stage of transition from ‘blank’ run operation to ‘blank’-run.”

    Nields: Well you put in some blanks, you said “blank in two places, there’s nothing classified about either of those words and one of them is CIA.
    North: Well.
    Nields: And the other is Southern Command.

    The operation referred to was El Salvador. In his interview, Walker shed some light on what North meant about a “delicate stage of transition” from a CIA- to Southern Command-run operation.

    Greg Walker: The mandate for the Central Intelligence Agency upon its creation in, I believe, 1947 is that the Agency has responsibility for military operations during periods of declared peace. In other words, they are responsible and indeed can direct, run, operate in these kinds of conflicts totally legally. During those times of declared peace, Special Forces are made available, by law, to the Agency, which is why Special Forces has always been the advisory arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. That is no big secret. The only time that that changes is a period when war is no longer considered to be a peace time.

    I know this seems contradictory, war being undertaken during periods of peace, but that’s when the transition goes from the Agency’s direct control to the American military’s direct control and when that happens, Special Forces, if they have been working with or under the auspices of the Agency, they flip-flop back under the control of the military and that I think is what you’re seeing in that testimony.

    The early stages of the war were very much Agency-directed and -oriented, and as the war and our commitment expanded, as our assets in Panama through the US. Southern Command and in Honduras became more and more and more involved, control was taken out of the hands of the Agency and turned back over to the formal military through the United States Southern Command.

    – –

    1. The mostly indigenous peasants were executed at the Las Hojas fanning
    cooperative in February 1983. An arrest warrant was issued for Col. Araujo in
    1987, but never carried out. Col. Araujo was subsequently cleared of all charges
    in a blanket amnesty issued by Pres. Jose Napoleon Duarte in October 1987.

    2. The 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which the Salvadoran army killed hundreds
    of unarmed villagers, was reported by Ray Bonner (New York Times) and Anna
    Guillermoprieto (Washington Post). Embassy and State Department officials
    denied the incident and after considerable pressure, Bomer was transferred off
    the Central America beat and eventually left the Times. Eleven years later, the
    U.N. Truth Commission report corroborated the accounts of the massacre and
    the guilt of the Salvadoran army.

    The War Next Door

    Original story can be found here.

    The slaying of six Jesuits was only the most recent reminder that El Salvador is one of the few remaining countries where the price of thought can be death.

    San Salvador – Several months ago a friend invited me to his sociology class. “Come on,” he said, “we’re going to see a movie.” Beaches, starring Bette Midler, was the day’s discussion subject.

    Students milled about the auditorium, many in Levis and Reeboks. With a Coke and popcorn in hand, I felt as close to home as a foreigner can feel in El Salvador.

    Entre Amigos –- “Among Friends” –- is how the movie title was translated into Spanish. Readers may be familiar with the plot: two young girls meet by chance in California and build a friendship that stretches to New York and lasts for life.

    When the lights came on, a tall man in a long graying beard took his place in front of the class. He spoke in a deep raspy voice.

    “What does it mean to be friends?” he asked paternally. “What does it mean to have a friendship?”

    But the discussion soon took its own track. “What is the meaning of friendship,” asked one woman, “in the midst of war?”

    The more sober theme dominated the rest of the session. In El Salvador, even the most delightful film can offer only transitory escape from violence.

    The bearded man was sociology professor Segundo Montes. SJ. Like other Jesuit professors at the University of Central America Jose Simeon Canas or UCA (pronounced “ooka”), much of his coursework was devoted to exploring El Salvador’s “national reality.” Integration of the war and friendship themes was likely part of this plan for that session.

    Both Montes and his fellow Jesuit and colleague Ignacio (Nacho) Martin-Baro were immensely popular among students. The last time I saw them was in October, at an UCA-organized conference on the Salvadoran military. That day I spoke with both. We needed to exchange ideas. Segundo, Nacho and I were to speak on a joint panel at an upcoming Latin American conference in Miami.

    But I made this trip alone. In Miami I saw next to two empty chairs adorned with flowers.

    Before daylight on November 16, in the midst of a major military offensive by leftist guerillas, U.S.-trained and equipped army soldiers surrounded and entered UCA’s grounds. They marched six Jesuit priests, including Segundo and Nacho, into a grassy courtyard in their nightclothes. The Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were shot repeatedly with automatic weapons at point-blank range.

