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In coming days, officials from the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) are scheduled to testify against Slobodan Milosevic. The chief of the KVM was one William Walker, the man who sold the world the story of the Racak so-called massacre, used to create a climate to justify the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.
We are preparing a piece which examines Walker's role as Assistant Under-Secretary of State for Central American Affairs from 1985 to 1988, including the Iran-Contra scandal, Ambassador to El Salvador from 1988 to 1992 and UN administrator for Eastern Slavonia from 1997 to 1998. While this article is in preparation, we wished to make available to you the transcript of a Sixty Minutes program, posted below. It aired in 1993. It exposed William Walker's role in suppressing the investigation into the infamous death squad killings of Jesuits in El Salvador and in deceiving, or trying to deceive, the public about the Salvadoran Army's role in this terrible crime.
Walker's effectiveness in Yugoslavia - especially his ability to "sell" the Racak massacre - depended on his credibility as an honest diplomat. A public figure's credibility is - or should be - based on the historical record. Clearly, if the gangster Al Capone tells us somebody is a crook, we're going to take it with a grain of salt.
Given what he had done to Central America it is therefore remarkable that William Walker had any credibility at all. It is especially remarkable that two groups were silent when Walker was made UN chief in Eastern Slavonia and when he was lauded as an honest broker - a humanitarian! - in Kosovo.
The two silent groups were: most of those on the Left who had opposed US policy in Central America, and the Catholic Church.
When Bill Clinton tried to make Walker Ambassador to Panama, in 1993, the Catholic Church in Panama and local political activists reacted loud and fast. For example:
But when Clinton sent Walker to Slovenia, the opponents of US policy in Central America did not utter an audible peep.
BACKGROUND ON THE JESUIT MURDERS
In case you're unfamiliar with what happened in El Salvador, here's a very brief rundown. El Salvador was torn by what appeared to be civil war during the 1980s. But it was an odd civil war. The government side got billions of dollars in US 'aid.' During the decade, death squads run by the US-sponsored Salvadoran Army killed literally thousands of political opponents, trade unionists, peasant leaders, outspoken journalists, school teachers, ordinary peasant farmers and townspeople who happened to be in the wrong place or from the wrong class and perhaps best known to the world, Salvadoran and US Catholic church activists and officials, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in March 1980.
It was while Walker was US Ambassador that six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter were brutally slain by a Salvadoran Army death squad.
In the transcript below, a Salvadoran officer comments that the murderers would never have acted without approval from top army officers. But as we shall demonstrate in the article on Walker that is in preparation, the approval of top military officials was not enough. The murdered men were not communists. They were Catholic "liberation theologists." And they had power:
Death threats broadcast on state radio!
The government military publicly broadcast its intention of killing these men days before the actual murders took place.
It is inconceivable they would have done so if they had the least fear they would be slapped down by the US command, which not only paid the Salvadoran military's bills, but which also had US 'advisers' throughout the military.
William Walker knew, and those who sent the killers knew he knew, and most important of all, they knew he would help them cover-up these crimes.
It's all in the transcript, below.
-- John Flaherty and Jared Israel
THE JESUIT MURDERS
Transcript of 60 MINUTES * March 21, 1993
LESLEY STAHL: Following our story last week about the massacre at El Mozote, the United Nations this week reported to its members what we had reported, that despite United States government denials at the time, 11 years ago soldiers of the Salvadoran army--trained and armed by the United States--wiped out the village of El Mozote, killing entire families they suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers.
That United Nations report also confirmed something Ed Bradley reported three years ago; that officers high up in the US-backed army, and not left-wing guerrillas, had had a hand in murdering six Jesuit priests they suspected of being the brains behind the guerrillas.
ED BRADLEY: Jesuit Priest Fermain Scines was on the campus the night of the murders and might well have been killed with the others. He says it was obvious from the beginning it was the work of the Salvadoran army, not of the guerrillas.
Father FERMAIN SCINES (Jesuit Priest): There was soldiers here. There was soldiers there. Was soldiers...everybody saw them.
BRADLEY: And they didn't come in and they were out in a few minutes?
Father SCINES: They came at about 12:00.
BRADLEY: And they were here for at least two hours?
Father SCINES: And they were leaving at 2:45 AM.
BRADLEY: Almost three hours?
