The military and expert witnesses to the El Mozote massacre
Sixth in a series
Over the five years since the El Mozote massacre case was reopened, Judge Jorge Guzman has heard not only from the the humble campesinos who are witnesses and victims, but also from witnesses from the Salvadoran military and from experts. Although the victim witnesses have established the existence of a massacre, they themselves cannot draw the lines of responsibility to the colonels and generals who gave the command for the massacre.
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.A lengthy summary of the testimony of the soldiers is provided (in Spanish) by Nelson Rauda here.
"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."
One defendant, Juan Rafael Bustillo, has also taken the stand in his own defense. In 1981, Bustillo was the general in charge of El Salvador's air force.
Bustillo, on the other hand, referred to the massacre as a "locura" or insanity initiated by Colonel Domingo Monterrosa, commander of the elite Atlacatl Battalion. "Locura" is also the word that the UN Truth Commission used in the title of its 1993 report to describe the atrocities of El Salvador's civil war.
In the years following the conclusion of El Salvador's civil war, this team excavated several sites where the victims of the 1981 massacre had been found. Their testimony provided a portrait of the scale of the horror -- piles of small bodies, examinations of bones of small children who perished, bullets manufactured in the US and fired from M-16 rifles, and more forensic proof as the evidence piled up to confirm the massacre committed by Salvadoran armed forces.
Their conclusion, expressed by Mercedes Doretti:
There is no evidence that supports the argument that the victims, almost all small children, had participated in combat or had been trapped in crossfire between forces in combat. On the contrary, the evidence decidedly supports the conclusion that they were intentional victims of a massive extra-judicial execution.
Testifying first was Stanford University professor Terry Lynn Karl. Professor Karl is certainly the best known expert regarding the participation of the Salvadoran military command in human rights abuses during the country's 12 year civil war, and has been a witness in virtually every trial arising out of human rights abuses during the conflict.
Karl's testimony established six key points:
1. Military leaders feared the development of a safe zone controlled by FMLN in Morazan.
2. They developed a plan of extermination which did not distinguish between civilians and combatants.
3. The High Command and the General Staff were in control of strategy and war operations.
4 Military leadership was responsible for planning, carrying-out and covering up the massacre.
5. Given the size of the operation only the High Command and General Staff could be in charge.
6. The officers in the field in Morazán, colonels and lieutenants, were responsible for transmitting the orders to carry out the massacre.