    With recent changes in Eastern Europe, El Salvador now remains one of the few places in the world where ideas are genuinely dangerous. Segundo, Nacho and the other Jesuits were targeted to be killed precisely because their ideas were powerful and persuasive.

    Segundo, for example, was a noted critic of human rights abuses. He also had done extensive research on refugees created by El Salvador’s 10-year civil war between the U.S.-backed government and the leftist guerillas.

    Nacho was chairman of UCA’s psychology department as well as an astute political and military analyst. He also administered a public opinion poll run out of UCA. It explored Salvadorans’ views on subject such as the economy and the war.

    Ignacio Ellacuria, SJ, UCA’s rector, who also died that night, was another compelling figure. “The truth is the truth is the truth,” I remember him telling an audience packed with students some years ago. Editor of UCA’s main journal, Estudios Centroamericanos or “Central American Studies,” he was a prolific writer and a powerful critic of both the Salvadoran government and U.S. policy toward it.

    In interviews with the foreign press, he and Nacho often told both Salvadoran and U.S. officials what they didn’t want to hear:

    “Ideology…had a lot to do with the American involvement in this civil war,” said Nacho. “And unfortunately, you Americans have invested here during the last eight years [$3.2 billion] of your tax-payers’ dollars; just to have in this country more destruction, more death–-and no more democracy, no more peace, no improvement for the majority of the Salvadoran people; just with the obsession of militarily defeating the rebels, militarily putting an end to the so-called advancement of, or the expansion of, communism.”

    Nacho, Ellacuria and all the Jesuits at UCA advocated a negotiated settlement to the war, as opposed to a military victory by either side. The Jesuits strongly criticized the United States for pursuing a military solution. They also took issue with claims by U.S. officials that EI Salvador’s civil war was foreign inspired.
    “The problem of this country is not a problem of communism or capitalism,” Nacho went on. “The problems of this country are problems of very basic wealth distribution, of very basic needs. Now more than 60 percent of our adult population doesn’t have a job. Can you imagine–how are our people able to…survive without a job?”
    The Salvadoran government and military had long equated popular demands to change such conditions with subversion. This is why, argued the Jesuits, EI Salvador’s guerrilla movement was born.

    “When in this country you ask for satisfaction for those needs,” said Nacho, “you become a subversive–and you are a subversive. Why? Because if you want to satisfy those basic needs, you have to change the social system. You have to change the regime. But then you become a ‘Communist.’ Then you become a rebel. Then you become a revolutionary. And then you have to be repressed. And you are repressed. And there you have… the civil war.”

    The Jesuit killings have received more attention than any Salvadoran crime since the 1980 slaying of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. But over the past decade, over 70,000 Salvadorans–more than one percent of the country’s population–have been killed. According to the human rights office of the country’s Catholic archbishop, the vast majority of victims were assassinated by either the Salvadoran military or allied rightist death squads. They were killed on suspicion of being “subversives.”

    Let me offer one family’s story.

    In October I interviewed an inspirational young woman, Tatiana Mendoza. Her father was a leading member of EI Salvador’s early democratic opposition movement, before it was driven underground. He and several colleagues were killed when army soldiers raided their offices in 1980.

    A decade later, Tatiana, his 21-year-old daughter, was a union organizer who worked with women’s groups. She had recently been detained on charges of being a “subversive.” During her ordeal, Tatiana told me, she was raped by a military guard. Although a court-appointed doctor confirmed her claim, in EI Salvador an attempt to charge a soldier with rape is laughable.

    Two weeks after I interviewed her, Tatiana was killed by a bomb. An attacker had placed it in the cafeteria of her trade union office. Two generations of activists; two deaths. The story of Tatiana’s family is the story of her blood-drenched country.

    For Nacho and the other Jesuits, such violence was part of daily life. Some of his more recent interviews carried a sense of foreboding. ‘There is an environment,”‘ I remember him saying, “of the possibility of being killed any moment of the day.”

    Nacho also did not equivocate about [he likely source of the threat. “As long as [he armed forces in this country are over and above the law, as long as the armed forces [are] a corruptible and corrupt institution, as long as the armed forces have within its ranks … terrible human rights violators, you cannot expect to have in this country peace, to have democracy, and to have [least of all] justice.” Nacho said these words in his last known interview, one week before he was killed.