Father SCINES: Almost three hours, making tremendous noise. They were smoking; they were talking; they were walking. The ones who killed them...after doing the job, they went there...three meters from there and he took a beer.
BRADLEY: Father Scines has spoken to a number of witnesses.
Father SCINES: There is tremendous evidence.
BRADLEY: But only one, the Jesuits' housekeeper Lucia Serena, had the courage to come forward with eyewitness testimony linking the army, not the guerrillas, to the crime. From this window, she could see five men in army uniforms carrying rifles and wearing military caps.
No doubt in your mind what you saw that night?
Mrs. LUCIA SERENA (Cook): (Through Interpreter) No doubt whatsoever, none.
BRADLEY: Lucia Serena did not actually see the murders, but the Jesuits fear that the very fact that she could place soldiers at the scene of the crime puts her life in grave danger. So they arranged to get Lucia and her family out of the country.
William Walker is the US ambassador to El Salvador.
Ambassador WILLIAM WALKER (US Ambassador to El Salvador): Mrs. Serena was taken to the United States to get her out of what was an incredibly tense and frightening situation here, where she obviously feared for her safety; to get her to a place of safety, where she would be calm.
BRADLEY: But she says she was anything but calm when questioned at FBI headquarters in Miami, where for four days, according to Lucia Serena, the FBI asked her the same questions over and over. She was also questioned by Colonel Manuel Rivas, the Salvadoran officer in charge of the murder investigation.
Mrs. SERENA: He was very arrogant and very harsh. Instead of concerning himself with investigating the case, he investigated us.
BRADLEY: She says they pressed her about family members still living in El Salvador.
Mrs. SERENA: How many brothers did I have? What are their names? Where do they live? It frightened me. Maybe they'll kill my brothers.
BRADLEY: She says an FBI agent asked her about one of the Jesuits who hadn't been killed.
Mrs. SERENA: He opened the door, but like this--BAM! Like, he slammed it. He turned around and said, 'That priest--is he a guerrilla or isn't he?' I was very scared.
BRADLEY: So scared that after a few days, she decided to tell her interrogators she hadn't seen anything at all.
These were not questions given to a cooperative witness, these are questions that are to go after a suspect.
Ambassador WALKER: Well, that's not true. That is just not true. It might be a perception that she received because of her emotional state. Perfectly understandable. They were trying to determine from a person who said she was at the scene and had heard and seen things, how much she knew.
Father JOSEPH O'HARE (President, Fordham University): I find it very disturbing that not only the Salvadoran military, but our own embassy in San Salvador seemed anxious to discredit her testimony, which, as a matter of fact, was confirmed by the Salvadoran government itself as events developed.
BRADLEY: Father Joseph O'Hare, president of Fordham University, and Father Donald Monan, president of Boston College, were recently in El Salvador investigating the murder of their brother Jesuits.
You say that Ambassador Walker discredited her testimony. How did he discredit her testimony?
Father DONALD MONAN (President, Boston College): He announced in El Salvador that her testimony was not credible.
Father O'HARE: That there were inconsistencies in it.
BRADLEY: There were inconsistencies. She changed her story.
Father O'HARE: Yeah, after several days of intensive pressure in a--imagine. Put yourself in the situation of a simple woman in a foreign land, not knowing the language, being threatened with deportation back to El Salvador, isolated from those who could be supportive of her. I think that it's quite understandable that she would change her testimony under that kind of pressure.
Mrs. SERENA: I want to make one thing very clear. I saw the men. I saw the men.
BRADLEY: Just how effective was the American Embassy at getting to the bottom of the Jesuit case? Six weeks after the murders, an American major said he was tipped off by a Salvadoran army officer that a high-ranking colonel in the army of El Salvador had admitted being involved in the murder. The embassy turned right around and not only gave the name of the colonel to the Salvadoran high command, it also told them who the informant was.
Mr. SIGGEFRAIDO OCHELLO (Former Colonel, Salvadoran Army): The American officer put the informant in a very difficult situation; so dangerous he could have been killed.
BRADLEY: Former Colonel Siggefraido Ochello was once a top commander in the Salvadoran army. He's now a leader of the ruling right wing Arena Party.
Mr. OCHELLO: If you burn somebody, then other people who could provide even more information clam up because they'll be burned, too. A lot of them say: I don't know anything. They just shut up. What this American officer did was to throw the informant into the lion's den so they could tear him apart.
