American-trained officers also directed the rape and murder of four American church women in El Salvador early in 1981. The heroic US ambassador who swore that the killers would never get away with their crime, Robert White, was fired days after Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency. Later Secretary of State Alexander Haig suggested that the women might have been killed in “an exchange of fire.” That was a signal to Salvadorans that the United States would help cover up the truth about such killings.On the other hand, at least some of the minions will be held to account.
President Reagan steadfastly supported the Salvadoran military despite overwhelming evidence of its crimes. So did Haig and other senior officials in the Reagan administration. It is a parody of justice that their legacy remains honorable while triggermen who did their bidding are demonized.
Writing about one of the former Salvadoran officers now targeted by American justice, two former Reagan administration officials recently asserted, “He was there when the US needed him.” They know. One of them, Edwin Corr, was ambassador to El Salvador at the height of the killing campaign in the mid-1980s. The other, Elliott Abrams, was assistant secretary of state. Their commentary was insightful but did not go far enough.
The Salvadoran justice system has every right to prosecute Salvadoran officers who tortured and murdered during the 1980s. For the United States to feign outrage at their crimes, however, is unfair. Those officers were pawns in a game directed from Washington. True justice would target the people who conceived, blessed, and financed El Salvador’s counterinsurgency campaign. Executioners’ faces are always well hidden, but in this case, they speak English, worked in Washington during the 1980s, and remain respectable cocktail-party guests.
There is, of course, no real prospect that the American masterminds of El Salvador’s killing campaign will be brought to justice in this world. Next best would be for Americans to accept a measure of responsibility as a nation. That might lead us to pause before giving blank checks to regimes we know to be murderous.
No more cocktail parties for Col. Morales, eh? And will the revolution include a national accounting for how we got here? Or will that have to wait for the next revolution?