    The UCA Jesuits were full participants in the Salvadoran community. In addition to teaching and writing, they were active at the grassroots and shared a commitment to the poor.

    Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, SJ, was another of the murdered men. He ran a program–“Faith and Happiness”–which worked in poor areas with base Christian communities: small groups of local individuals who meet to worship and read scripture.

    Despite his death, other UCA Jesuits continue similar work. One, Jon Sobrino, is not only a leading interpreter of liberation theology, but is also active with El Salvador’s base Christian community movement, whose members receive constant threats and other forms of intimidation from the armed forces. Another, Jon Cortina, does his pastoral work in Chalatenango, one of the most war-torn provinces in the country. He recently moved there from UCA to live and work among newly rebuilt peasant communities.

    Most of these priests, including Segundo, Nacho and Ellacuria, were born in Basque country in Spain, and later became naturalized Salvadoran citizens. But most of the younger Jesuit seminarians who have been studying under them are native Salvadorans. The seminarians are spread throughout the country. Almost all live and work among poor communities.

    Segundo, who had several seminarians under his tutelage, not only studied refugees but frequently traveled to their places of repatriation. He encouraged them to organize themselves to defend their rights and to find ways to improve their conditions. Nacho also worked closely with peasant and labor-based “popular organizations,” as well as community self-help groups.

    Nacho and I knew one such refugee community well. Called “Community of the Cross,” it is not far from UCA, on vacant land between lanes of the country’s largest highway. Its 500-odd squatters live in mud and split-bamboo shacks with roofs of tin.

    Children with faces mottled by chickenpox and bellies bloated by amoebic infection rush to greet a stranger. They are likely to call any foreign male they come to know. Padre.

    People there say that Nacho came every once in a while to say Mass. “Padre Nacho is with us,” one woman, Martha, told me.

    Martha later said she was angered by Nacho’s death, but not surprised. Like many others, Martha knew at firsthand the effects of repressive violence. She and her two sons had been taken, interrogated and physically abused by government soldiers two months earlier–again on suspicion of “subversion.”

    Martha said she knew who was responsible for killing the Jesuits–this, before government officials admitted military involvement in the case. “The ones who need to be punished,” she said, “are the [ones running the country].”

    Martha must have had better insight than U.S. officials here. Nearly up until the time that army involvement in the case was made public, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador William Walker tried to convince Congressional leaders in Washington that leftist guerrillas and not army soldiers were responsible. U.S. officials also questioned the credibility of a key witness in the case, seriously straining relations with the Catholic communities in both countries.

    Maria Julia Hernandez, a tough little woman who directs the Catholic human rights office, said she’s not surprised by this behavior. “I don’t know if they are aware of it or not,” she said, “but U.S. Embassy officials have the ability to deceive themselves, and to never hit the mark [on human rights] in EI Salvador.”

    Some U.S. officials–speaking privately–seem to agree. “If we can have 55 military advisors,” said one, “why can’t we have 55 human rights officers?” The Jesuit case has disillusioned many U.S. officials need to put a good face on the case in order to ensure continued Congressional approval for military and economic aid. But when confronted, some admit they no longer believe in what they’re doing.

    Many Congressional leaders have also lost faith. The idea that an army trained, financed, and advised by the United States would commit such a crime proved too much for them. A bipartisan task force looking into the slayings recently visited EI Salvador. By the time members finished their investigation, they were openly questioning whether senior Salvadoran military officers were trying to cover up the murders; whether the killings were “the actions of a few renegade military figures or whether, in fact, they stem from attitudes and actions that go to the very heart of the armed forces and other major institutions in this country.”

    The evidence doesn’t look good for the armed forces. For years army officers had accused the UCA Jesuits of being allied with the guerrillas. Last April, then Army Intelligence Chief Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda accused the Jesuits of running guerrilla operations out of the university.

    For several days prior to the murders, the armed forces radio program broadcast threats against the UCA Jesuits. “Anonymous” phone-in callers were encouraged to express their views. The army aired repeated demands for the Jesuits’ deaths in revenge for the offensive by leftist guerrillas. Approximately five hours before the killings, the military high command held an emergency meeting. Military sources quoted in The Washington Post and elsewhere said the officers present decided to use greater air power to put down the guerrilla offensive and also decided to attempt the assassination of suspected guerrilla leaders in the capital city.