BRADLEY: No thought was given to saying: Let's protect this guy's name for the time being? Let's say here is the information, we want to protect the source of that.
Ambassador WALKER: Unlike the old newspaper men who feel they'd rather die than reveal the source, we're not in that same game. We were talking with the people who were trying to solve the case, on whom a lot of pressure was to solve the case.
Father MONAN: If we are ever going to get to the people who authored the crime, even though they didn't pull the triggers, we're going to have to have the informants come forward to talk about what they know. And in this case, the only two people we know who came forward both came to the United States and both suffered the consequences of having provided their information. That discouragement of people to come forward with information, I think, is fundamental to this case.
BRADLEY: The man the informant fingered was Colonel Guillermo Benovides, the head of the military academy, the West Point of El Salvador. He was arrested one week after they were given his name by the Americans. Seven men under his command were also arrested.
Ambassador WALKER: I would argue that if, in fact, a colonel is proved to be responsible for this and he is punished to the full extent of the law, that will be a signal to other colonels, that will be a signal to other people that this sort of behavior is not going to be tolerated anymore in El Salvador. And I think that's a step forward.
Congressman GEORGE MILLER (Representative, California): Not at all. Not at all.
BRADLEY: California Congressman George Miller is a member of a congressional task force investigating the Jesuit murders.
Congressman MILLER: This is an effort to sort of keep throwing people off the back of the truck to see whether you can get the posse to quit pursuing you.
Ambassador WALKER: I have seen no indication that President Christiani, the people that are investigating this, the people who are pushing to solve the mystery are hesitant to go to any level of the government, to any level of the armed forces. They have gone so far to a colonel. As we talked about earlier, this is historic.
Congressman MILLER: What does the ambassador want us to do, give the system a medal? This is a system that we've poured $ 5 billion into that just slaughtered and murdered people with impunity. And now we're supposed to shout: Hallelujah, they got a colonel?
BRADLEY: They may not even have that. It seems that the evidence against Colonel Benevides--testimony from three lieutenants that he ordered the Jesuit murders--can't be used in court because it comes from co-conspirators. President Christiani admitted that it's doubtful Benevides can be convicted. Nonetheless, Ambassador Walker says he believes the investigation has gone well.
Ambassador WALKER: Even in the United States, sensational crimes are not usually solved in a day or two. It takes time. It takes hard police work. I am saying all the indications that we have are that the people responsible for solving the crime have been working very diligently, very professionally and have, in fact, solved it.
BRADLEY: They've done ballistics tests. They've done fingerprints. They have confessions. They've identified the killers. Doesn't that satisfy you?
Father O'HARE: The real issue is not whether these enlisted men who did the shooting are identified and convicted, but whether those who instructed them and made the decision to give the orders--that is where the true guilt lies, I think.
BRADLEY: The Jesuits believe the decision to kill the priests goes much higher than Benevides. So does former Colonel Ochello.
Is it conceivable that Colonel Benevides decided on his own to murder the Jesuits?
Mr. OCHELLO: No, I don't think so. Knowing him, he's a man who could never take or even conceive of making a move as big as assassinating the Jesuits. Benevides acted under orders. He didn't act alone.
BRADLEY: Some in the army have said that Benevides misunderstood an order and perhaps broke under the pressure. Isn't that possible?
Mr. OCHELLO: Definitely not. I think this was all planned beforehand.
BRADLEY: You are saying that you don't believe that Colonel Benevides acted alone, correct?
Mr. OCHELLO: That's correct.
BRADLEY: He had help from other senior officers in the Salvadoran military?
Mr. OCHELLO: That's correct.
BRADLEY: And they planned the murder of the Jesuits?
Mr. OCHELLO: I believe, yes.
BRADLEY: Remember, few people know more about the inner workings of the Salvadoran army than former Colonel Ochello, who was regarded as one of the army's top field commanders. Why was the military after the Jesuits? Many army commanders believed for years the Jesuits were the brains behind the guerrillas. They denied that. The murdered Jesuits said all they wanted was social justice for the people of El Salvador. One of those Jesuits, Father Ignacio Martin Barro, spoke with CBS News several months before he was killed.
Father IGNACIO MARTIN BARRO (Assassinated Jesuit): Listen, the problem of this country is not the problem of communism or capitalism. The problems of this country are problems of very basic wealth distribution, of very basic needs. But, when, in this country, you ask for the satisfaction of those needs, you become a subversive.
