Trial continues for massacre of El Mozote's children

The trial of Salvadoran military commanders for their roles in the massacre of children and others in El Mozote and neighboring communities is continuing to proceed.   The trial, which is being overseen by judge Jorge Guzmán in the town of San Francisco Gotera has had some additional developments.

For the first time, the office of El Salvador's attorney general has taken an active role in the trial.   State prosecutors put on the stand additional victim witnesses to testify about the massacre.   Their testimony adds to the list of people, primarily from outlying communities, who were witnesses to some part of the Salvadoran army's actions during the massacre.

It is fair to say that we know, in fairly graphic detail, what happened at El Mozote in December 1981.   What we do not know is why it happened and who was involved in giving the orders.   For this it is likely that the trial will need documents from military archives or the testimony of former officers in the armed forces. 

Last week, the judge required two current military officials responsible for military archives to testify about their search for relevant records.   The two witnesses testified that they could not find any records related to the military actions in Morazan in December 1981.   They assert that they have never been asked to hide or destroy any information, but also claim there was no information they could locate. 

The commanding officer on the scene of the massacre, Lieutenant Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, was killed by FMLN guerrillas a few years after Monterrosa's troops massacred the children of El Mozote.   His superior officers, now on trial in that little courtroom, are likely to assert that they gave no orders resulting in a massacre.     They have claimed no files or documents exist dating back to the time of the UN Truth Commission investigation.   The Truth Commission report states:
The Minister of Defence and the Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Staff have denied to the Commission on the Truth that they have any information that would make it possible to identify the units and officers who participated in "Operación Rescate". They say that there are no records for the period.  
Finally, a key figure in how we learned of the massacre of the children and others at El Mozote was in the courtroom last week.   Raymond Bonner, the New York Times reporter who along with Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post, broke the story in US media in 1982, sat listening to some of the testimony

In a recent piece in The Atlantic, Bonner wrote:
In the early ‘80s, El Salvador was receiving more such [military] aid than any country except for Egypt and Israel, and the embassy staff was nearly as large as that in New Delhi. For Reagan, El Salvador was the place to draw the line in the sand against communism.

Many Americans would prefer to forget that chapter in American history; those under the age of 40 may not even be aware of it. Salvadorans haven’t forgotten, however. In El Mozote and the surrounding villages of subsistence peasants, forensic experts are still digging up bodies—of women, children, and old men who were murdered by the Salvadoran army during an operation in December 1981. It was one of the worst massacres in Latin American history. But while Trump might smear the country’s image with crude language, today El Salvador has a functioning legal system—more than three decades after the event, 18 former military commanders, including a former minister of defense, are finally on trial for the El Mozote massacre.