    Shortly after the murders, a second meeting took place in the military’s intelligence complex, which shares facilities with the CIA. An army officer interrupted the meeting to announce the Jesuits had been killed. According to military sources present, the attending officers clapped in approval.

    Nevertheless, only one army officer present at the first meeting has been charged with the crime. Many non-American Western diplomats here believe other senior officers were involved in planning the murders.
    Preliminary treatment for accused Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides doesn’t offer much cause for hope that justice will be served. He is being held in a luxury apartment at the headquarters of the National Police. The “prisoner” has also been seen at a military-owned resort hotel on the Pacific Coast.

    I was in a small parish in San Salvador the morning of November 16. It was the fifth day of combat since the guerrilla offensive had begun. An orphanage, called Mary, Mother of the Poor, had been hit by a grenade. Young Jesuit seminarians were evacuating civilians under heavy fire. One of them stopped to tell me that Ellacuria and the others had been killed.

    I felt relatively little on learning this shocking news. My senses were numbed by the wanton violence I had seen over the previous days. The most extraordinary experience of many was watching a government’s helicopters and planes strafe, rocket and bomb its own people. On the second day of fighting, I saw a helicopter fire a rocket at a mud and split-bamboo shack. I can still see the victims–a mother and her decapitated daughter.

    Many similar incidents occurred. The Jesuit murders are only the most celebrated in a series of atrocious acts. Leftist guerrillas share in the blame. Their worst violation was to discourage or even temporarily prevent people from leaving combat areas, in order to use them as a deterrent against government air strikes. But both human rights groups and international monitoring organizations cite army soldiers as the most consistent and flagrant offenders. One of the most inexcusable crimes was not allowing the International Red Cross and other relief groups to evacuate wounded from battle areas–out of fear they might unknowingly treat “subversives.”

    The violence of November has left the country scarred. Most UCA students, for instance, who come from EI Salvador’s wealthier classes, seem generally repulsed by the killing of some of their most prestigious and popular professors. But indicative of the country’s mood, few are willing to express their views. According to several students I’ve talked to, most will keep their feelings private rather than admit them even to each other.

    UCA’s academic programs have been scaled back. Several professors have fled the country in fear. At least one senior editor and writer for UCA’s journals barely missed encountering a death squad of heavily armed men in civilian clothes at his home. He has now taken refuge in another Latin American country.

    Many lesser known Salvadorans have fled as well. Jesuit seminarians have arranged visas for people who feel particularly targeted to flee to Canada–it is not possible to obtain such visas from the United States. But others have been smuggled into the United States illegally by the religious-based sanctuary movement.
    But most Salvadorans don’t have the luxury of flight. For them, violence is a recurring agony to be endured.

    Nevertheless, there is some reason for hope. In the wake of the November offensive, an increasing number of players on all sides of the conflict have come to see that a negotiated settlement, rather than a military victory, would indeed be the best solution. The slain Jesuits certainly believed this. It is worth noting that as a community the Jesuits believe that the most efficacious way to bring about genuine negotiations is to cut U.S. aid to the Salvadoran government and army.

    I was recently invited to a base Christian community meeting. It took place in one of the areas I had reported from during the fighting, the same community in which I had learned of the UCA massacre.

    A family had invited me to commemorate a previous tragedy–the ninth anniversary of their son’s death. In 1981, along with 25 other young men from his community, he had been dragged from his home and shot by army soldiers.

    A Christian catechist, brother of the murdered man, led the ceremony. After a short reading he asked, “What is the fruit of his death?”

    “Well,” said a peasant woman, addressing the mother, “the fruit of his death is in the children you still have.”

    “But,” responded another, “we are all children of God. The fruit is in all the children, all of us. ”
    But the mother had a different answer: “For me, I cope with his death by giving to other children who have no one else.” A seemingly frail woman, the mother, since her son’s death, has tenaciously managed a home for children abandoned or orphaned because of the war. “I had a choice,” she said. “I could have gone into despair. But I decided to make something good come out of it.”

    It’s possible there may be no negotiations in EI Salvador–and no cuts in U.S. aid. I wonder, what then would be the fruit of the Jesuits’ deaths?

    Frank Smyth lived in El Salvador during the 1980s, serving as a radio report for CBS News and reporting for The Village Voice and other publications.