El Mozote soldiers testify
A few of the hundreds of small children who were victims at El Mozote
On Friday November 1, the trial for the massacre of children, the elderly and others in El Mozote and surrounding communities took a new turn. For the first time, two soldiers who were part of the troops present in El Mozote during the massacre testified. The soldiers, who were cooperating with prosecutors, took the witness stand with their faces hidden and their voices disguised. They testified against their superior officers and against the high military command who had sent their unit to do its bloody work in rural El Salvador in December 1981. They testified under the pseudonyms "Juan" and "Sol."
As Nelson Rauda points out in El Faro, the testimony of these two soldiers provides a key piece of the case. The fact of the massacre has been well established by civilian witnesses from Rufina Amaya to those who testified at the current trial over the past three years. But those witnesses were not soldiers and can't testify about the name and rank of the persons giving the orders. Civilian witnesses could only testify to seeing how those orders were carried out by soldiers in the massacre of hundreds of children, women and the elderly. In a case which seeks to impose criminal liability on those in command, last week's soldier witnesses provided important testimony linking the commanding officers to the events in the field.
Both soldiers confirmed that those killed during December 1981 were unarmed civilians rounded up out of their homes and killed. Neither soldier testified to participating himself in the shooting or rapes.
Anna-Cat Brigida reported in Al Jazeera:
Juan and Sol testified that soldiers took residents - children under 10, elderly women and men - from their homes and shot them. "How were they dressed?" asked one lawyer for the prosecution. "Humbly," Juan said. Juan said that the soldiers killed for "pleasure".Sol said women and children were rounded up and taken to the church in the centre of the town. He recounted hearing gunshots and the screams of women and kids.
David Morales, a prosecuting lawyer, said he believes the new testimony helps establish the chain of command and solidify the role of high-ranking military officers in the massacre.
"The witness confirms clearly what the victims and survivors have said - that troops of the Atlacatl Battalion arrived to these previously designated places in northern Morazan and exterminated people," said Morales, who is also the director of strategic litigation for Cristosal, a San Salvador based human rights organisation. "It also clear that these acts came from higher orders and that the Atlacatl Battalion carried out orders from the state."
A lengthy summary of the testimony of the soldiers is provided (in Spanish) by Nelson Rauda here.
The collection of proof against the military command structure was also furthered last week when the judge in the case issued an order commanding president Nayib Bukele and the head of the armed forces to turn over plans of the military operations in 1980-1982 including the plan for "Operación Rescate" which was the code name for the El Mozote military operation.
At a press conference on November 1, the same date that the soldiers were testifying, Bukele responded to a question about opening the military archives:
"We are for the full spectrum of truth to be known: from A to Z. Moreover, if the judge asks us from A to F, we will still go through Z." With this phrase, the president of the Republic Nayib Bukele pledged this November 1 to give access to the military archives of the civil war related to the massacre of El Mozote, perpetrated by the Armed Forces in December 1981 and in which 978 people were killed, including 553 children.
"The only way to heal the wounds of the past is that the truth is known," Bukele added in his remarks.
More of that truth may be known as additional exhumations of possible victims of the massacre began Monday, led by forensic anthropologists from Argentina.