El Mozote massacre trial

Next week will mark the 37th anniversary of the massacre of children and others at El Mozote and surrounding communities.  From December 10-12, 1981, US-trained forces of the Salvadoran military massacred close to 1000 civilians in and around El Mozote in Morazan department in northeastern El Salvador.  In this atrocity, more than half of the victims were children and 477 were age 12 and under.

Commencing in October 2016, there is finally a legal proceeding in a court in El Salvador which seeks to provide justice for the victims.  The process in the case is slow but steady.
This past year more victims got to tell their stories in the court room.   Expert forensic anthropologists from Argentina testified concerning the actions of the perpetrators revealed by the recovery of hundreds of massacred bodies.

This is also a year in which the military continued to stonewall and claim that it has no records concerning the events of December 1981.

In a blog post for the European Journal of International Law titled A War Crimes Trial That Needs More Attention, international criminal law specialist Vidan Hadzi-Vidanovic, writes about the importance of the El Mozote trial:
The El Mozote Trial is a purely domestic process tried before an ordinary, first instance, territorially competent criminal court in a remote North-Eastern Morazán Department of El Salvador. There are no specialized chambers, internationalized courts or international tribunals there. There is not even a state prosecutor in the lead role. The prosecution is conducted by private prosecutors instead of the Attorney General Office.... 
The trial is of great importance for Salvadoran reconciliation. It is also important for the global push to end impunity and bring war crime prosecutions to the doorstep of the highest-ranking officials. For one of the accused in this case is a former Salvadoran Defense Minister, Jose Guillermo García. He is a powerful figure who had been granted asylum and subsequent permanent residence in the United States, only to have it revoked in 2015 because of his command responsibility in relation to the war crimes committed in El Salvador, as the U.S. Immigration Court put it (the first instance decision here, the appeals decision here). He is joined in the box for the accused by the former Chief of Joint Staff of Salvadoran Army, General Rafael Flores Lima; the former Commander of the Airforce, General Juan Rafael Bastillo Toledo; the former Vice-Minister of Defence, Francisco Adolfo Castillo; and a number of others who were, at the time of the crime, mid-ranking officers, but have subsequently risen to the ranks of colonels and generals.
Lawyers will want to read the entire blog post here.

A recent article in The Guardian, emphasizes another aspect of the horror inflicted by the Salvadoran military -- there was not just a massacre of innocents, the military used sexual violence as a tool of control and terror:
Trying the perpetrators in the El Mozote case would signal a strike against impunity for gender violence in El Salvador as the country continues to grapple with its past – and as women continue to face high levels of domestic and sexual violence. 
“The notion of impunity, that I can do it and nothing will happen, exists on a continuum in El – I did it before the war, I did it during the war when I sent messages to the enemy through the body of women, and still today nothing happens [to perpetrators of sexual violence],” says Salvadoran rights activist Morena Herrera. “That sexual violence in El Mozote is at least recognised would be a step forward.”...
Since witnesses started to come forward in the 90s, allegations of sexual assault have been frequent. Survivors recount seeing bodies of dead women with their skirts pulled up, and hearing the screams of those who were separated from men and taken to the mountains.
Marta and Fatima are the first two women to speak up about their personal experiences. “Women are finally talking because a window has finally opened for the possibility of justice,” says Herrera.
The story of the massacre of the children of El Mozote and other horrors must continue to be told.   The trial must continue.   And one day, we can hope to come to an anniversary of the massacre and say that some small measure of justice has been done.


Greg said…
Excellent and timely update on this important trial.

For the record -

The U.S. trained Atlacatl battalion was not the same battalion that conducted the massacre. The original battalion, trained entirely in El Salvador, was hardly "elite" and once operational performed so poorly in combat against the guerrillas that it earned the nickname "the immediate retreat battalion".

Domingo Monterossa took over command; U.S. advisers/trainers who had originally provided, among other classroom subjects, human rights coursework, were no longer involved with the unit and Monterossa undertook rebuilding Atlacatl from the ground up. The majority of original personnel were either dead, wounded, or had left the army after their 2-year commitment expired. Monterossa hand-picked his officers and NCOs, then began a re-training program sans any human rights influence and rooted on what he and others had been taught while attending the Chinese counter-insurgency school on Taiwan.

First and foremost Atlacatl under Monterossa was to be feared, a self-image he himself cultivated.

The primary foreign advisers for Atlacatl beginning in 1981 came from Soldier of Fortune magazine. Then commander of the Airborne Battalion and Air Force, General Bustillo, brought SOF trainers in as he appreciated their Vietnam/Africa experiences and there was no limit on their numbers or what / how they taught. By 1982, Soldier of Fortune had specifically trained the Atlacatl in marksmanship/sniper operations, patrolling, demolitions, weaponry, booby-trapping, and a host of other subjects. An account of this is found in SOF founder/publisher Robert K Brown's autobiography "I am Soldier of Fortune".

U.S. Special Forces advisers would not return to the Atlacatl until after 1986-87, by which time Monterossa had been assassinated by the FMLN.
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