BRADLEY: Father Martin Barro and the five other Jesuits were murdered during the guerrilla offensive in San Salvador last November. At the height of the offensive, several hours before the Jesuits were shot, the top commanders met in military headquarters. Colonel Ochello wasn't at that meeting, but he believes he knows what happened next.
Mr. OCHELLO: A group of commanders stayed behind. It seems that each was responsible for a zone in San Salvador. They gave an order to kill leftists, just as Colonel Benevides did. I'll say it again: Benevides obeyed. It wasn't his decision.
BRADLEY: And yet, the Salvadoran officer in charge of the investigation, Colonel Rivas, is no longer actively investigating the case. Publicly at least, the American Embassy is not complaining, even though top commanders who could have ordered Benevides to kill the Jesuits have never been investigated. For instance, there's Colonel Juan Orlandos Sapedas, the number two man in the army of El Salvador. Just five months before the murder of the Jesuits, according to a State Department document, Sapedas complained that the Jesuits at the Catholic university were planning guerrilla strategy. According to that same State Department document, Sapedas probably was one of the officers to whom Benevides reported.
We were not permitted to interview Colonel Sapedas. Instead we spoke with Colonel Rene Emilio Ponce, the army chief of staff.
Sapedas has not been questioned. He is on the record as saying they're planning guerrilla strategy. Doesn't it make sense to question him formally, to submit him to a polygraph?
Colonel RENE EMILIO PONCE (Chief Of Staff, Salvadoran Army): That's not for the military to decide. That's in the hands of the judicial system.
BRADLEY: I know you don't make the decisions. Do you have an opinion?
Colonel PONCE: My personal opinion is that here in this country, there have been many opinions about the role of the Jesuits. You've got to take into account all of the people who've said something against the Jesuits, not just Colonel Sapedas.
BRADLEY: It stunned us to find out that the American Embassy had given Colonel Ponce an audiotape of our interview with Ambassador Walker to help him prepare for us. So Ponce knew the questions we were likely to ask. Is the US embassy in cahoots with the army of El Salvador? Fathers Monan and O'Hare believe it is. And that the embassy could have forced the Salvadorans to investigate officers like Sapedas and hasn't done so.
Ambassador WALKER: From the first moment we knew of the Jesuits' deaths, which was about 7:00 or 8:00 AM on the day they were killed, this embassy has been very, very involved in the investigation, in trying to make sure that all T's were crossed, dots put above I's to make sure the government did everything it could because we recognized very early on that this was a very important case.
BRADLEY: Why are you skeptical? I mean, the investigation has only been going on for five months.
Father O'HARE: Yeah, but the investigation of Archbishop Romero's been going on for 10 years. And we haven't--at the time that that crime was committed, the world was shocked. When four American women were killed in December 1980, American military aid was stopped for a brief time until we were assured that, once again, human rights were going to be respected. So with that history, how can one have confidence today that the system, as encouraged or not encouraged by the United States government, is going to deliver justice in this case.
BRADLEY: Why would the American embassy--why would our government not do everything possible to get to the bottom of the murder of the Jesuits?
Congressman MILLER: Because they'd have to turn in their own client. The client is the Salvadoran government and the Salvadoran military. And many of these questions are better left unanswered.
Father O'HARE: I'd go right to the high command of the Salvadoran military, and if that's the case, the US investment of the past 10 or 12 years has been revealed as futile.
BRADLEY: During those 10 or 12 years about 70,000 people were killed in El Salvador, most of them unarmed civilians. According to human rights organizations, most of that killing was done by the armed forces of El Salvador, yet so far, not one military officer has been convicted of a human rights crime.
Colonel BARRO: There is--How you say?--there is an environment of the possibility of being killed any moment of the day and the possibility of being involved in a violent clash every moment. And you have to count on that.
STAHL: Just last Monday, the United Nation Truth Commission found that the order to kill the Jesuits came from Colonel Rene Emilio Ponce, the army chief of staff, the man who came to the interview armed with the audio tape of our interview with the American ambassador.
The Truth Commission also concluded that the Salvadoran officers who were investigating the crime--the ones described by then US Ambassador Walker as diligent professionals--were actually part of the coverup.
(C) Sixty Minutes 1993 * Posted for Fair Use Only
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